NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

From the Editor

by Sydney Tan, PsyD
 
OPERA AND OEDIPUS
 
On the 13th of May, in a small theater in Marin, I settled into my seat for four hours of operatic wonder. Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier -- originally set in 18th-century Vienna -- is, in the Metropolitan Opera's new production directed by Robert Carsen, moved forward 200 years and set in 1911, the year of its premier. The opera is focused on four main characters as an elaborate love quadrangle unfolds. As the opera begins, we find the Princess Marschallin (superbly played by Renée Fleming in her final performance of this role) and her much younger lover and cousin, Count Octavian Rofrano (brilliantly portrayed by Elīna Garanča), in post-coital bliss. Their singing and acting are remarkable, and their chemistry unmistakable.
 
The Marschallin, hearing loud noises from the antechamber, suspects her husband has returned and convinces Octavian to disguise himself as a chambermaid. In a lovely gender triple play, Garanča as Octavian as Mariandel attempts to sneak away, as the Marschallin's oafish cousin, Baron Ochs (Günther Groissböck) storms into the bedroom. He announces his engagement to a young heiress, Sophie (Erin Morley), but while doing so, lays eyes on Mariandel and immediately lusts after her. His subsequent seductive gestures toward Mariandel are met with disgust from the Marschallin, and childlike playfulness from Mariandel. The Baron and the Marschallin then agree that Octavian will serve as the Baron's rosenkavalier, presenting a silver rose to the Baron's betrothed in a traditional ceremony symbolizing and honoring the pending nuptials.
 
The others depart, and the Marschallin finds herself alone in her bedroom as sadness overwhelms her. She laments the cruelty and ruthlessness of time as she ponders her disappearing youth, her disappointing marriage and relations with men, and the inevitability of endings and loss. Octavian returns -- once again as himself -- with a bid to reaffirm their bond. He sings to her, passionately: "Tell me that you are mine -- mine!" The Marschallin, painfully realizing that Octavian, too, will one day marry, pushes him aside and tells him, "Dearest, embrace me not so much! Who tries to grasp too much, holds nothing fast." Despite his protests, she tells him that his love for her will soon run out, and that he will eventually abandon her. Rejected, rebuffed, and confused, Octavian is pulled away to fulfill his duty in the rose ceremony.
 
At the ceremony, Octavian and Sophie meet. They fall in love at once, and Sophie announces to her father that she wishes to marry Octavian instead of the Baron. Meanwhile, the Baron receives a counterfeit letter from Mariandel inviting him to a rendezvous -- an elaborate ploy manufactured by Octavian in hopes of discrediting the Baron. Sophie's father and the Marschallin then catch the Baron red-handed, thus breaking the engagement. After much commotion, the others depart, and only Octavian, Sophie, and the Marschallin remain.
 
Octavian, caught between his two lovers, is at a loss. Running across the stage from one woman to the other as the three of them sing a trio -- a captivating and delightfully rare triple soprano piece -- Octavian is utterly torn. The Marschallin, herself caught between her attachment to Octavian and her recognition of his love for Sophie, sings, "I promised to love him in the way he needs to be loved." Finally, the Marschallin, at once mournful and hopeful, encourages Octavian toward Sophie, and exits.
 
This opera portrays the importance of being granted permission -- the permission to develop, to be a person, to love -- to live. For it is not until the Marschallin grants Octavian permission to leave her that he is finally able to do so.
 
In The waning of the Oedipus complex, Loewald (1979) describes the process by which an innate "need for emancipation" in the child leads to a natural desire to revolt against -- and essentially "kill" -- something in the parent. This process, when it goes well, leads to the succession of generations, and allows for a child to develop as a separate being. Ogden (2006), expanding upon Loewald's idea, writes about the importance for parents, and therapists, to grant their children, and patients, permission to move away from them. As Ogden puts it, we must "allow ourselves to be killed by our children lest we 'diminish them.'"
 
Or, lest we "hold nothing fast."