Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) - Synopsis

Richard Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau. D. Liger, S. Humes, F. Hawlata, T. Spence, D. Damrau Richard Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau. Franz Hawlata (Morosus) Richard Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau. Diana Damrau (Aminta), Franz Hawlata (Morosus)

Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman)

Richard Strauss
Stefan Zweig after Epicoene or The silent woman (1609) by Ben Jonson


Act One

Sir Morosus is extremely sensitive and reacts aggressively to the slightest noise. The only people he will suffer to be around him are his housekeeper, who has been in his service for seventeen years and secretly hopes to win his affections one day, and his barber.When, once again, Morosus has had enough of the constant chatter of his housekeeper, the barber suggests that he should marry a silent wife and offers to find him one. At this moment Henry Morosus, the nephew whom Morosus had thought dead, gains admittance and is welcomed with great rejoicing by his uncle and named as his heir. Henry is, however, accompanied by his operatic troupe and they now all enter, with a great deal of noise. Among them are Henry’s wife Aminta, Isotta, Carlotta, Morbio, Vanuzzi and Farfallo. Morosus learns to his displeasure that his nephew is a singer, disinherits Henry forthwith, insults the members of the troupe and orders the barber to find him a silent wife by the next day. When he is alone with the troupe the barber explains to them how sensitive to noise Morosus is and that this is the result of some traumatic experience during the time that he was a seaman. He devises a plan in which, with the help of the operatic troupe, it will seem as if Morosus marries a silent wife who turns out to be a termagent after the wedding so that Morosus will want to be rid of her. An equally mock divorce would allow the troupe, and the barber of course, access to the rich sums of money Morosus has hidden in his cellar.

Act Two

Morosus has been arrayed in his finest clothes by his housekeeper and is now awaiting the visit of three women who will be presented to him as potential wives. Carlotta appears in the guise of a silly country girl, Isotta appears to be a highly-educated chatterbox and only Aminta, in the guise of a shy girl by the name of Timidia, comes anywhere near Morosus’ expectations. With the help of Vanuzzi dressed up as a priest and Morbio as a notary, she and Morosus are married. Led by Farfallo the other members of the troupe now come noisily in, dressed as former shipmates of Morosus who want to congratulate him on his marriage. Morosus can do nothing to stop their riotous celebrations. When he is finally alone with Aminta/Timidia he tries to get to the bottom of why she seems so sad. When his questions grow ever more intrusive, she creates a scene, loudly demanding that he should leave her in peace and wreaking havoc in the house in order to get rid of the fustiness. Henry finally hurries to his uncle’s aid, throws Aminta/Timidia out and consoles his uncle with the prospect of preparing for divorce proceedings the following day.

Act Three

Aminta/Timidia has had the house redecorated, creating a great deal of noise, and has also acquired a parrot. In spite of the protestations of the housekeeper, she also has a harpsichord brought in. Henry and Farfallo are disguised as a singing teacher and his accompanist, and Aminta/Timidia sings two bravuras from Italian opera with Henry. Morosus is on the verge of despair. Vanuzzi and Morbio appear disguised as divorce judges and proceed in long-winded and laborious fashion to look for legal grounds on which a divorce can be granted. The barber finally thinks he has found the answer in Timidia’s pre-marital relationship and brings Henry in as his witness. Timidia denies this and Henry sees that the game could seriously affect the earnestness of Aminta’s love. Since the question of whether Timidia had led a life free of promiscuity was not part of the marriage contract, Morosus has no grounds to divorce his supposed wife and collapses in despair at the thought. Henry finally puts an end to the cruel hoax and explains everything to his confused uncle. Morosus laughs at himself and welcomes the operatic troupe to his house. He sees himself as a reformed character and sighs with contentment at the peace which he has at last found.