The opera has four main characters: the aristocratic Marschallin; her very young lover, Count Octavian Rofrano; her brutish cousin Baron Ochs; and Ochs' prospective fiancée, Sophie von Faninal, the daughter of a rich bourgeois. At the Marschallin's suggestion, Octavian acts as Ochs' Rosenkavalier by presenting a ceremonial silver rose to Sophie. However, the young people fall in love on the spot, and soon devise a comic intrigue to extricate Sophie from her engagement.
Der Rosenkavalier premiered January 26, 1911 in Dresden conducted by Ernst von Schuch, who had previously conducted the premieres of Strauss's Feuersnot, Salome and Elektra. From the start, Der Rosenkavalier was nothing short of a triumph: tickets to the premiere reportedly sold out almost immediately, resulting in a financial boom for the house. Though some critics took issue with Strauss' anachronistic use of waltz music, the public embraced the opera unconditionally. Rosenkavalier became Strauss' most popular opera during his lifetime and remains a staple of operatic repertoire today.