Well, actually: hardly ever.
The English translation of the libretto of Der Rosenkavalier is hard to find in any form. There is only one undertaken to date, by Alfred Kalisch, around the time of the work’s world premiere (1911). ENO administered some changes to the text in 1994 for the purposes of its production, but no other version is done in English for almost a century now.
And though the Germans keep the original text by Hugo von Hofmannstahl fabulously available (a cursory search on Powell’s and Amazon offers e-book versions, printed versions of various vintage, one even published by the library of a large American university), there is barely anything in English. You may find the odd antique on the online market, here and there somebody offering their Met libretto from the 1940s, and a press call Nabu Press apparently does exact reproductions of the early English translation from the 1920s.
Luckily, there is one exception to this dearth. The Overture Opera Guides’ Der Rosenkavalier — it can be confidently said — is absolutely the best thing available for this purpose to an anglophone. Although this 2011 reprint is not a new edition (there are currently about six spiffy new editions of the guides, and I have already reviewed one), and the 1980 Calder guide survives for the most part unaltered, it is still an excellent resource.
The photographs are all black and whites from between 1911 to 1975, and they give the book an elegant vintage-y atmosphere. The three principal essays are still good reads. Derrick Puffett situates the work musicologically and historically; Michael Kennedy does a close motif-by-motif reading of the score along with the text, with highlights from the correspondence between Strauss and Hofmannstahl. Peter Branscombe writes about Hofmannstahl and his writing life. There is the Selective Discography and Bibliography in the back, and although they stop at early 1990s, they are still very useful.
The centrepiece is of course the libretto itself, with German and English side by side. The introductory note to the libretto explains that there are three German versions of the text: the one found in the vocal/piano score (most often reprinted in the liner notes of the recordings), the one in the complete score, and the most comprehensive text published as part of the Hofmannstahl critical edition, the one that the writer probably intended as the version for reading. The Guide’s editors worked from the ’39 full score and the critical edition.
The score and the score text are, if I’m not mistaken, now owned by Boosey & Hawkes. Who owns the English translation, does anybody know? Even if it’s old and probably could do with a do-over, it still should have been reprinted every now and then. I was curious to know what is behind the scarcity of English versions. Does anybody have any educated guesses or knowledge? I’m speculating here… Is the Hofmannstahl estate (if there is such a thing!) unwilling to sell translation rights?
Some B&Q moments from the Guide: