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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Capriccio (1940-41)
A conversation piece in one act.
Libretto: Clemens Krauss and Richard Strauss
Setting: The château of Countess Madeleine near Paris during the 1780s
The Countess…Kiri Te Kanawa
The Count…Håkan Hagegård
Clairon…Tatiana Troyanos
La Roche…Victor Braun
Flamand…David Kuebler
Olivier…Simon Keenlyside
Monsieur Taupe…Michel Sénéchal
Major Domo…Dale Travis
Italian soprano…Maria Fortuna
Italian tenor…Craig Estep
Young dancers…Shannon Lilly and David Justin
Violin: Leonid Igudesman; Cello: David Budd
San Francisco Opera Orchestra/Donald Runnicles
Filmed during the 1993 San Francisco Opera season
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 354 [144 mins]

Words or Music. Which comes first? which is most important? These tantalising questions - and the Countess’s choice between her two admirers, composer, Flamand and librettist, Olivier - lie at the heart of Richard Strauss’s last opera, or to be precise as Strauss, himself, described it – "a conversation piece for music in one act". In this work, the words really do matter. They are essential to a full appreciation and enjoyment of the work’s wit and ironies. Attention must be paid to the libretto (thank goodness for modern video subtitles!). This work beautifully lampoons operatic excesses (especially those associated with florid Italian operas, and pompous productions based on classical antiquity), the inability of modern composers to write works of genius that will "address people’s hearts" (remember this work was written in 1940-41 when modernism held sway), the extravagances of librettists and overblown staging of operas, with side-swipes at the ballet too. And who better to write the scintillating libretto for this entertainment than Richard Strauss himself and the conductor Clemens Krauss both of whom had so much experience of operatic staging and behind-the-scenes rivalries and tribulations.

Richard Strauss’s music subtly underlines but never intrudes upon the text with much of it almost recitative-like although Flamand’s aria declaring his love is lyrical enough. Then there is the effective number in fugal counterpoint when La Roche and Flamand are joined by the others debating the importance of music to the other arts. This is not to forget the equally clever, quarrelsome octet ‘Sie lichen ihn aus’. Perhaps the most striking music, for the ear, is left to the end in which we hear the lovely moonlight music that precedes Countess Madeleine’s final aria.

Kiri Te Kanawa has made the role of the Countess something of her own and she certainly looks quite stunning in the role. The production is in the traditional 18th century costumes with one big salon set. Te Kanawa’s acting is fine and her technique is well nigh flawless especially in her lovely big aria at the end where she looks into herself in a (fruitless) effort to decide between her suitors. As she looks in the mirror one senses a striking resemblance to the Marschallin of Der Rosenkavalier. But Te Kanawa’s singing lacks a degree of emotional involvement. Kuebler and Keenlyside (especially) are most convincing as her beaux. Victor Braun’s La Roche is brilliant, particularly in his wonderful monologue in which he cuts the two young men down to size declaring their aestheticism pale and insisting upon the importance of the taste and responsibilities of the theatre director. Through La Roche, Strauss articulates many ideas that were close to his heart including complaints about noisy orchestras drowning out the singers but equally abhorring music that just presents a pleasant accompaniment. Håkan Hagegård is a nonchalant Count, a philosopher bent on seduction of Clairon (Tatiana Troyanos) who is a splendidly haughty but knowing diva.

A witty, intellectually satisfying production of Richard Strauss's "conversation piece" with winsome performances especially Victor Braun's La Roche. Kiri enchants but a little more expressive singing would not have gone amiss.

Ian Lace



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