Capriccio at the Met
April 13, 2011
An account of Capriccio this season at the Metropolitan Opera from the Unbiased Opinionator.
* Notes *
"Indian Summer" is used by music historians to describe the re-flowering of Richard Strauss' creative powers toward the end of his life, after the catastrophe of World War II. This re-flowering, which occurred after a period of jaded stagnation, was Strauss' response to the destruction of German culture during the Nazi period. One of the loveliest of the works from this period is the opera Capriccio, one that he and his librettist, Clemens Krauss, subtitled "A Conversation Piece for Music." Strauss died seven years after the premiere of Capriccio in Munich in 1942.
"Conversation Piece for Music" is certainly apt. Much of the first part of the work, performed without intermission, is given to extended passages of complex, sung "conversation," consisting of witty debate on the subject: which is more important, text or music? Only the poet Olivier's sonnet, "Kein Andres, das mir so im Herzen loht" (created in the conceit of the opera by the composer Flamand) is set by Strauss to linear, memorable music. Both poet and composer vie for the love of the Countess Madeleine, sung with luminous beauty and acted with simple grace by Strauss-veteran Renée Fleming, who is, as was Kiri Te Kanawa in her day, a wonder in this repertory.
Olivier's and Flamand's courting of the Countess is set by Strauss as a metaphor for the tug of war between music and text. In the concluding scene, the Countess cannot decide between these two elements, but concludes that only a perfect wedding of music and text can satisfy, and she sings her glorious final scene, based on the musical material of the Sonnet, as a hymn to the mystery and artistic power of this synthesis.
During the opening prelude, an intimate string sextet (played beautifully by the Met first desk string players) is heard. The Met curtain was illuminated in a soft golden light, with house lights dimmed, but still lit at a low level, and the chandeliers were not completely raised to the ceiling, but remained at "half-mast," at half light, creating a atmosphere of burnished gold which set the stage for the sensitive rendition of the Opera to follow.
There were no weak links in the cast. Joseph Kaiser's Flamand had plenty of carrying power, with a fine top, and the tall tenor cut a fine figure. The poet Olivier was sung by Russell Braun. Peter Rose's portrayal of the pompous theater director, La Roche, was aptly blustery in the finest buffo style. The part of the actress Clairon was sung by English mezzo Sarah Connolly. This reviewer has long admired the work of this fine singer, and she did not disappoint, with her dramatic flair, rich vocal color and tall and striking visual presence.
The many secondary roles, including the comic roles of the Italian Singers (admirably sung with perfect timing by tenor Barry Banks and soprano Olga Makarina), and a luxury cast of Servants, including Met veteran Christopher Schaldenbrand, added to the extremely high quality of the evening. The character roles of the Major-Domo (Michael Devlin) and the prompter (Bernard Fitch) were wonderful facets in the finely jeweled clockwork that is Capriccio.
Andrew Davis led the Met orchestra in a warm and balanced account of the score, with the only possible criticism being a too fast tempo for the opening prelude.
* Tattling *
The soaring, evanescent music of the concluding scene seemed to transfigure the audience, and one exited the theater into a beautiful Spring night, with the Lincoln Center fountain dancing in the soft air. This reviewer walked home amid blossoming ornamental pear trees and felt as if he had drunk the finest champagne in the world.