Richard Strauss’ final opera, Capriccio, was broadcast over the Met’s HD network on Saturday April 23. This production was a revival of the company’s 1998 staging featuring Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess. The opera had never been performed by the Met before 1998. Strauss’ valedictory to the theater has an odd and trivial subject considering the state of the world in general and Germany in particular in 1942, the year the opera was first staged in Munich. The septuagenarian composer was a lion who had lost his roar. The contrast between him and Verdi at the same age is vivid. The Italian genius had the energy of youth combined with the wisdom of age. He could not only roar, he could laugh and soar to the heights of tragedy and comedy. Strauss had all his skills, but had little left to say.
An opera about the relative worth of the words and music in opera is hardly a compelling story. Capriccio is in effect the opera that its characters decide to write. It has some interest, but its easy to nod off . Done without an intermission, the absence of a bathroom break provides the single biggest stimulus to wakefulness.
The opera’s main reason for occupying the small place in the repertoire that it has is that important sopranos like to sing it. Eleven years ago it was a vehicle for Kiri Te Kanawa at the end of her career. This year it was mounted for Renée Fleming at a similar point in her career. You can be sure you’re not in for a barn raiser when instead of an overture the opera starts with a string sextet. When you listen to this opera the word “autumnal” keeps sliding between the notes. Everywhere is skill, technique, quiet virtuosity – but there is little inspiration. The Countess’ final scene, beloved by Strauss sopranos, doesn’t come close to the end of Der Rosenkavalier. It may be incorrect to say so, but it is overrated. Strauus reached his operatic peak with Die Frau ohne Schatten. The rest of his work was a gentle negative slope.
So if Renée Fleming was the reason this opera showed on on the HD series, how was she. Very good, indeed. The part does not make great demands on the soprano which is why the role is a late career favorite. Ms Fleming’s voice was rich and sensitive. She was in full control throughout the performance and provided as much justification as possible for bringing back this lesser opera by one of the craft’s greatest exponents. The 52 year old soprano still looks very good, even under the closeup lens.
The best part after that of the Countess is that of the director and impresario La Roche who wants to present gargantuan stagings of kitsch. Peter Rose got all the inside humor about the theater that Strauss and his collaborator Clemens Krauss put into the part. Tenor Joseph Kaiser has a lovely lyric tenor and was an ardent representative of music as Flamand. Equally effective as the poet Olivier was baritone Russell Braun. Sarah Connolly did all she could as the seductive actress Clarion, though she did not quite look the part. Olga Makarina and Barry Banks had a great time as the Italian singers, so much so that someone sitting near me said that the composer should have been Italian as well. The dancers Laura Feig and Eric Otto were also vivacious and skilled.
The scene where a battalion of servants clean up the set after the protagonists have departed while commenting on their (the upstairs folks) behavior was witty and well done. The set from the 1998 production is set in the twenties when the action takes place. We’re lucky that director John Cox didn’t decide to place the chateau in Dachau as a statement on Strauss’ and Krauss’ involvement with the Third Reich. Andrew Davis conducted. The orchestral part to this opera is not the spectacular that characterizes Strauss’ great operas. It’s – well – autumnal. The Met orchestra played well, as usual, except for some disorderly horns near the beginning of the work.
All and all, a very, very good performance of the evening off of a great composer. They can’t all be winners. Finally, I don’t know if Fleming played the harp during her final scene, but she sure looked like she was playing it.
Metropolitan Opera House
April 23, 2011 Matinee
Richard Strauss–Richard Strauss/Clemens Krauss
Monsieur Taupe……….Bernard Fitch
Count……………….Morten Frank Larsen
La Roche…………….Peter Rose
Major Domo…………..Michael Devlin
Italian Singer……….Olga Makarina
Italian Singer……….Barry Banks
Servants: Ronald Naldi, Paul Corona, Steven Goldstein, Christopher Schaldenbrand, Grant Youngblood, Scott Scully, Brian Frutiger, Kyle Pfortmiller
Musicians: David Chan, Rafael Figueroa, Dennis Giauque
Dancers: Laura Feig, Eric Otto
Set Designer…………Mauro Pagano
Costume Designer……..Robert Perdziola
Interior Decor……….Robert Perdziola
Lighting designer…….Duane Schuler
Stage Director……….Peter McClintock
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson