Capriccio

Yesterday’s Met Live in HD transmission was Richard Strauss’ last opera Capriccio. It’s a curious work and I suspect how one thinks about it seriously affects how one reacts to it emotionally. On the surface it’s a sophisticated meta opera about opera with some side splittingly funny gags about unstageable production concepts accompanied by pastiche Wagner. Taken on that level it’s funny but perhaps, ultimately heartless. When one realises that the opera was written in 1941/2 it adds a new dimension. Why has Strauss set this opera in Enlightenment Paris? Where else could be more symbolic of everything the regime he is writing under is not? This work premiered a few weeks before the German defeat at Stalingrad. Does Strauss sense that german is losing the war? Is this less an affectionate farewell to the form from an elderly composer or an elegy for an artform that may not survive the destruction of European civilization which most would have thought the inevitable consequence of a Russo-American victory (who’s to say they weren’t right?). Any way these were the thoughts that were going through my head as I watched yesterday’s broadcast and no doubt helped give the work, for me, a greater emotional intensity.

The Met production is opulently simple. The period setting is the 1920s/30s for no apparent reason but it doesn’t really jar. Everything takes place in a drawing room and it’s played in one act avoiding annoyingly long scene changes. It all looks very pretty and expensive. The relatively compact set and lack of much action mean that the usual HD close ups are less annoying, perhaps even a positive.

The performances were uniformly strong. My preconception, based on Renee Fleming performing the last scene as a concert piece, was that this would be a one woman show. It wasn’t. The first two scenes are very much ensemble pieces and require excellent individual and ensemble skills. This we got. All the roles; major and minor, were sung and acted extremely well. I think Peter Rose, as the impresario La Roche, perhaps was the pick of the lot but Renee Fleming’s Madelaine, Joseph Kaiser’s Flamand, Russell Braun’s Olivier and Sarah Connolly’s Clairon were all excellent. Sir Andrew Davis conducted and I really look forward to his Ariadne in Toronto next month.

The usual cinema sound problems were only a problem during the deliberately somewhat cacophonic ensemble in the second scene. I’d really like to hear that music in a setting where I can tease out the threads without being assaulted by absurd levels of harmonic distortion. In quieter passages things were fine and the orchestra sounded really good.

Overall, I found this one of the most satisfying met broadcasts I have seen but, for the reasons outlined in the first paragraph, your mileage might vary.

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