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Richard Strauss: Capriccio, op. 85
Renée Fleming (The Countess), Morten Frank Larsen (The Count), Joseph Kaiser (Flamand), Russell Braun (Olivier), Peter Rose (La Roche), Sarah Connolly (Clarion), Bernard Fitch (Monsieur Taupe), Barry Banks (An Italian Tenor), Olga Makarina (An Italian Singer), Michael Devlin (Major-domo), Laura Feig/Eric Otto (Solo Dancers), Ronald Naldi/Paul Corona/Steven Goldstein/Christopher Schaldenbrand/Grant Youngblood/Scott Scully/Brian Frutiger/Kyle Pfortmiller (Servants), David Chan/Rafael Figueroa/Dennis Giauque (Three Musicians), Gary Halvorson (DVD Director), John Cox (Director), Peter McClintock (Stage Director), Mauro Pagano (Set Designer), Robert Perdziola (Costume Designer and Interior Décor), Duane Schuler (Lighting Designer), Val Caniparoli (Choreography), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Andrew Davis (Conductor)
Recorded Live in HD (April 23, 2011) – 149’
DECCA # B0016196-09 – Booklet in English. Subtitles available in English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese

Richard Strauss knew exactly what he was doing in his closing Capriccio, signifying a personal and fitting “farewell” to society with one extraordinary work. The word capriccio takes its Merriam Webster translation as being “an instrumental piece in free form usually lively in tempo and brilliant in style.” The authoritative dictionary description couldn’t be more appropriate for this “conversation piece for music in one act.”

John Cox’s interpretation is coherent, appropriate and brilliantly fettled as a highly intellectual and academic dialogue centering around the proverbial question “what’s more important…words or music?” Even though Strauss initially set his opera near Paris around 1775, this Metropolitan Opera production has an updated 1920s timeline which could, ironically, be transcribed as being more apropos with enhanced resonance and rhetorical qualities.

Renée Fleming has a tremendous resume of accomplishments reaching into all corners of the operatic world, but one of her favorite authors is Richard Strauss; she’s the embodiment of the composer’s dream. No novice to the German’s anthology, Ms. Fleming captures all aspects of the Strauss conundrum: superb acting, lyrical reading, and endearing vocal diction. Despite the continuum of the unanswered, she really can satisfy all questions set forth in Capriccio.

The troika of poet, composer and director, sung by Joseph Kaiser, Russell Braun and Peter Rose, respectively, adds wonderful blend to the feigned response and amiable rivalry which helps move forward the nebulous plot in convincing fashion. Sarah Connolly’s Clarion is a perfect match alongside her most affectionate admirer, The Count, sung by Morten Frank Larsen.

In keeping with Strauss’ argumentation are the splendid antics displayed by the Italianate pairings of Barry Banks and Olga Makarina while comedic balletomanes performed by Laura Feig and Eric Otto help balance the “operatic” disciplines in their nuanced portrayals. The team of servants, wisely drawn from The Metropolitan’s cadre of choral members, lead us into both Bernard Fitch’s light-hearted Monsieur Taupe and Michael Devlin’s protocol-oriented Major-Domo who ultimately calls Ms. Fleming to dinner during her beautifully characterized finale “Du Spiegelbild der verliebten Madeleine.”

Robert Perdziola’s interior is lavishly splendid despite a bit of a two dimensional feel, but it doesn’t detract from the overall production. The costuming is auspicious and it innocuously blends into the entire surroundings with satisfying repose.

One will gain additional knowledge into this lyrical dialogue by reading John Cox’s “A Note from the Director” as well as the page and a half write-up by George Hall. This is imperative reading prior to visiting the top notch recorded Live in HD nicely emceed by diva favorite Joyce DiDonato.

Capriccio is chock full of depth underneath the finery and ornate superficiality. This is one work to re-visit again and again as is the case with many of Strauss’ other tremendously provocative works. What’s most interesting in Capriccio is the summation of Richard Strauss’ ongoing dilemma which will dwell into infinity. Exceptional.

Christie Grimstad




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