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Pure Aryan Joy

New York
New York State Theater
09/07/2005 -  
Richard Strauss: Capriccio
Countess: Pamela Armstrong
Clairon: Claire Powell
Flamand: Ryan MacPherson
Olivier: Mel Ulrich
Count: George Mosley
La Roche: Eric Halfvarson
Italian Singer: Lisa Saffer
Italian Singer: Barry Banks
Monsieur Taupe: Jonathan Green
Major-Domo: Brian McIntosh
NYCO Orchestra
George Manahan (conductor)

The New York City Opera opened its season on Wednesday evening with a new production of Capriccio. Updating the action, or rather stasis, to the 1950’s director Stephen Lawless fills the stage with more chairs than Jerry Lewis has to set up in the classic film The Bellboy. Much of the stage business is the moving about of these seats for an audience who ultimately does not show up.

One needs to suspend a lot more than simple disbelief to appreciate this piece of Nazi burgomeisterism and can envision many sympathetic nods at the Munich premiere in 1942 when La Roche suggests eliminating the Jews from opera plots. Strauss’s thesis seems to be that to support the war effort one should become as comfortable as possible. The composer of the Simphonia Domestica, where the “clatter of knife and fork” can be heard, constructs his last opera to extol the pleasures of suburban living.

Soprano Pamela Armstrong shone with a burnished glow in the final scene, the one that everyone will remember, but disappointed throughout much of the rest of the evening, appearing to be saving herself for the big number, during which, by the way, she was whisked to the back of the stage on a moving platform complete with harp. Was the ultimate destination Heaven?

The real stars of the show were bass Eric Halfvarson as La Roche and Claire Powell as Clairon. Halfvarson was solid throughout, projecting a stunning resonance throughout the New York State Theater, whose acoustics are unforgiving at best. He will be playing Sparafucile at the Met this year in the much anticipated Rigoletto with Anna Netrebko, who should look good even stuffed into a sack. Ms. Powell performed yeomanlike service in a role which the Clemens Krauss libretto characterizes with the phrase “if only she could sing”. And sing she does, as well as declaiming and speaking in pitch on occasion. Her non-musical scene (the basic plot is a war between words and music) with the Count, played by George Mosley, was the comic highlight of the proceedings.

It was donor gala night and so lines like “the audience is out there yawning and yammering” and “supper is served” took on special meaning. In fact it was easy to spot my fellow critics. They were the only men with that lean and hungry look but without black tie.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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