PERFORMER: Felicity Lott, Thomas Allen, Gregory Kunde, Stephan Genz, Günter von Kannen, Iris Vermillion; SWR Stuttgart Vocal Ensemble & RSO/Georges Prêtre
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 268052
On paper, the conceit behind Strauss’s Capriccio seems almost trite: the debate on the primacy of words and music in opera personified in the rivalry of a poet and a composer for the affections of a countess (‘opera’). In practice, though, was there ever more perfect an opera? Strauss thought its appeal would not extend beyond connoisseurs, yet he uncharacteristically underestimated his own abilities to move, entertain and entrap his audience. The limited number of recordings in the catalogue points, rather than to lack of interest, to the reverential way in which it is deemed and its ability to come alive only with the best singers a generation can offer.
Felicity Lott has certainly been the leading Countess on stage for the last decade, and her vulnerable yet noble performance in this version recorded in concert in Mannheim last year makes hers the most attractive assumption of the role on the four recordings currently available. Where Schwarzkopf (EMI) is over-precious [see overleaf] and Te Kanawa (Decca) and Janowitz (DG) are certainly more interested in the music than the words, Lott is consummate.
In an ideal world, one would want to pluck the best cast from all the recordings. Iris Vermillion, for example, is an urbane Clairon here, but lacks Fassbaender’s unforgettable characterisation for Decca. Stephan Genz is undoubtedly the best Olivier – up against Bär and Fischer-Dieskau, though Schreier (DG) and Gedda (EMI) are preferable to Gregory Kunde’s over-aspirated Flamand. Thomas Allen is a gruff-sounding Count, but Günter von Kannen is up there with Hotter and Ridderbusch as La Roche. Prêtre might not have Sawallisch’s or Böhm’s Straussian credentials, but he makes the Stuttgart RSO play this almost chamber-like score for all its worth. Matthew Rye