COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: C Major
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss: Capriccio
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Bo Skovhus, Michael Schade, Markus Eiche, Angelika Kirschlager, Kurt Rydl; Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach; dir. Marco Arturo Marelli (Vienna, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 715908 (2 discs); Blu-ray: 716004
Capriccio relies on precise social detail. It may well be that favourite 20th-century theatrical conceit, ‘an opera within an opera’, but, as Strauss made clear on the title page of the score, it is ‘A Conversation Piece for Music’. It is also a conversation about music, or rather words and music. We need to hear the argument and see each social nuance: Clairon condescending to the Countess, for example, or La Roche the theatre director bullying the writer Olivier.
Marco Arturo Marelli’s production plays all manner of games with the idea of theatrical illusion. The poet Olivier and the composer Flamand start their quarrel in 20th-century costumes before slipping back into the age of Gluck, an age where every character seems to wear distressed satins and silks purchased from a Louis XVI version of a charity shop, and the Countess’s salon is a riot of silvering, mirrors and perspex furniture that wouldn’t seem out of place in the foyer of a Las Vegas hotel.
Markus Eiche as the poet and Michael Schade as the composer – both in love with the Countess – are perfectly adequate, and Kurt Rydl crowns a fine stage career with a gloriously eccentric impersonation of La Roche, which is more than can be said of Bo Skovhus’s Count whose attempts at bad acting are just bad. The singing honours belong entirely to Angelika Kirchschlager as Clairon. What can one say about Renée Fleming’s Countess? The sound is lovely even if she does attack her notes from below, but as so often she might be singing this most conversational of operas in any one of 20 different European languages. In the celebrated final scene as she tries to decide about words and music and between her two suitors, it seems unkind that she is required to simper round the room like an elderly Ginger Rogers.