Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Richard Strauss: Capriccio – Paris, 2004 (Part 1: Opera about Opera)

Somewhat like Ariadne auf Naxos, Capriccio is an opera about opera. During the prelude (seen in a previous post) we see the Countess entering the opera house and sitting down to hear Flammand’s music. Here, we are clearly in the theater.  Robert Carsen seems to love this kind of stuff—using a novel setting that allows us see and hear the piece from a different angle. 
I don’t have a problem with it set on a stage. (That's usually where operas happen anyway!) I think it’s easy to stop noticing the stage stuff in the background. I could also imagine they are having a small party on the stage (like the Met?) sponsored by the Countess.  The spare set allows us to focus on the singer/actors; on the conversation. Carsen projects his attitude about the piece: this is art about art. As the opera progresses, though, I am not sure if we are still in the theater or if we have been cinematically whisked away to the Countess’ chateau.
Updating the story to the 20th Century doesn’t do any damage to the plot, but it makes the discussion of Gluck, Lully, and Rameau (not as topical in the 1940s) seem a bit strange. Not much is made of the Nazis lurking around in the back. I think Carsen should have done more with this potato, or just left it out.

Once again, Carsen excels with the Personenregie. The Count (Dietrich Henschel) seems ready for any kind of new romantic adventure, and Clairon is the next obvious available choice. I’m not sure the Countess (Renée Fleming) even knows what she wants yet. The sibling relationship of the Count and Countess seems real: playful, yet loving and supportive. Franz Hawlata portrays director La Roche as important without blustering too much. La Roche may be Carsen’s favorite, as the man who brings all the art together in the theater. He ultimately comes across as the most grounded character on stage.
Anne Sofie von Otter gives us a Clairon, who is a full-on, over-the-top, flamboyant diva, which seems about right for this character—a little bit of Norma Desmond via Carol Burnett. After a confrontation with Olivier over their past romance, she stalks away and runs into the ballerina, who quickly jumps out of her way. Clairon sits down in a huff and stabs her cake with a force that clearly has more to do with anger than hunger. In the video posted here, she reads Olivier's play with the Count. She seems to be directing a lot of her lines directly to Olivier, while he has clearly written the sonnet for the Countess. 
Gerald Finley as Olivier gives good face as well as good voice. He’s at his most expressive in his reactions to Flammand’s (Rainer Trost) setting of his words: pleasure, pain, pride, surprise, resentment. 

Both poet and composer are entranced and ardently in love with the Countess.  As they plead their cases, I find it hard to believe she can resist either one.

Will she decide? Shmaybe. Find out in the next post.


  1. Your Carsen adventure will not be complete until you have seen his Rusalka. I think it's the one where he carries mathematical concepts the furthest with some fascinating symmetries and symmetry breaking.

    1. I will check it out. I just want to make sure I don't end up with the Martin Kušej version by accident. I am not quite ready yet for HIS take on Rusalka.

      Sometime soon I need to do a review of his Midsummer Night's Dream, too. (Carsen's, not Kušej's!)

    2. The Kusej Rusalka is worth a look though it's definitely flawed. A Carsen MSND is something I would be very interested in.

    3. I will move that MSND closer to the top of my "to be reviewed" stack.


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