Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Richard Strauss: Capriccio – Paris, 2004 (Part 2: The Decision Not to Decide)

Strauss is great at setting conversation, which is good, since Capriccio is “A conversation piece with music.” When everyone is teasing La Roche about his mythical presentation, the poet and composer play with the model set and the costumes; the Italian singers squabble, the Countess, Count, and Clairon chat and laugh, and poor La Roche blusters indignantly. (Here the subtitle folks do finally give up on trying to represent every word of text.) A backdrop flies in from above and the stagehands wrestle with it. The dancer dances. And it all makes musical sense.  

In case I have not mentioned it before, this is a really strong cast.  Fleming, Henschel, Trost, Finley, von Otter, and Halwata are all in top form. Robert Tear has a cameo role (one wishes it were longer) as the prompter who fell asleep during the play rehearsal.  His appearance from the prompter’s box reminds us again that we are indeed watching an opera.  He does his bit “in one” in front of the closed theater curtain. His parting line is, “Is this a dream, or am I already awake?”
Speaking of reminders, when the gang tries to decide on the topic of their new opera, they suggest and dismiss subjects: Ariadne auf Naxos has been done too many times; Daphne would be too hard to stage convincingly. Finally, the Count suggests they write an opera about the day’s events and discussions. And LaRoche comments that staging it will difficult, since it has no plot (wink, wink). At the very end, Carsen pulls off one final signature coup de théâtre, just in case we forgot we were watching an opera about an opera within an opera.
S0. Words or Music? In this performance, the Countess has either decided on both, or neither. The final scene is presented as the opera that Flammand and Olivier have written for her, which makes it seem like she decided on both. (The “Opera” is indicated by actual scenery, exaggerated makeup, and lots of glitter on the costumes. It's too bad that Fleming’s photo on the DVD is taken from this section.) 
Here we see the Countess both on stage and in a theater box with her brother (a trick not likely employed in the theater, though it’s possible I’m sure.) Olivier, Flammand, and LaRoche are in another box.  The camera cuts back for reaction shots now and then. But the singer on stage technically is portraying the Countess, singing words and music written by Flammand and Olivier. The Countess in the opera box is the "real" Countess.
Is the Countess really undecided? Does she even want a new relationship? She seems not only reluctant to decide, she seemed reluctant to be courted. She mentions that the poet and composer will find each other in the library tomorrow morning instead of her. Maybe instead of deciding, she is going to skip town with the Haushofmeister. Olivier and Flammand have developed a strong relationship from working together (“Loving enemies—friendly opponents”), but once the words are set to music, they belong to the singer.  
Nobody asked me, but I think the Countess should set up both men in her chateau (it seems enormous), and "sponsor" her poet and her composer, for a happy ménage. After all, opera is words and music and singing!

Musically this performance would be hard to match. Everyone is at the top of their vocal game. The staging is a bit quirky, but I think it works, and it's much more fun than some of the more "traditional" productions.

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