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Garsington's acoustic isn't overkind to its strings; but by the time of the famous (and pretty gorgeously played) sextet the score's riches, a bit muzzy at the start, were emerging. The central role of the wife, Christine (celebrated for the talents of Lucia Popp, and Lotte Lehmann before her) fell to the terrific, engaging and involving Yvonne Kenny, who effectively carried the first act, bringing her sheaf of talents to bear on the by turns fussy, possessive, unfulfilled ('he's kein Damenmann : if only he'd treat me rough, as a man should'), shrewish, tantrumish, and gloriously inconsistent (hence easily rewooable) spouse. Just occasionally she seemed to slice at high notes; otherwise the voice, like her presence, was mesmerising.

Yvonne Kenny as Christine and Tom Erik Lie as Robert Storch in the Garsington Opera 2001 production of 'Intermezzo'. Photo (c) 2001 Keith Saunders

Storch himself was sung with radiant ease by a wonderful Norwegian baritone, Tom Erik Lie, with much German experience -- currently at Leipzig and poised to join the Deutsche Oper, Berlin -- who (despite a modest manner) has a charismatic presence and a voice of considerably appealing character; the slightly incongruous 'Baron', her youthful tenor admirer, by a marginally underused Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts. There were strong cameos, vocal and visual, from Lynda Russell as Anna, the housekeeper (the same name as the Strauss's own family retainer, who served notice -- though retracted (both possibly in solidarity with the amazed Frau Strauss) -- when the opera appeared) and Geoffrey Dolton as the taken-aback family solicitor, a capable singer-actor (given the space) with a neat range of gesture. Sam Dagul (doubling with Thomas Montague) gave a particularly good account of the boy Franzl (the childhood nickname of Strauss's own son). The four Act II 'skat' partners (a favourite game of the composer's) spoke superbly (having acted pretty indifferently in their first half roles).

And gradually, patiently nursed by Howarth, the music came into its own : wonderfully built climaxes, where Strauss brings everything into play; gorgeous cellos in the 'gramophone' interlude; paired oboes and smatterings of bassoon in another; another, wonderfully fretful. Charming use of piano within the orchestral textures; witty collective ensemble during Strauss's amusing paper-reading scene, when Christine and the impoverished Baron struggle to make conversation; perky orchestral detail for the end of the 'notary' scene, leading into paired low flutes poached straight from Der Freischütz; whispers of bass clarinet and moody strings in one of Christine's gloriously unpredictable soliloquies, exquisite clarinet punctuating the stillness of their (failed) first reconciliation, oboes in ironic cantilena as Storch parries her poutiness with the Baron, tragically sinuous horn as she is briefly deserted, and at last the gorgeous return of the sextet for the final cementing. What wonderful, clever indulgence.

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Copyright © 2 August 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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