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Radiant and subtle

Strauss's 'Capriccio' -
reviewed by

'... Renée Fleming ... (sang) like an angel throughout ...'

Richard Strauss: Capriccio. © 2004 Opera National de Paris, Francois Roussillon et Associes, TDK

Elgar added a Longfellow quote to his revised 'Enigma' conclusion (Elegiac Verses xiv): 'Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending'; Strauss had not the slightest problem in this work either to start or finish, whether with the delectable string sextet that launches the opera or the marvellous pages that follow when darkness falls on the château and moonlight creeps over the terrace into the empty hall for the Countess's final monologue. Longfellow's next line is 'Many a poem is marred by a superfluous verse', and Strauss should have been more carefully on guard.

Anne Sofie von Otter as Clairon with her companion. DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris
Anne Sofie von Otter as Clairon with her companion. DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris

But he knew exactly what he was doing when suggesting 1775 as approximate date for Capriccio, a time when Gluck's operatic reforms were hot news, there was animated debate whether words or music should prevail in opera, Voltaire might be played at Versailles, and pre-revolutionary France as yet needed no powers of emergency. This DVD staging by Robert Carsen prefers 1942, when the work was first performed. This allows the flamboyant actress Clairon to make her entry followed by a mercifully silent Nazi, suitably blonde and uniformed. Whether this is a comment on France's war record or indeed that of Strauss himself I cannot possibly know. It just means most of the cunning 18th century references in the libretto go for nothing.

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Copyright © 1 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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