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<<  -- 2 --  Robert Anderson    RADIANT AND SUBTLE

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As setting for this performance there is the whole of the Palais Garnier, Paris's resplendent opera house. The Countess of Renée Fleming, moving with incomparable grace, can therefore be seen walking the gilded length of its corridors, some of the cast can file into a box, and most of the action takes place on the wide expanses of its stage. There the musician Flamand (Rainer Trost) and Gerald Finley as the poet Olivier are commenting on the Countess's absorption in the music of Flamand's sextet and confess their mutual devotion to her [listen -- 'Bezaubernd ist sie heute wieder', DVD1 chapter 3, 0:00-1:10]. Words or music is the opera's subject; does the Countess really have to choose between their proponents? Of course not in the social milieu of Louis XV or XVI.

Renée Fleming as The Countess walks the corridors of the Palais Garnier. DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris
Renée Fleming as The Countess walks the corridors of the Palais Garnier. DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris

Olivier's sonnet is in fact a German translation by Hans Swarowsky from Ronsard. Its setting by Flamand to harpsichord accompaniment stirs Olivier's distaste and the Countess's interest; through it first occurs the idea of an opera as birthday gift for the Countess [listen -- 'Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht', DVD1 chapter 12, 0:00-1:23]. The 'director' (Franz Hawlata as La Roche) joins in the discussion, and it is decided the opera should be based on the assembled characters. Here occur subtle hints of Strauss's magic moonlight [listen -- 'Wie schön die Worte', DVD1 chapter 13, 0:00-0:57]. Dietrich Henschel's Count, showing no family likeness to his sister the Countess but fancying himself as an amateur actor, adds his voice to that of Anne Sofie von Otter as Clairon in affirming nothing could be more absurd than an opera [listen -- 'Eine Oper ist ein absurdes Ding', DVD1 chapter 24, 0:00-0:52].

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Copyright © 1 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK

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