Decca: 014 3454
The libretto for Richard Strauss's 15th and final opera was co-written by the composer and conductor Clemens Krauss. Inspired by a short libretto by the 18ch-century poet, Giambattista Casti, called Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the Music, Then the Words), it is a polemic about which has priority in opera. It is a chatty work, so it's not surprising that the opera is subtitled, Conversation Piece for Music. Set in a chateau near Paris in 1775. the Countess Madeleine is pursued by two lovers--the composer Flamand and the poet Olivier.This love triangle becomes an allegory for the debate about the relative importance of words and music.
For this Metropolitan Opera revival, John Cox's original 1998 production was updated, with new costumes, to the 1920s. As the Countess's young lovers, the Met contracted two gifted Canadian singers, tenor Joseph Kaiser (Flamand) and baritone Russell Braun (Olivier), both tender and passionate in their pursuit of Madeleine. British bass Peter Rose scores considerable success in the pivotal role of the theatre director, La Roche. His account of the "Directors Monologue" is remarkable in its detail. Both baritone Morten Frank Larsen (as the Countess's brother) and mezzo Sarah Connolly (as the actress, Clairon) are clearly up to their tasks, while the singing and antics of the Italian Singers, soprano Olga Makarina and tenor Barry Banks, are also praiseworthy.
Unlike Verdi sopranos, great Strauss sopranos have never been in short supply--from Lisa della Casa and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf to Cundula Janowitz, Elisabech Soderstrom, Lucia Popp, Kiri Te Kanawa, Felicity Lott and, most recently, Renee Fleming. In fact, the role of the Countess could have been written for her and fits her like a glove (perhaps more so than does the Marschallin in Dcr llosenkavalitr). While she is an alluring figure on stage, moving with enviable ease and grace, it is the effulgence of her distinctive soprano that makes the portrayal outstanding.
Capriccio is very much a conductor's opera, with the orchestra constantly commenting on or underscoring the dialogue.The .Met was fortunate to secure the services of Sir Andrew Davis, who has been conducting this score since I 973 with such leading Countesses as Soderstrom, Lott.Te Kanawa and Fleming."It's still absolutely my favorite Strauss opera. I adore it," he has told me."It's one of those pieces, and there are not very many, where I could walk into the pit tomorrow and conduct it. And it's a very complicated piece--some tricky things there for everybody."