OPERA - RICHARD STRAUSS - CAPRICCIO
Victoria’s whinging that Opera Australia sends down only tired
productions with second-rate singers, the national company opened its
new version of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in Melbourne with an
all-star cast on May 2.
Strauss had conceived
Capriccio as a conversation piece for connoisseurs,
ringing the changes on whether poetry takes priority over music. The
occasion is a birthday celebration for a Countess, as a writer and a
composer vie for her love.
ever, Richard Strauss attempted too much out of too little. Yet, by his
fifteenth and final opera, craft overcame coarseness with a whimsical
score and raffish text. If the content is caviar to the million,
resolution of the debate is
When the Countess asks herself ‘Is there any ending that is not
butler responds “Supper is served’. Curtain.
Beginning and closing
as chamber music, Capriccio’s intimacies are endangered in a 2000-seat
theatre. Opera Australia’s production is burdened with an interval so
that a confection which should be enjoyed in two hours is spun out for
three. Worse, the first Act is stranded as a talk-shop, short on
dramatic and musical interest.
able to follow the dialogue is vital if the want of action is not to
prove tedious. Capriccio should therefore be in the language of the
audience. Instead, it is in German with surtitles.
Cox’s direction moved the setting from the 1780s to the 1930s for no
advantage and at the risk of rending its rococo texture. Apart from some
snide references to Strauss’s own operas, none of the composers named
in Capriccio is more recent than Piccinni who died in 1800. If you
modernise the furnishings and fashions, why not update the text to
include Puccini or Lehar? That adjustment would mean rewriting the
Despite nice touches,
such as the Countess’s wagging
her finger at herself in the mirror, the stage business needs more froth and less
revolve cannot overcome the fact that the principals do little beyond
these reservations are forgotten once Conal Coad explodes with his fury
aria, all the more effective because his depiction of the vulgar
impresario had been restrained. Angus Wood as the poet displayed how his
baritone is growing richer. In the role of the composer, Nicholai
Schukoff’s tenor remains a shade shy of the lyric. Jeffrey Black as
the Count was appropriately ham-fisted in his acting which did not infect
the beauties of his love song.
Kenny’s presentation of the Countess-cum-Muse was more matronly than
her voice was mellifluous before she fulfilled Strauss’s on-stage
passion for the soprano voice in the extended solo scene that concludes
the work. Elizabeth Campbell as the actress was vivacious in body and
Allen and Joanna Cole as the Italian singing duet sustained humour in
the face of the indignities of the hired help. Among the cameo parts,
Graeme Ewer was perfection as the narcoleptic theatre prompt.
the pit, Gustav Kuhn kept to the balance between accompanying the
conversation and blaring forth only when the Strauss score calls for
that self-mocking effect. The raggedness of the Victorian State
Orchestra has disappeared, a return to quality nowhere more so than in
the horn playing.
suffuses Capriccio as thoroughly as it had Strauss’s Salome
but here it is more is on the surface, in the manner of Mozart’s Cosi.
Incest between text and tone is mirrored in the Count and Countess as
brother and sister. Around that coupling is serialised group sex. The
actress who goes off with the Count had once been mistress of the poet
who is last seen embracing the composer who is still his rival for the
favours of the Countess. The sozzled soprano cannot keep her paws off
the director. Small wonder that that propagandist for family values, Dr
Goebbels, called Strauss a ‘neurotic degenerate’.
continues in Melbourne until May 13, and opens in Sydney in August.]