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Selected Review


Opera

Frankfurt Oper
Richard Strauss - Capriccio

Frankfurt Oper - Richard Strauss -  Capriccio

Originally conceived as an apéritif and thought of as a twin work with Daphne, Capriccio is neither; if one digs a little under the surface a complete new world of disparate clues emerges.

The work takes place in a Chateau outside Paris around 1775, the time of Der Rosenkavalier. Louis XVI, the last King of the Ancien Régime which was crumbling ascended the throne in Paris; one year later Mozart composed The Impresario; the characters defend two sides, poetry or music. Although the action takes place in 1775, the piece was composed at the height of World War II, when French music was forbidden, so was the setting in France with all its connotations an act of defiance the Nazis never understood? After all, the preferred style of the German bourgeoisie was either Rennaissance or Jugendstil and not Rokoko. Strauss believed this was a piece for a special public and favoured Salzburg for its premiere. But in reality, the good people of Munich had to go through dark streets and countless obstacles to reach the world premiere on October 26th 1942. Two days later the air raids started.

Capriccio is one of Richard Strauss’s most enigmatic works. But what comes first, music or words, does not really matter. It is just an aesthetical question between intellectuals. If Ariadne auf Naxos proposes that a rich man can do whatever he wishes with the work he purchased from an artist, Capriccio is much more subtle; it is like an unmixed cocktail. However there is a unifying character. The Countess holds all these ingredients together and also observes them developing and conflicting one with each other. Madeleine is like Strauss himself, cool as a cucumber, letting the action run its course without intervening. With Madeleine, Strauss produces yet another special character in the mould of his greatest, the Marschallin, something producer Brigitte Fassbänder has understood very well. She draws the curtains during the orchestral introduction to the closing scene to reopen them showing a forced perspective creating the illusion of a huge orangery. Earlier, this was the main room where all the action took place, but now it is the Marschallin herself who appears wearing costumes of Maria Theresa’s period, leaving the public aghast. Strauss himself cried during and after the closing scene exclaiming, I have never composed anything more beautiful...and this is true. So is this the end of the question? Has music triumphed? No, of course not. Madeleine asks the question which, for Strauss, is very important. How to make the end of the opera not sound trivial? Or perhaps, the question should be widened. Has opera become trivial as Strauss himself thought at the time and is looking for an elegant way out? Does Strauss himself tiptoe away with the final pizzicatos?

In a traditional production we see the Majordomo (a true descendant of Struhan) appearing with the words: Frau Gräfin, das Souper ist serviert, which in itself is the most trivial way of not being trivial. In this context of cool formality, there is nothing trivial in the Majordomo’s words. In 1942 Germany had not yet lost the war but it was, in Churchill’s words, the end of the beginning. So Capriccio is a child of war, an exercise in escapism yes, but not just that. It is also an exercise in the universality of art and as such it triumphs in many fronts, simply because it is universal.

The closing scene made Strauss cry, but also made the world cry. Fassbaender sets it in a French chateau outside Paris during the German occupation. This is grandeur without central heating. There is cake to be eaten, but it is the Italian soprano who gulps it all from the guests’ plates. A small child playing with a German panzer makes an impersonation of Hitler only to be heavily reprimanded by the Majordomo (his father). But, what are those suitcases doing piled up on one side and instrument cases on top? And why does one of the “musicians” make a V sign? And the poster calling for Liberation being shown to Madeleine? Later one of those “musicians” opens one of the cases and a machine gun appears, then more guns and machine guns. What is going on? Only at the end when the Majordomo reappears to say his “trivial” words do we begin to understand. Das Souper are code words. Madeleine takes off her Marschallin dress, the Majordomo helps her to unbutton, and hands her a trenchcoat and a beret; the “servants” are also dressed in civvies with their suitcases, they wish each other bon chance with their Resistance work.

On January 18th Camilla Nylund was deliciously melancholic as Madeleine and resolute as resistance member, a Marschallin taking up arms, her silvery voice perfect for a complex role which she delivered to perfection. Gordon Bintner was a less than foppish Count, A.J. Glueckert an ardent Flamand and Daniel Schmutzhard a cool headed Olivier. Alfred Reiter was the larger than life La Roche, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner a self assured Clairon, and Sydney Mancasola and Mario Chang a stereotyped pair of Italian singers in search of food. There was a delicately absorbing dancer, Katharina Wiedenhofer, much in pursuit of a brilliant career flirting with La Roche, and Gurgen Baveyan a distinguished Majordomo/Resistance member who could solve everything. But was this rather forceful Graham Clark as Monsieur Taupe a spy in this context? With this end, very well constructed and moving, Fassbaender seemed to indicate that art has to be fought for, there are many enemies which must be confronted, not just the Nazis. Sebastian Weigle conducted with light hand an excellent orchestra which did not need much prodding to produce very good sound.

Eduardo Benarroch

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