Cher Public

If I only had a harp

Richard Strauss’ 1942 conversation-piece opera Capriccio skates along on a fine line between a fascinating idea-driven debate about the purpose of art in the wider world and a rather fussy narrow debate about text and music interesting only to those interested in opera as theatre. 

The Met’s HD production, now available on DVD, has moments of both sides of that line.

The opera is set on the eve of the birthday of the Countess Madeleine, who with her brother the Count are wealthy patrons of the art of the stage.  The widowed Countess is passionately wooed by both the poet Olivier and the composer Flamand, desperately trying to gain advantage by extolling (at length) the virtues of text vs. music. 

Also in attendance is the theatre director LaRoche, who brings a practical, audience-pleasing viewpoint to the proceedings and demands “flesh and blood characters” to populate the stage.  The famous tragedienne Clairon enlivens the proceedings and gains the affection of the Count, who fancies himself an actor as well.  Boisterous Italian singers and ballet artists also perform.

But the central issue of the piece, infused with some of Strauss’ most lush and moving music, is the fundamental, unsolvable question suggested by Salieri’s 1786 comedy Prima la musica, e poi le parole: which is more important, words or music.

Director John Cox has sought to enhance this rather static operatic conversation by moving the setting to 1920’sParis.  This works very well in terms of the production’s look—the set and costumes are quite elegant and beautiful—but also causes some odd disconnects.  Cox has chosen not to change any of the eighteenth century references, and they are indeed jarring.  Instead of referencing composers of the time, Cox stays with the references to Gluck, Lully, and Rameau; perhaps the most jarring is LaRoche’s line “I met old Goldoni in a café the other day.”  Has he a Time Machine?

In his director’s notes, Cox says he wants to avoid that “So often with Capriccio, one gets the impression of a group of silk and satin dilettantes idling their way affectedly through a vacuous afternoon;” he seeks to please LaRoche’s desire to populate the stage with “creatures of flesh and blood.”  Unfortunately, the DVD performance seems vacuous indeed; only in moments of high passion do we feel very much for these artists and their patrons.  The words/music debate grows wearying, the performances grow increasingly precious and cloying, and the great heart needed at the center to make this opera work is simply not there.

The male performers carry the day here.  Joseph Kaiser gives the finest vocal and histrionic performance I have seen from him as the composer Flamand, passionate and desperate in his love for Madeleine and in his desire to create great music.

Russell Braun as the poet Olivier hasn’t Kaiser’s multi-faceted character work, but he comes into his own with a vivid and exciting declamation of the love poem he has written to the Countess.  Peter Rose as the director LaRoche commands the stage with power and grace; his aria defending the needs of the theatre is splendid.  There is also a very fine cameo as the Major-Domo from the veteran Michael Devlin, whose deadpan approach is perfect.  Morgan Frank Larsen is charming and amusing as the love-struck Count.

Sarah Connolly as the tragedienne Clairon scores with her haughty attitude and lusty demeanor, but she seems a bit frumpy and matronly in the role.

This brings us to the Countess of Renée Fleming. This has been a signature role of hers for quite some time, and it must be said that she is still capable of absolutely ravishing singing.  Much of the creamy tone is still present (especially in the middle voice), though a little acid has entered her upper register of late.  Her command of the Strauss line remains superb.  She looks glamorous and stylish in her blue and silver gowns.

But something is missing: dramatic involvement and real heart and vulnerability.  Fleming spends much of the conversational part of the opera playing a rather vague and general quality of elegance; nothing seems to be going on behind her eyes.  I expect her performance looked better in the house, but on HD all her expressions and gestures seemed calculated and manufactured, as if to say “this is what it would look like if I was really feeling something.”

She rarely looks at her colleagues in conversation; she attempts to convey emotion by hands-on-face or hands-on chest, but on HD it is utterly clear that there’s nobody at home.  And because of this, the opera seems trivial and affected.  Even in the wonderful final scene, the Countess’ showcase, she cannot seem to rouse herself to real passion or honest emotion.  It’s a shame—Fleming remains an important artist but for whatever reason, dramatic involvement seems to have left the building.

There are a number of delights in this production—the ballet dancers are hilarious as are Barry Banks and Olga Makarina as the Italian singers who eat their way through the evening.  But one leaves the DVD with only a sense of emptiness and artifice, wondering what might have been.

Happily, Sir Andrew Davis leads a spirited performance by the Met Orchestra in this unusually lush score.  If only the performance had matched the shimmering delicacy and frenzied climaxes of Strauss’ complex music.

[Henson Keys is the critic formerly known as actfive.]

  • Oh, I think it’s role-by-role as far as Fleming’s dramatic commitment. I will say this revival was about as bored as I’ve ever been at the Met, though that was hardly exclusively Fleming’s fault.

    The cover art is kind of amusing. That gesture doesn’t actually exist outside of operatic acting. Well unless she’s telling Paulie Walnuts to va fangool.

    • armerjacquino

      Operatic or MT acting. She looks as if she’s about to launch into ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ or ‘What’s The Use in Wond’rin?’

      • Batty Masetto

        Actually, it’s “I think that guy in the third balcony just mooned me.”

        • manou

          “….and I would recognize Botha anywhere”

    • mrmyster

      Well, Henson, if I may say so, and with all due respect, what is lacking in terms of dramatic effect/affect is not so much any given singer, not even Fleming or Braun,but, rather, the composer and those who helped him put Capriccio together. Ihave always found it a beautiful, carefully written, 100 lb. chunk of ice. Yes,the final solo scene is lush — a bit more of “Strauss by the yard,” as was said during the Crosby days at Santa Fe — but for all the pleasing hinted melody and warming harmonies and moments of chromatic daring, one sits there and wonders why all this is being lavished on — nothing; no resolution; nothing but a self-satisfied narcissistic pussycat named Madeleine, having her Dinner For One. Sorry, that’s how I see it. When you think of what Arabella and Mandryka are singing about, or the three ladies in the Rosenkavalier Trio or Ariadne and Bacchus — well there is some emotional resolution to celebrate. Yes, a good soprano and a good orchestra can make that final Capriccio scene so warm and schmoozy-wonderful — but to what effect? What do you take home? What does Madeleine ‘take home?’ Nothing. That particular Strauss opera is all about being a Strauss opera, and it is absolutely sterile, empty — to my limited, middle-class midwestern taste.(:) Surely you know what I mean. You don’t have to agree! Great singing
      helps, but it does not solve the problem; nothing ever will.

      • Odd to see “Capriccio” compared unfavorably to “Arabella”, of all things.

        I think “Capriccio” reveals Strauss’s genius at its highest level of inspiration. The musical line—warm, glorious, autumnal—does not falter once for two uninterrupted hours of sheer rapture. It is a miraculous score with a ravishing musical argument, radiant from beginning to end. One could make a compelling argument that it is the most beautiful and most eloquent of all 20th Century operas, and entirely sui generis.

        In his memoirs, Joseph Volpe wrote: “We mounted Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio, which gives the audience two hours of pedantic Viennese chatter before cutting loose at the end with fifteen minutes of gorgeous soprano singing.”

        For me, that sentence proved that Volpe should never have been permitted within 500 yards of an opera house.

        • mrmyster

          Drew, I rather doubt Volpe wrote that in his book — did he not have an acknowledged “helper?” The idea expressed is right: god bless!
          Let me ask you this: what is the meaning of Capriccio? What is it all
          about? What does it conclude? What is it telling us? What human
          message does it carry? What emotional climax comes at the end to justify/stimulate all that lovely singing and wafting melody?
          What?
          I am keen to know.
          (Though I am afraid I already know the answer!)

          • The sentence I quoted appears on page 178 of Volpe’s memoirs.

            It is surely unnecessary, almost seventy years after the opera’s premiere, to spell out for you what Strauss and Krauss were attempting in “Capriccio”. The work has been lavishly analyzed by Strauss scholars in countless books, monographs and journals for decades—and has acquired an exalted reputation even among those who, as a general rule, dislike the music of Strauss. There are only a handful of works in the entire repertory as richly rewarding and with such sublime music as “Capriccio”. The attractions of the work are obvious—although perhaps not susceptible to a ten-word Western Union message.

        • Regina delle fate

          Hear. hear, Drew. Arabella is surely the most over-rated of Strauss’s frequently performed operas. I’ve always thought that Schwarzkopf -- who never challenged Lisa della Casa’s “ownership” of the role on stage -- was dead right in only recording the purple passages. There’s more than the usual Strauss padding in between those justly prized hit numbers. I remember reading an interview with Söderström, who when asked why she had never sung Arabella, replied that it was such a silly opera and she would fall about laughing if she had to sing lines like “Und Du wirst mein Gebieter sein und ich Dir Untertan”. Arabella comes across a bit as dim-witted totty, and Zdenka is a far more likeable character. Apart from Della Casa, it’s hard to think of a “great” Arabella (I suspect Steber must have the role her own in the US). In my time, Kiri and Anna Tomova-Sintov have come closest. Karita was glitzy and way too pushy for the character -- hard to imagine her being anyone’s Untertan, really -- and I haven’t seen Fleming’s. Popp was nearly ideal, but she was a better Zdenka and by the time she sang Arabella, she had plumped out both her voice and her person. Arabella is a highlights opera, but Capriccio is a masterpiece!

          • MontyNostry

            … but the highlights of Arabella are so wonderful that it’s worth sitting through the padding (and even Fiakermilli) for them. Arabella, Zdenka and Mandryka all arouse sympathy in their different ways and the fairy-tale-like central story is set against a rather sleazy milieu in a striking fasion. And, beautiful though Madeleine’s final scene is, it doesn’t get me the way Arabella’s does. That serene music when she comes down the stairs, after all the mess and panic and chromaticism that’s been going on, always gets me snivelling!

          • phoenix

            Fate, I have to defend one of my favorite operas. It’s probably a favorite of mine for personal reasons (Kiri te Kanawa being one of those reasons), but I always found it one of Strauss’ most fascinating orchestral scores ever since I first saw it at Circustheater ‘s-Gravenhage (February 1983) with Ashley Putnam. I have also listened to it on several live performance broadcasts and I find it increasingly interesting every time I hear it. Also, I find it a shame that it appears the general public seems to feel as you do, which I think accounts for the fact the opera is not performed often enough. I will admit the plot of Arabella is ridiculous, but that is so for most operas in my opinion. I don’t even know what the ‘hit numbers’ are in Arabella, but the entire score weaves an wide-ranging web of captivating musical ideas, even some blowsy late-1020’s jazz (introduction to Act 3).

          • phoenix

            1920’s jazz, not early middle ages Roman band music! Sorry for the typo.

  • I saw this in the house last year and will concur. I was bored to tears. Yes the music was beautiful,but I couldn’t care less about the protagonists. I was also surprised how SMALL Fleming’s voice sounded in the house. She was often swamped by the orchestra. I was in center orchestra, row J.

  • m. croche

    “Cox has chosen not to change any of the eighteenth century references, and they are indeed jarring. Instead of referencing composers of the time, Cox stays with the references to Gluck, Lully, and Rameau; perhaps the most jarring is LaRoche’s line “I met old Goldoni in a café the other day.” Has he a Time Machine?”

    I saw a production of Capriccio a few years back set in the 18th century. The works very well in terms of the opera’s libretto -- La Roche looks just like someone who might have seen Goldoni in a cafe! -- but that are jarring disconnects between the libretto and the music, which they chose not to alter. What 18th-century composer ever wrote a sextet? When the bass clarinet entered, I thought to myself: “Cor! that instrument hadn’t even been invented yet!” And then there was the harmony -- totally unlike anything anybody would have heard in the 18th century.

    And did I mention the singing? How can this be a realistic show if everybody is singing all the time?

    I was so disgusted I went home and popped in videos of Les Biches and Le Train Bleu.

    • verliebtenmadeleine

      “And did I mention the singing? How can this be a realistic show if everybody is singing all the time?”

      It’s opera. That’s what opera people do.

    • verliebtenmadeleine

      Oh! You’re being ironic. Sorry.

  • brooklynpunk

    This is one of the VERY few Strauss works that really creeps me out-regardless of who is in it, or what House production is being performed.

    That Strauss felt that an Opera concerned with what is more important- words or music-? -- in 1942-was “in order” tends to give me a more then slightly chilling( not in a good way) feeling.

    I actually can deal with some other of his works written earlier during those grim times..(I love “Daphne”)…but something about this one sets my teeth on edge--even with that lovely final scene.

    • BP, I usually agree with you, but not here. I don’t think there’s a moral or aesthetic obligation (is there such a thing as an aesthetic obligation?) for artists to write only political works in dark times. What could he have written that would have been appropriate?

      • brooklynpunk

        Maury:

        I am not sure that I meant that an artist is ALWAYS obligated to directly address the political situations of his/her times; or (even) that Strauss SHOULD HAVE had the balls to write something that attacked the system ( ALTHOUGH-- Even such a politically opportunist sort of gent as Carl Orff managed to get some “zingers” in against the regime, in “Die Kluge”)

        It just puzzles--and saddens me. a bit --personally-- that a composer whom I otherwise revere, came up with this particular work , at the time he did

        • ianw2

          But why are you surprised? Strauss was an expert at putting his head in the sand, and was such an egotist to think all politics were beneath him (let’s not forget he considered himself the final stand of true German music, the last station on the great train line of Bach, Beethoven and Bruckner).

        • Camille

          Brooklyn, he had come up with that magnum opus “Friedenstag” in the late thirties, which may have created problems — I can no longer remember the particulars of all that — and he was very emphatic about using Stefan Zweig as librettist, for which he took a great deal of guff. As well, are you aware his daughter-in-law was Jewish, thereby making his grandsons as well, by Judaic law? He was in a very ticklish situation and I think all the facts should be gathered before any conclusions are drawn, that’s all. This information I obtained from reading Michael Kennedy’s biography of Strauss about ten years ago, and am attempting to recall as best I can so I may err, but I would possibly recommend to read this book, available at NYPAL.

          • brooklynpunk

            Camille:

            I am not totally damning Strauss (unfortunately-I am way too fond of MOST of his opus , to do that).

            Yes-- Alice Strauss was Jewish-- and so, as you mention-were his grandsons, by birth--and they did suffer, for that(I AM glad that you didn’t bring up the questionable old ” story” of RS driving to the gates of Theresianstadt demanding the release of his imprisoned Mother-in-law…

            While I don’t have the libretto in front of me, I recall the last time I saw “Capriccio” at NYCO-and- in the subtitles, the impressario sings a bit of what he believes is perverting the current state of music, and has a line saying he can’t wait for the disappearence of “oriental or jewish music”( we hear a few notes from “Salome” at that ,I think?)

            What do you think the Munich audience of 1942 was thinking , at THAT point…..?

          • oedipe

            Well, anti-jewishness is a tendency that has very complex roots and someone’s closeness to Jews does not prove anything. After all, Heidegger had a huge crush on Hannah Arendt, but this didn’t prevent him from concomitantly being fiercely anti-semitic.

          • Camille

            oh no, that Theresienstadt story has been used and pulled in every which way and I find it a bit vulgar to reiterate.

            I understand the dilemma you face. Certainly, I only know a few facts but it would appear to be a complex situation that one may never be able to draw a proper conclusion from. Formerly I used to wonder about Capriccio, since I do love it so—-what in hell was he up to, in the middle of the war? Since he lived in an isolated, splendid place and felt old and powerless to do otherwise, perhaps, and in his way, because he was born in 1864, and was already coming on seventy years old when the big rise of Nazism took over in 1933, maybe that was the only thing he felt empowered to do? I have read quite a bit about how much he protested in Stefan Zweig’s favour, at least I know that bit, but am not sure I know anything for sure. He was, after all, not a soldier but an artist. For someone who had survived that long, who had witnesssed the fall of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, perhaps he thought he could outlive them, too. When someone has lived a long, long time, they develop a canny mechanism for perpetuating that very survival. Also, what was he to do at that age? Move to Hollywood, with his old, cranky wife? So many did. I often wonder about it: what he would had done if he’d left Germany for the bright new world of Hollywood 1930’s.

            Well, perhaps he thought he could outsmart everyone. He did say when the Allies came to his front door, “I am the composer of Der Rosenkavalier”. He knew how to sound the right string. And then there was that oboe concerto he obligingly wrote for the G.I.—well, I should speculate no more as it is all a moot point, and I haven’t thought of this for a very long time.

            Maybe the Four Last Songs are all the answer we shall ever have, those, and “Malven” (which I don’t really care for anyway). They will have to suffice and we will have to forgive him, if we should or if we are able, for these last breaths of beauty.

            The German soul is a very complicated one, as observed from my life experience.

            Forgeef me for my speculations, brooklyn, but it is a problem I have wrestled with for a long time now and still see no one very good answer nor explanation. Life is like that for me, though, mostly grey, with occasional sightings of black and white. Sometimes, if I have been exceptionally lucky, something translucent and transcendant. Maybe something like Beim Schlafengehen.

            Forgeef.

          • Straussmonster

            BP, I don’t hear any Salome quotes in those bits. La Roche mentions this twice:

            First in his opening conversation with the two young men: “Wie steht es bei uns? In fernste Druidenvergangenheit tauchen unsere Dichter, zu Türken und Persern, den Propheten der Bibel schweift ihre Phantasie.”

            Second in the monologue: “In der Oper das gleiche: Greise Priester und griechische Könige aus grauer Vorzeit, Druiden, Propheten schreiten gleich Scheinen aus den Kulissen.”

            Both comments fit in nicely with his praise of opera buffa and Goldoni, in contrast to classical French opera topics.

          • Camille, I, for one, appreciate your musings on this complex subject.

          • brooklynpunk

            I appreciate your thoughts, as well , Camille

            --nicely stated!

            (I tend to sometimes get very intemperate, when it comes to how people acted ( or didn’t act) during those ghastly times--( and feel the same about people’s actions/inactions as well ,in our current age- so forgive my rant…)

  • Bill

    I disagree about Capriccio with some of the bloggers above finding the opera, which I have seen numerous times in different venues, one of the most glorious of the 20th century -- I saw the Met production with
    Fleming 4 times and had seen her as Madeleine several times previously in Vienna which kept the performance in he 18th century -- I do find Fleming not a natural Countess -- every move does seem
    calculated, nothing spontaneous -- but if it takes
    Fleming to get the Met to produce the opera, then
    one cannot quibble. I think the Reviewer correctly singles out those in the cast who were outstanding --
    it is interesting to note that the cover jacket lists only one cast member (Fleming) for an opera which
    really is an ensemble piece -- Many big names have
    been cast in the various roles over the last 60 years -- perhaps not an opera for everyone, (when the City Opera was first producing it years ago with Vanni and then Johanna Meier, many patrons thought the name
    Capriccio would yield an opers similar to the Merry
    Widow and walked out in droves as there were no waltzes and there was no intermission.), but one I would willingly attend every season. I have not seen he video but when the live performance(s ?) was being filmed, Fleming, in particular, seemed to be more concious of the camera than of the audience in the auditorium and wore a different dress in the first
    part of the opera than she had earlier. The CDs with Schwarzkopf (EMI) or Janowitz (DGG) are luminous as is the CD (Orfeo) of the live 1964 Vienna performance with della Casa and as a bonus Popp and Wunderlich as the Italian Singers.

    • Regina delle fate

      Bill -- I also have a live Della Casa performance from a radio-broadcast concert performance in Holland -- nearly all of the supporting cast are Dutch, some names I’d never heard of and all are more than decent, though not a match for the Schwarzkopf or Janowitz studio recordings. There’s also an Anna Tomova-Sintow in Salzburg recording from Orfeo and Felicity Lott from concerts in Paris on -- yes -- Capriccio! A live Capriccio with Söderström from Glyndebourne would be wonderful to have, but do you know the earlier of her two studio recordings of the final scene, on Swedish EMI? It was recorded in the early 1960s and it’s a treasure, but hard to find.

      • armerjacquino

        Regina- can’t vouch for this as I just found it on google, but look:

        http://rapidlibrary.com/files/capriccio-soderstrom-part01-rar_38892082.html

        • Regina delle fate

          Oooh AJ -- thank you! I’ll have to get a techie around to show me how to download this! If it’s the Glyndebourne performance it means that BBC must have a recording of it, in fact, I am pretty sure Capriccio was one of the operas Söderström sang with Glyndebourne at the Proms in the mid-1970s.

      • Bill

        Regina -- thank’s for the tip. Actually I have never heard Soederstroem in Capriccio either on
        stage or on tape but she was quite celebrated in the role, at least in England. I have also never heard Isokoski as Madeleine and am sure
        she is superb, surely vocally one of the best today. Claire Watson is another who sang
        the Countess -- is there anything of her rendition
        on tape ? Tomova-Sintov was very good -- also
        Johanna Meier at the City Opera (in English) --
        and I liked Julia Faulkner actually (an American who had a short Strauss career in Munich and Vienna). Judith Beckmann also did it. There is a lovely picture Lilian Sukis singing
        the Countess in Munich -- she alternated with della Casa and Watson -- sitting by her harp -- I liked Felicity Lott as well -- the role and the music suited her style. Kiri was radiant but curiously she sang German by rote as she did not speak the language apparently -- and Capriccio is
        a very talky opera. Upcoming someday in the future I should think will be Harteros and Kuehmeier as the Graefin. I have not heard
        Denoke, a very intelligent singer -- but is her voice sufficiently luminous ?

        • MontyNostry

          I was lucky enough to see Popp as Madeleine in Salzburg in 1987 in the gorgeous production by that German director with the moustache whose name escapes me -- he did a Figaro in London too. She followed Anna T-S, who returned to the role the following year I think.

          • MontyNostry

            Maybe it was 1988 -- and Anna T-S sang it again in 1990.

          • Batty Masetto

            Could the director have been Johannes Schaaf, Monty?

          • MontyNostry

            That’s it! Thank you. I always forget his name. That Capriccio was one of the most beautiful-looking productions I have ever seen. The Figaro in London was a bit mimsy, though.

          • Batty Masetto

            Here’s lovely Söderström in a concert version of the final scene.

            I adore this work. It’s deeply saddening to see what a pale shadow the Met HD made of a production that was once one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. With the original Versace costumes and especially the San Francisco cast (but ROH was very good too) it was ravishing.

          • armerjacquino

            Monty- aaaah, taste. In the 20 or so years since I first saw it, I have remembered that Schaaf FIGARO as the best opera production I have ever seen.

        • Buster

          Bill, Denoke was shimmering just fine -- she was classy, in silvery voice, and yet utterly believable as a real person. This was ten years ago, or so, and I don’t believe she has sung it much elsewehere since. A pity.

          I really, really would love to hear Anne Schwanewilms in it. First her Ariadne!

          Ursuleac, by the way, was another singer who sang both Fiordiligi and Minnie.

        • Regina delle fate

          My first Capriccio was in the Cuvilliés-Theater in an old Hartmann-Maximovna production with Claire Watson as Madeleine. I didn’t know the opera all that well, then, and the thing I remember most was her tearing the hem of her gown on a piece of furniture at the beginning of the second half and the tear trailed behind her crinoline for the rest of the opera: it was a standard “house” cast with Donald Grobe and Barry McDaniel as poet and composer, Hans-Günter Nöcker as the Count, Charlotte Berthold as Clairon and the Italian singers were Erika Köth -- the only time I saw her -- and Anton de Ridder, who sings the role on the Böhm recording. Since then, my Madeleines have been Flott, Reingard Didusch, Kiri, Margaret Marshall, Edith Pritchard, Fleming (in Paris), Angela Denoke and Susan Gritton -- I went to Duisburg to see Alexandra von der Weth sing it, but she cancelled and they did Rosenkavalier instead. Very annoying. After Ariadne, I think Capriccio is my favourite Strauss opera. It is another of his pieces which explains why opera is important, written at a time when culture was on the brink of collapse. It should always be performed in the language of the audience and preferable in small theatres. Strauss would be amazed, I suspect, at Met audiences sat through it in German and probably wouldn’t have been surprised that some of them were bored to tears. It’s a connoisseurs opera, a festival piece, and you need to do lots of homework to get the most out of it! Worth it in the end.

          • Famous Quickly

            I could sing La Roche *tomorrow* (I *did* stage operas to great acclaim in Hamburg and San Francsco, you know of course). It’s a question of color and tessitura.

        • Regina delle fate

          Bill -- I’ve only heard Isokoski sing Madeleine in concert, at the Edinburgh Festival -- her first, I think, and she didn’t really know it -- her head was buried in the score and she had trouble projecting the chattier parts of the score -- but she was glorious in the final scene, which I presume she had already sung in concert before. Of recent lyric sopranos she probably has the ideal sound for the part, certainly preferable to Denoke -- the answer to your question is: no, the voice lacks that shining, shimmering quality that it ideally requires. I suspect that Söderström’s Countess may not have been consistently lovely to listen to, but she was such an intelligent artist, so good with the text and a truly moving actress that she must have disarmed criticism. Her Marschallin, not the best sung I have heard, is up there with the best in my experience: not a dry seat in the house at the end of both Acts I and III!

          • armerjacquino

            It seems that pretty much all of the Briterriani were at that Edinburgh CAPRICCIO, failing to spot Jonas Kaufmann. I was there, as it turns out was CockyK, and I have to say I found it a boring evening. Isokoski sang well enough, but even in the finale her facial expression never once changed from that mildly perturbed frown she also wore throughout her CG Fiordiligi. She has always struck me as a singularly dull performer who happens to be blessed with a nice voice.

  • Don_Dano

    I admit, this is one opera I don’t know. Would people please suggest some of the better recordings available on CD?

    • Straussmonster

      I like the Böhm, but wouldn’t be without Sawallisch as well.

    • operalover9001

      This is probably the most heretical thing I can say, but I really like the Fleming/Schirmer DVD from Paris. The production is beautiful yet thought-provoking, and Fleming is on her best behaviour. The rest of the cast is superior to the Met cast, in my opinion, with the exception of Kaiser, perhaps, though Rainer Trost is also excellent. I also own the Te Kanawa/Schirmer CD, and although Te Kanawa sounds lovely, I find it rather boring. Great background music though.

    • Buster

      Don_Dano: I am perfectly happy with the complete Clemens Krauss Munich recording from 1953. It was taped for the radio -- excellent sound, and it is essential listening because of the conducting alone. I like the Clairon a lot too: Hertha Töpper, and Viorica Ursuleac is in much better voice than I would have ever imagined, so late in her career.
      It is sensitive, never sentimental, and it is the only recording that has the humor come out in all the right places. It also moves the story forward much better than any other set I know. A great recording! You could add a few closing monologues -- the early Lisa della Casa with Böhm, preferably, or, Elisabeth Söderström.
      I prefer seeing it live, and I have very fond memories of Angela Denoke in the Andreas Homoki production. Eva Lind as the Italian Singer!

    • Don_Dano

      Everyone, thanks for the input. I will definitely buy at least one of the recommended CDs.

  • ilpenedelmiocor

    I have posted this before, but I don’t understand what happened to Fleming in the thespian department. In the early to mid-nineties, she was riveting in performance, you couldn’t take your eyes off her. I was as bored in this HD broadcast as others were apparently in the house — and I’m one of the few around here who doesn’t hate the woman or begrudge her her success — even though the music and singing were both lush. And I have no idea where the fussy, distracted but calculated-looking Meryl-Streepish “I touch myself” (repeatedly) business came from. Baffling.

    • MontyNostry

      Probably from Meryl Streep. Renee studies hard.

  • Feldmarschallin

    Bayerische Staatsoper goes online now for video broadcasts…
    Die Bayerische Staatsoper geht online. Anfang 2012 startet ein Pilotprojekt im Internet. Per Live-Stream sollen Opernfans in der ganzen Welt die Aufführungen auf der Bühne des Nationaltheaters verfolgen können. Den Anfang macht “L’elisir d’amore” am 7. Jänner, wie die Oper am Donnerstag in München mitteilte. Am 22. Jänner wird dann die Wiederaufnahme von Giuseppe Verdis “Don Carlo” ins World Wide Web übertragen. Die Live-Streams sind nach Opernangaben umsonst, die Zuschauer brauchen nur eine Breitband-Internetverbindung

    • FragendeFrau82

      This probably belongs in another thread but the cast for Don Carlo: Pape, Kaufmann, Herteros, Kwiecien. And it’s FREE. I’m thinking about upgrading my internet connection (although it was fine for Fidelio).

      • FragendeFrau82

        Sorry that should of course be Harteros. Haven’t had coffee yet. It’s an old production but with that cast, who cares?

        • Regina delle fate

          I shall be there :)

          • Feldmarschallin

            Regina I will be there for the first, second and fourth performances. When will you be there? Maybe we can say hello. I wonder with a Don Carlos cast like that if it will be recorded for CD. Rumors are going around that it will be recorded in some way maybe but since it is an old production I doubt they would make a DVD.

          • Regina delle fate

            I’ll be there on Jan 19, not sure which pf that is, but it’s not the first.

          • Feldmarschallin

            am 19.1 bin ich Galerie M R 2 Platz #44 Sitzsteh. Komm doch mal kurz vorbei.

  • Camille

    Yesterday, while going through some old items in my library, I came across an Opera Quarterly from the ’90’s Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 59-75, author is Edward Hagelin Pearson, that reviews an opera by no less than Victor Herbert. Yes, you heard it right, an opera. Given its premiere (after his earlier success with “Natoma”, a 1911 vehicle starring Miss Mary Garden) at no less than the Metropolitan Opera with no less a diva than Mme. Frances Alda, in January 1914, Name of the opera is “MADELEINE”. Its place of action is France, late 1770’s, in a Parisian salon, so naturally enough, “Capriccio” sprang to mind. At that time this work was accused of being too “modern”--influences of Richard Strauss(!), Debussy, with its lack of cantilena, etc., and Mr. Herbert had this to say about his methods:

    “Leading motives I have used, not in imitation of Wagner, of course, as Beethoven, Weber, and others had followed a similar pattern before. I have tried to placed the drama above everything in my treatment of the story…have fashioned the score with the idea of giving the singers a chance to deliver the lines with all the effectiveness of a great actor. . . . [The composer] should not let his orchestra get away from him so much that the dramatic action is left sagging and the singer with nothing to do”.

    Poor Madame Alda had to resort to going to her husband, Gatti-Casazza, the Peter Gelb of 1914, in an attempt to elicit his aid in squeezing a real aria out of the composer with the plaint “What’s the use of your paying me to sing a role that hasn’t any singing in it?. . . I’ve got to have LEGATO!”. Gatti didn’t budge. Then she went instead to the composer himself, who obligingly came up with a little aria for her in only one day’s time. “A Perfect Day” is its title. It is included on a Romophone release of Alda’s, apparently. In that fabulously funny autobio of hers “Men, Women and Tenors” she complained of it being a “milk-and-water” part: “It had yards of recitative but nothing to sing.” She also assured us that her aria …”suited my voice perfectly” and that “It was the one bit of music in ‘Madeleine’ that on won real applause.” Love her.

    The story is just simple stuff about a lady who is rebuffed by her various admirers New Year’s Eve, as each and every one has to dine with his mother. The original piece of fluff upon which the libretto was based was a French farce entitled “Je dine chez ma Mere”, which apparently circulated with some success in the pre-WW I world.

    Of interest to me is the fact that G. Schirmer, so assured of its future success, printed the both the piano/vocal and orchestral scores and its libretto on the day of its premiere. It has been revived a couple times in the last twenty years, with some limited success.

    Perhaps Our Miss Fleming, the Geraldine Farrar of the New Millenium will find an afterlife for her Capriccio Madeleine with this other “Madeleine”? Anyway, I found it a striking coincidence to come across this on the same day a Capriccio DVD surfaced and it set me to wondering. This description of the opening sequence also piqued my curiosity:

    “Ah! to have a golden voice that brings the world enraptured to her feet!” exclaims Nichette [note: Madeleine’s maid, a comprimaria soprano], and while lackeys continue to bring in gifts, she adorns herself with some of the jewelry. But she and the servants make a hasty exit when they hear Madeleine’s voice in a series of roulades before her grand entrance on a high B-flat. Accompanied by the Chevalier de Mauprat, Madeleine admires the diamond bracelet he has brought her, especially when he tells her that he has had the jeweler break the mold. “This my high court ladies cannot reproduce,” she sings. “‘Twill make them green with envy.” Nichette announces the dinner menu, consisting of soupe a la reine, woodcock, and fresh asparagus, while a descriptive figure in the orchestra illustrates each. Madeleine invites the Chevalier to join her, but he declines: on New Year’s Day he always dines with his mother.”

    And so on and so forth.

    Wouldn’t one just love to hear those descriptive figures of woodcocks whispering forth from the orchestra? Surely, if Zio Zeff staged it for us he would find a way to hold our interest! Aerhaps the House of Coty would also be interested in sponsoring this work as the diva could be featured spraying flacons of “La Voce” about, as room freshener?

    I, for one, wonder about all those operas Signor Gatti-Casazza had the good intentions of sponsoring in his earnest effort to promote “American opera”; the “Mona”, “Natoma”, “The Pipe of Desire”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” (Damrosch), and of course our heroine, Mademoiselle Madeleine. Could they, given a modern updated staging, be resuscitated these days, as we have, all of us, long since lost our hyper-sensitivities to a lack of “LEGATO”??

    Maybe not. Ich weiss gar nix.

    • Camille

      The creatrice of Madeleine.

      Love the grapes.
      Unfortunately, no trace of Madeleine is to be found on Youtube.

      • mrmyster

        I, for one, would love to hear some of Herbert’s music from
        Madeleine; he was an excellent composer for the voice. His work
        was very largely written for singers before the day of electric
        amplification — thus he mainly required ‘real’ singers — a
        properly placed and supported voice, what we would call a
        ‘classical’ voice, in his day an operetta voice. Music theatre
        back then, and vaudeville, featured many real singers of the
        kind I refer to -- Fritzi Scheff being a famous example, with
        her signature song “Kiss me Again.” Both Munsel and Peters,
        in their later careers, sang a lot of operetta. Herbert’s music is not
        easy to sing, the wide range required, esp. of sopranos, takes
        a real technique, but in the right mood and situation, he can
        be wonderfully entertaining and the music lovely. Just play
        it straight and don’t camp it up. I know, outside Europe, of
        only one place one might hear all this in the USA, Worcester,
        Ohio — operetta hqs. of N. America! (:)

        • Camille

          for mrmyster

          When I was a girl I did actually hear Miss Patrice Munsel in “Kiss me Kate” and she was damn good!

          • mrmyster

            Sweet of you, Camille! Merci! I heard Munsel as Kate, also, and when
            she sang “I Hate Men” it was pure fire and energy; she could really ‘sell’
            a number.
            Later, same place, I heard Miss Peters sing Shari in BitterSweet and she
            was pure delight; she really had every moment down perfectly — very
            studied, whereas Munsel seemed more spontaneous — of course the
            roles are very different. William Horne sang the tenor part with Roberta, but I forget who sang with Munsel. Ed. Roecker sang the big baritone number in the Coward show about Hungarian wine, “Tokay, the only call we all obey. . .>” Wonderful burly baritone — this was beforean audience of 12,000 on a breezy summer evening at the St Louis Municipal Opera. Ah! Them wuz the days! The Muny is still running, but no more operetta or original productions — just canned Bdwy shows and such.

      • Regina delle fate

        I used to own a highlight LP of a radio broadcast of the original Munich Capriccio cast with Ursuleac and Hotter as Olivier -- I’ve never understood why Strauss regarded Ursuleac as his favourite soprano when singers like Lehmann, Rethberg and Tiana Lemnitz were around. I can’t help wondering if it was a “political” preference: she was Clemens’s Krauss’s mistress and later wife, and Krauss was arguably the most influential and best conductor of Strauss’s music in the latter half of the composer’s life, so claiming that Ursuleac was his favourite soprano presumably went down well in the Intendant’s office, wherever Krauss was in charge.

    • Batty Masetto

      “Wouldn’t one just love to hear those descriptive figures of woodcocks whispering forth from the orchestra?”

      I’d be even more curious to hear the musical portrait of asparagus…

    • m. croche

      “Then she went instead to the composer himself, who obligingly came up with a little aria for her in only one day’s time. “A Perfect Day” is its title. It is included on a Romophone release of Alda’s, apparently.

      Surely Carrie Jacobs-Bond wrought some terrible vengeance on Victor Herbert for that….

      • Camille

        oh, yes, a name from yesteryear, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, and her “I Love you truly” — many is the wedding at which I’ve heard that one warbled.
        Thank you, m. croche, for the reminder.

        All of a sudden, this scene from Natoma, with Rise Stevens doing a very fine job of it, came to mind and perhap it will suffice to give an idea of what all the Herbert craze was about:

        Mary Garden really had a hand in with so many of those new creations. From the rooftops of Paris and the sombre forests of the Ardennes, to such the olde Southwest is quite some gigantic leap, though, even for a Directa as she!

      • m. croche

        • Camille

          Since one kiss is never enough —

          As this song played a critical role in bringing the one and only Divine Rosa to the attention of others which eventually brought her to the attention of Caruso, and then on to immortality, well let us give thanks to Victor Herbert and the kiss Frizi Scheff planted on him.

          • mrmyster

            I had not heard this Camille; interesting. In context the tempo might
            have been fine — but here, free standing, a bit slow? Steber’s recording is sort of the same — she treats it almost like the Liebestod. I’d like to hear someone like Dorothy Kirsten sing it — but not in an operatic way. I think one reason that ‘crossover’ rarely works is that so many singers, male and female, bring the big operatic style over to the lighter song and the whole thing can, well, sink!
            But Ponselle! Even then, 1937, the Met left behind, she was totally
            gorgeous. She wanted Adriana in season ’37 but mean old Eddy Johnson would not give it to her; it would have been wonderful. So. . .you know what happened: Ponselle left the Met, never to sing there
            again, barely age 40! Vergogna.

          • Camille

            mrmyster,
            I only knew this version and have no knowledge of Steber’s. Thanks for the tip for I shall dredge it up.

            ‘Vergogna’ is right, or maybe just, ‘what a tragedy’!!

            If I live to be 100, I will never understand how Dorothy Kirsten was able to combine Porter, Kern, et al., and Frank Sinatra(!) AND sing Fanciulla, too. Now that is technique! FORMIDABILE!

  • Camille

    This review is almost exactly what I, too, experienced from what I can now still remember of my viewing the opera last spring. I was sorry that the Galliano gown had not been used, from the Gala a couple years before. Maybe Galliano has an offensive mouth to some but he sure knows design.

    Barry Banks and Olga Makarina did a great job of enlivening and upstaging the dull goings-on. The Italian Singers are always one of my favourite things, so delightful!

    Speaking of dull, that reminds me that I saw the original of this production, with Kiri te Kanawa, at its belated Met premiere sometime near the end of the last millenium. I would give the palm to Dame Kiri as the more lively of these two Madeleines, if that gives anyone a clue as to what went on.

    Regina delle fate is right. It is a connoisseur’s piece and it does require homework. Its felicities are manifold and absolutely wonderful and I cherish this work. One day I hope to see a production that does it justice and respects the original mise-en-scene.

  • phoenix

    I remember seeing Felicity Lott, Te Kanawa, Johanna Meier & Yvonne Kenny as the Countess in Capriccio. They all had their qualifying skills, but Strauss’ late opearas (and for me, Maleleine in particular) involve a personal, as well as musical, revelation. Johanna Meier (NYCO 1969) had a very warm beautiful tone but she never let you forget she was a Countess. Felicity Lott (1984) had the right voice for the role, but her tone lacked variation of colour and I personally did not find Lott’s waspish Madeleine very engaging. I bought the Paris DVD (2004?), but Fleming’s girl-next-door tone AND personality was not interesting enough to keep my attention so I gave it to a close friend, who did seem to like her.
    — In spite of the fact that I am an anti-Commonwealther, Te Kanawa (Met 1998) & Yvonne Kenny (Staatsoper Berlin 1993) were my favorites (solely based on their vocal performance & personality… I don’t really care for Capriccio libretto). But of the two of them, I enjoyed Yvonne Kenny the most, so she became my all-time favorite Countess Madeleine. You know, it’s an entirely personal issue, but to my ears Yvonne Kenny had just the right light softness of touch in her voice. Even though the old production at the Staatsoper ended with a World War 2 blitzkrieg attack on the Countess Madeleine’s chateau, all I could think of afterward for several days was the charming warm personality & beautiful smile of Yvonne Kenny. In a rare event only repeated a few times in my life at a performance, I felt as if I had been visiting a beloved old friend for pleasant evening of conversation.

    • Regina delle fate

      I wish I had taken the trouble to go to Berlin for Kenny’s Madeleine. In her prime, she could be an imperfect singer, but she is one of the Marschallinnen who has moved me most -- especially singing in English at the Coliseum -- and it’s a pity she didn’t get to sing all the lyric Strauss’s in the UK. A very special treat was her Christine in Intermezzo at Garsington, much warmer than the aloof and cool Flott, an admirable singer in many ways, but never, to my eyes and ears, really lovable. Kenny should have sung Arabella and the Composer in the UK as well and it’s sad that no British management had the imagination to cast her in these roles. Glyndebourne especially, and later Covent Garden, only had eyes for Flott.

  • phoenix

    • Regina delle fate

      Is this from San Francisco, Phoenix?

    • ducadiposa

      This is such straighforward, heartfelt singing. No fakery of voice or emotion -- I totally believe everything she sings about. So lovely -- like the silvery tone as well, which seems perfectly suited to this type of music. To me, this far outstrips Fleming in the Met’s last HD transmission where the emotions really did not feel as honest as they are portrayed here. Another instance of a singer (Kenny) who certainly had a good career, achieved a certain amount of fame, but not anything close to Fleming’s -- and yet, by the evidence here, was a more complete artist. Always fascinating…

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Thank you for posting this, she *is* the Marschallin. Her voice sounds incredibly youthful, but she has the delicate and mature delivery of a woman who knows what she’s about.

      • phoenix

        Glad you liked it. It comes quite close to what I remember her sounding like in Berlin.

  • phoenix

    Fate, I don’t really know where this Rosenkavalier clip with Yvonne Kenny came from. When I found it, it had no references information as to time or place attached to it. I only saw Yvonne Kenny as Countess Madeleine, but she was a revelation I never experienced before or since. An extremely human, sincere and accessible interpreter, the charm she had in the very tone of her voice was unforgettable.

    • armerjacquino

      Kenny has recorded highlights of ROSENKAVALIER, but those who get the vapours from Opera in translation should beware- they’re in English.

    • Buster

      Yvonne Kenny definitely looked younger when I heard her in the part -- in the same year Covent Garden did Palestrina, which I saw the night after. Could this be Opera Australia, 2004? Harry might know.

      Anyhow, she is one of the handful of Marschallins I have no problems remembering -- a very special singer.

      • Buster

        1997, that was.

    • Buster

      The youtube labels tell us this is from the Vienna State Opera -- so it could indeed from 2004. Don’t know if she has sung the part there before or after that date as well.

      • phoenix

        Thanks for checking on this, Buster. I regret I didn’t have the opportunity to see her in her early career when she sang bel canto roles.

        • Buster

          Thank you for posting the clip, Phoenix.