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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While I do find the 1993 production with TeKanawa, Troyanos and
Keenlyside the more superior production, I did very much enjoy this
production of Strauss' last opera Capriccio. Robert Carsen's directing
style is perhaps an acquired taste, some may find his approach too
minimalist or perhaps distracting at times, but while I can see the
reasons as to why those who think that do think so, but I personally
didn't find either of those much here. Instead I found the performance
rather elegant and thoughtful. It does look beautiful visually, the
costumes have a very sumptuous air about them, I did love Fleming's
blue gown, and the settings equally so. The camera work is always
focused and helps give scenes a somewhat cinematic feel. There was one
touch that I absolutely loved, and that was where Fleming steps on the
fake footlights, a very powerful moment indeed.
The sound quality is not quite as impressive. Mostly it is fine, but there are occasions in the production where Fleming's voice is not always as audible as it could be. This is particularly true when she is singing upstage or towards the wings. Capriccio as an opera is not my absolute favourite of Strauss' operas(Der Rosenkavalier), but it is still wonderful and one of his more interesting, with a great story that reads of a conversation opera and the music is typically sublime. The orchestration is so lush and somewhat continuous, and you couldn't have asked for more powerful and sensitive orchestral playing and more subtle conducting.
Of the staging, the fake footlights was the most powerful touch, and the best asset about the production was the effectiveness of the ensembles in terms of both singing and how they were directed. However, there was one touch that was distracting, and sadly this was during one of Strauss' most inspired passages, the mondschein interlude. I would have much preferred to have heard just the music and not seen anything. If any production of Capriccio were to include anything visually during this interlude, surely they'd do better than the tasteless touch added here, I didn't mind the idea of the two opposite each other but to have shots of Olivier and Flamand nodding during this particular bit detracted from the emotional impact that the whole interlude could have easily had without it.
Aside from that, I did love the performances on the whole. Robert Tear makes an impression as the Prompter, but I found the most impressive performances to come from Franz Hawlata and Anne Sofie Von Otter. I honestly do prefer Hawlata as La Roche than I do as Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier. Here Hawlata is self-important as is the main characteristic of the character but there is a certain humanity to his performance as well. The singing is wonderful, both sonorous and authoritative, and I didn't get as much a sense that the role was too low for him. Von Otter's Clarion is just as splendid as her Octavian under Kleiber in 1994. The voice has a lot of beauty and colour, and as an interpretation Clarion in this production is very elegant if slightly wacky.
Next are the characters that shape the theme of Capriccio, that of poetry versus music. I was especially taken by Rainer Trost, his Flamand is very ardent and his singing is of beautiful tone and lyrical musicality with so much poetry and meaning in his words. Gerald Finley is just as excellent as Olivier, vocally rich and dramatically passionate and vigorous. His confession of love is a highlight, as is Trost's description of the Countess in the library. I enjoyed the histrionics of the Italian Singers with Barry Banks standing out, and the servants' octet is delicate and full of humour. Dietrich Henschal is also a delight as the Count, his singing is darkly attractive and I loved the wit of his performance.
Which brings me to the Countess of Renee Fleming. Mostly she is stunning, my only criticism being her tendency(not always though) to have a pop-like swooping between notes way of singing, which I don't think is the right approach for Strauss' long soaring melodies. However, she looks and sounds beautiful, with her soprano voice still creamy, warm and also expressive and well-meaning. Her acting is sincere and nuanced, sharing similar characteristics to her Marschallin. The final scene is the musical highlight of the opera for me, and I was expecting great things after hearing Fleming performing it at the Met Opening Night Gala(and stealing the show!) and in the Met production of Capriccio, which is also worth a peek. And I wasn't disappointed at all, the voice positively soars above the orchestra and Fleming acts with deep feeling.
Overall, excellent, not perfect but I do recommend it for the performances especially. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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