Its 1920, and were in a chateau outside Paris. A poet and composer have arrived for the birthday of a gorgeous, young widow, Countess Madeleine. Unfortunately, the two men discover they are rivals for her affection.
What do they do? Plot? Scheme? Shake hands and sex appeal? The charm offense? None of the above.
They argue. They battle over whether words or music are the more superior form of artistic expression. Go to it, guys.
If you cant take the silliness of operatic plots, you dont deserve witty words or beautiful music.
Especially when its Richard Strausss last opera. Capriccio premiered at the State Opera, Munich, in 1942. Set in France, it is fanciful filigree sung in German with English subtitles.
Performed without intermission, the two and a half hour opera lacks a conventional two-or-three act structure. Instead, it moves through a series of encounters between the beautiful Countess (soprano Renée Fleming) and her prospective lovers, the poet Olivier (baritone Russell Brawn) and the composer Flamand (tenor Joseph Kaiser).
Subtitled A conversation piece for music, thats exactly what it is very chatty. The debate over words/ music is also personal for the composer. Like todays great musical multitasker Stephen Sondheim, Strauss wrote the music and lyrics.
Still, Capriccio has a plot as thin as paper. The opera opens as preparations for the Countesss birthday are under way. Olivier and Flamand are listening to a rehearsal of the composers birthday gift, chamber music. While another colleague, a theater director dozes nearby, the two men fall into their argument. Two actors arrive for a play rehearsal, and the debate heats up. The Countess arrives and learns shes the inamorata of both men. Declaring their intentions, the poet and composer resume what else? their argument. Finally, the Countess says shell decide between the two and announce the results at 11 a.m. the next morning. She, too, has to mull over the merits of words or music.
Go to it, Countess.
During the rest of the day, the debate continues with hangers-on participating. The theater director finally challenges the poet and composer to write an opera together. Theres a group brainstorm, and the two men decide to concoct a work out of the very events of the day. The ending will be the Countesss decision.
The party breaks up; servants tidy round, and the countess mulls some more. It is at this point, soprano Fleming will launch into a brilliant, musically compelling 20-minute meditation. In a stunning evocation of reverie, the Countess herself weighs the merits of poetry or music. Then a servant interrupts and announces dinner, and she exits with a smile.
Well never know her decision. The work isnt titled Capriccio for nothing.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.