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Lyric Opera “Capriccio” Review – Rewarded Strongly by Renée Fleming’s Final Aria

By Amy Munice

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If you have ever pondered the word “diva” and how it implies a talent larger than life, then you are well-prepared for the Lyric Opera’s current production of “Capriccio”.

 

 

Renée Fleming is on stage and your ear and eye magnet throughout the two-act production.  It is the final scene when she is solo on the stage in a glittering silver gown when your thirst building through the performance is quenched.  Fleming is holding court as the Countess troubled by her need to decide between suitors representing poetry and music and to find a fitting ending for an opera.

 

 

She toys with a rose, she clutches the photo of her deceased husband, she looks at the mirror (us) and sings with so much passion that we too, for a moment, think that the most important issue in the world is to choose between words or tune.  Listening to her sing makes any concerns about the flightiness of the story line you may have had fly out the window.

 

 

If the premise of “Capriccio” sounds like especially escapist fare just imagine its opening night in Munich and why escapism was so welcomed.  It was October 1942 and every night bombs from Allied Forces pummeled the city.  This was so predictable that intermission in this two-act opera was canceled in its world premiere so that patrons could scuttle home ahead of the bombs.

 

This was one of many background facts that we learned in the pre-performance talk by Derek Matson, a facet of the Lyric experience that should not be missed. We also learned that the original idea for the opera came not from Strauss, a Nazi-appointed poster boy of German culture, but from a Jewish librettist Strauss worked with named Stefan Zweig.   Strauss was not all that concerned with Nazi propaganda.  In fact Matson tells us that Strauss was rather more concerned with the poor state of music in German spa resorts.  He could not understand why Zweig, who by that time had fled to London, was reluctant to work with him on “Capriccio”.  Exasperated, Strauss penned a now famous letter to Zweig complaining, in so many words, that Zweig’s clinging to Jewish pride was enough to inspire anti-Semitism, and that Zweig’s Jewishness was of no account to Strauss, who thought there were “…only two types of people in the world, those with talent and those without talent.” 

 

When the Nazis intercepted this letter they removed Strauss from his honorific cultural positions.  Zweig later moved to the United States and Brazil and, coincidentally, committed suicide in the face of his despair at the Holocaust the same year that “Capriccio” debuted in Germany.  The final libretto came instead from a Nazi darling named Clemens Krauss.

 

Indeed, this background Matson recounted about “Capriccio” was in many ways far more dramatic—operatically so—than the opera itself. 

 

 

That said, Lyric’s “Capriccio” has many musical highlights such as Fleming’s final aria and also the chamber music like overture Strauss composed to begin the work.

 

 

Set in the 1920’s, the set design by Mauro Pagano is so lush that you will likely also hear audience murmurs of awe as the curtain first goes up showing the salon of Countess Madeleine (Renée Fleming) and her brother, the Count (Bo Skovhus).  That set, and the very entertaining stage-wide dance in the Salon during Act 2 make this live production engaging in a way that the Metropolitan Opera’s past HD Broadcast of “Capriccio”, also with Fleming in the lead, could not. 

 

“Capriccio” performances continue through October 28 and en toto the Lyric offers an 8-opera season plus the annual American musical and assorted additional special events and performances.

 

For tickets or information call 312 827 5600 or visit the Lyric Opera website

 

 

 

Published on Oct 15, 2014

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