An opera about opera

Devotees of soprano Renée Fleming might want to take a look at Capriccio, currently showing at all Cinema Nouveaus as part of the Metropolitan Opera’s HD Live series.

Fleming is on screen for nearly the entire two hours and 20 minutes, and her performance of the Countess Madeleine’s famous aria in the last 20 minutes is truly a tour de force.

Capriccio is a very odd piece—an opera about opera. Composed in 1942 by Richard Strauss, who collaborated on the libretto, it is generally considered the composer’s attempt to blot out the horrors of war.

Strauss called Capriccio “a conversation piece for music”, which is an accurate description. The first hour is filled almost completely with recitative, as the singers argue about whether words or music are more important. A poet (baritone Russell Braun) has written a sonnet; a composer (tenor Joseph Kaiser) then sets it to music. Both are after the hand of the countess, whose sumptuous salon is the setting. Nothing much happens, although there are brief outbursts of ensemble.

Most of the more interesting moments occur in the second half. An irritable young ballerina dances across the stage, followed by a burlesque pair of Italian singers. An impresario (the excellent bass, Peter Rose) offers an impassioned defence of his contribution to art. A chorus of servants does a wonderful song-and-dance while cleaning up the salon and then it’s Fleming, alone on the stage in a silvery gown, debating whether to choose the poet or the composer.

The opera is presented without an interval; the audience is taken backstage for a few minutes before the curtain rises for an interview with the soprano.

Screenings of Capriccio begin on Friday, May 20. There are two more operas in this year’s series; each is scheduled to be screened for a week. On the programme for the rest of the season, with starting dates, are:

  • Verdi’s Il Trovatore (May 27)

  • Wagner’s Die Walkure (June 10)

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