Capriccio – Conversation piece for music in one act to a libretto by Clemens Krauss and the composer [sung in German with Swedish surtitles]
Countess Madeleine – Charlotta Larsson
Clairon – Marianne Eklöf
Flamand – Jonas Degerfeldt
Olivier – Carl Ackerfeldt
Count – Ola Eliasson
La Roch – John Erik Eleby
Italian Soprano – Jeanette Bjurling
Italian tenor – Conny Thimander
Monsieur Taupe – Magnus Kyhle
Major-Domo – Magnus Lindén
Eight servants – Göran Enegård, Michael Svedberg, Carl Walin, Håkan Starkenberg, Joaquin Munoz, Markus Norrman, Jacques Radinson, Lars Martinsson
Young dancer – Kamilla Tell Aronsen
Orchestra of Royal Opera, Stockholm
Wilhelm Carlsson – Director
Lars Österbergh – Set design
Annsofi Nyberg – Costume design
Hans-Åke Sjöquist – Lighting
Elise Englund – Choreography
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 21 March, 2012
Venue: Kungliga Operan, Stockholm
It is a confident opera company that stages Richard Strauss’s “conversation piece for music” in a large theatre. Capriccio is an afficionado’s opera with its generally static action and with its reliance on expert communication by the cast of all the nuances and humour of the extremely wordy libretto – ostensibly a debate about whether music or words, or indeed stagecraft, are the most important factor in opera. It is not the most immediate of works – but familiarity increases its considerable charm, and it has some wonderful music. It is more frequently staged, and perhaps better suited to, smaller intimate venues.
Wilhelm Carsson’s production is on a grand scale, and initially seems to set the work in the 19th-century. However, some adroit and gradual changes in the costuming soon bring it to the period of the work’s composition (premiered in 1942). There is a startling moment towards the end of the Dance Interludes when the festivities are interrupted by the sounds of air-raid sirens and explosions and the protagonists are seen to observe the destruction of their world through the glass windows. A photograph of the bombed Bavarian State Opera House in the programme reminds that Capriccio was written at a dark hour for art and culture.
There were some other interesting directorial touches – the moment when composer Flamand hands his newly penned accompaniment to Poet Olivier’s sonnet down to the orchestra to the visible horror of the poet was a witty touch. Also the moment when the Count declares the assembled party are “face to face with opera” they all expressed their views about the art-form from the front of stage looking out directly at the audience. The setting for the final Scene is very beautiful – lit with diffuse blue light, the shiny floor populated by lit candelabra, the Countess moving between them as she stood to resolve her amorous and artistic dilemma. The visual image matched perfectly the orchestra’s warm playing of the ‘Moonlight Interlude’. Under the experienced Ralf Weikert the players gave a virtuosic account of the score with all its changes of pace, its pastiche – much lilt given for the baroque dances – and emphasis for Strauss’s witty quoting of themes from his Ariadne auf Naxos and Daphne. The support during the fiendishly tricky vocal octet, one of the best parts of the score, was also remarkable.
The cast was a fine one. Initially, Charlotta Larsson seemed slightly anonymous – both in terms of presence and vocally. However, she grew in confidence and gave an extremely satisfying account of her final scena: here her focussed tone and her exquisite pianissimo singing illuminated text and vocal lines affectingly. Marianne Eklöf seemed to be enjoying herself as the extrovert actress Clairon, relishing her character’s disdain for the “operatic aria” and also being suitably cool towards Olivier (her former lover). Eklöf is a great singing character-actress and certainly knows how to hold a stage. She made light of the lowish tessitura of the part and resisted the temptation to overplay. The two suitors for Countess Madeleine, Flamand and Olivier, were well contrasted – indeed their rivalry was rather more macho than in many productions.
Carl Ackerfeldt’s solid high baritone was heard to great effect as the irascible Olivier, and if Jonas Degerfeldt’s Flamand occasionally sounded effortful, his voice certainly had some ring to his romantic outpourings as he courted the Countess. As the superficial Count, Ola Eliasson also made his mark. He had real aristocratic swagger in his deportment and his incisive yet honeyed baritone filled the generous and melodic lines with warmth. John Erik Eleby was a fine and genial La Roche, although towards the end of his monologue he seemed to experience a temporary dry few minutes from which he recovered well. Certainly his diction was extremely clear – vital for this critical role, Strauss’s tribute to the impresario Max Reinhart. The Italian singers made much of their moment in the spotlight, and mention must be made of the graceful dancer, Kamilla Tell Aronsen, who performed Elise Englund’s sprightly Baroque choreography with great poise and delicacy. All in all, it was a fine cast who brought this potentially tedious theatrical work to spirited life.