72. Capriccio (Richard Strauss)

CAPRICCIO

“A Conversation Piece for Music” in 1 act

Composer: Richard Strauss

Libretto: Clemens Krauss and Richard Strauss

First performed: Nationaltheater München, Munich, Germany, 28 October 1942, conducted by Clemens Krauss

Dossier


We continue our series on the world’s dullest operas with Strauss’s last offering, an artistic debate performed in the middle of WWII.

Uncyclopedia gives this description:

Considered by many to be Strauss’s finest stage work, this highly dramatic opera covers an afternoon in an eighteenth-century drawing room during which some rich French people drink cocoa and talk about Gluck. In the thrilling denouement, we mercifully come almost two hours closer to the Revolution, during which everyone is sure to be guillotined (see Salome), and the tension is almost unbearable as the countess, ignorant of her probable fate, looks in a mirror, wonders about something, and then has her dinner.


CHARACTERS

  • DIE GRÄFIN (The Countess) (soprano)
  • DER GRAF (The Count), her brother (baritone)
  • FLAMAND, a musician (tenor)
  • OLIVIER, a poet (baritone)
  • LA ROCHE, theatre director (bass)
  • The actress CLAIRON (contralto)
  • MONSIEUR TAUPE (tenor)
  • An Italian singer (soprano)
  • An Italian tenor (tenor)
  • A young dancer
  • DER HAUSHOFMEISTER (The Major-Domo) (bass)
  • Eight SERVANTS (four tenors, four basses)
  • Three MUSICIANS

SETTING

A castle near Paris, in the time when Gluck began reforming opera, sometime around 1775


COMMENTARY

2 stars

Capriccio is an opera about opera, that fusion of music, text, and stagecraft – a theme Strauss handled better in Ariadne auf Naxos.

It lives up to its name of a “Conversation Piece”.  Well-bred characters discuss aesthetics and philosophy for two and a half hours, in a self-indulgent, talky opera barren of plot or character development – like Thomas Love Peacock set to music.

There’s only so much one can take of “Words are better than music” or “No, music is better than words”.  In this case, neither is great.

As usual, Strauss does some lovely things with the orchestra – the opening string sextet, the Mondscheinmusik – and there’s an ingenious quarrel octet, but the music is Strauss at low ebb.

Much of it is – as one of the characters complains – recitative, recitative, without any arias.  We do get quotes from Gluck (the sublime overture to Iphigénie en Aulide), and pastiche Rameau and Piccinni. But it lacks the tunes to swoon to of Rosenkavalier, the drama of Salome and Elektra, or the imagination of Ariadne

Surprisingly, it’s Strauss’s seventh most performed opera, and critically well regarded.  (Others may differ.)

Why it’s done so often, and Die schweigsame Frau – a warm, funny comedy banned by the Nazis, with a fine wedding sextet, trio, and bass aria  – is so obscure is one of life’s little mysteries.

5 thoughts on “72. Capriccio (Richard Strauss)

  1. It probably has more to do with the Countess’s glorious closing scene than anything else. I confess that I find most of the opera a bit of a bore, but once Schwarzkopf or Te Kanawa or Fleming get going on that final peroration all is forgiven.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would lay off Strauss for a while, neither of us seems to be getting very far with him. Maybe you could review Delibes’ Kassya? You might like it a lot more than what I demonstrated. That Radio France recording isn’t going to be up forever, get it while it is there!

    Like

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