Staged February 25, 27, March 2, 4, and 6, 2010
at the Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC
An opera is an absurd thing.
The Countess Madeleine is torn between two lovers – a poet and a musician. The solution to her dilemma is to commission an opera – and she will decide how it ends. But in choosing one lover, she must lose the other. Poetry or music – which will prevail?
All the arts are skewered here – dance, theatre, music, poetry, opera – yet Capriccio is a homage to each. Richard Strauss' last completed opera, Capriccio soars with lyric ecstasy and glistens with sumptuous refinement. It is a wry and entertaining examination of the eternal struggle between man and woman . . . words and music . . . art and life.
How to solve a love triangle? Commission an opera! . . . who knew?
Capriccio might be seen as the operatic equivalent of My Dinner with André. The slender plot revolves around people eating, drinking, flirting, and debating (Krauss persuaded Strauss to add the subtitle A Conversation Piece for Music, ensuring truth in advertising).
At their chateau outside Paris, the Countess Madeleine and her brother the Count host a group of artists, who rehearse the entertainment for Madeleine's birthday and argue passionately about opera. The poet, Olivier, and the composer, Flamand, are rivals for Madeleine's love. Finally she tells them to collaborate on an opera – and she will decide how it ends. But it's not that simple! This is a woman who wants to have her cake and eat it!
Infused with humour and wit, Capriccio is both an entertaining love triangle and a luscious satire on the arts. It is sophisticated (Strauss called it a bonbon for the connoisseur), and it repays with richness and delight the effort of getting to know it.
Anyone can luxuriate in the gorgeous orchestration and elegant ambience. And even as it probes the nature of love and the meaning of art, Capriccio is wickedly funny. Here are wonderful comic characters: a tipsy Italian soprano; a tenor obsessed with his fees; a Count for whom art is but the way into an actress's bed; a poet who is infuriated when the composer ruins his verse by setting it to music; a theatre director who insists the public wants just pretty girls, eye-filling sets, and grandiose special effects; and a prompter, who, by the simple act of falling asleep on the job, can sabotage a play and bring the whole edifice of art tumbling down:
When I sleep I become a sensation. The actors cannot go on speaking, the audience wakes up!
The knowledgeable musician will find Capriccio to be a compendium of operatic styles and a guide to opera history. It brims with musical quotations from Couperin, Gluck, Rameau, Verdi, Wagner – and Strauss, who recycles some of his old tunes and slips a number of in-jokes into the fascinating brew.
The Real Clairon
Pierre de Ronsard