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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Capriccio Op. 85 (1942)
Renée Fleming (soprano) - Countess
Dietrich Henschel (baritone) - Count
Rainer Trost (tenor) - A Musician
Gerald Finley (baritone) - Olivier
Franz Hawlata (bass) - La Roche
Anne Sofie von Otter (contralto) - Clairon
Robert Tear (tenor) - Monsieur Taupe
Annamaria Dell’Oste (soprano) - An Italian Singer
Barry Banks (tenor) - An Italian Tenor
Petri Lindroos (bass) - Major-Domo
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris/Ulf Schirmer.
rec. live, Opéra National de Paris, July 2004.
DTS 5.1 Stereo, DD 5.1, LPCM Stereo
TDK DVWW-OPCAPR [2 DVDs: 148’00”]

This, the last opera by Richard Strauss is entitled “A Conversation Piece in Music” rather than an opera, and was written originally in one act, and this is how it is performed on this DVD. Once finished, the composer was encouraged to write further operatic opuses and he replied “One can only leave one testament”. We might be led to think that there is a hidden agenda in this work, but it is more the composer’s farewell to opera more than anything else, containing as it does examples of the most beautiful writing for Strauss’s favourite instrument, the female voice. He also excels in the beauty of sound of the music as if he is trying to get the listener to decide whether in opera, the overriding element is the music or the words. This enigmatic work does not answer this dilemma for us, only leaving us with more uncertainty.

The plot commences with the young countess (here sung superbly by Renee Fleming in her most creamy of tone and stunning accuracy), is listening to a string sextet with her brother the count. The sextet has been written by the composer Flamand. In addition to the Sextet, a play has also been written and this is also being prepared for performance. It is high-jacked by the composer and is set to music, much to the playwright’s disgust. Arguments break out as to whether the work is now by the musician or by the poet. Love and intrigues break out (surprise!! surprise!!) and these with additional arguments and declarations abound in true operatic fashion with Strauss weaving his magic with both voice and orchestra. There are few purple patches, (compare Der Rosenkavalier), but the last 20 minutes or so of the opera, he writes as fluently and as beautifully as he has ever done.

This production is based upon the Opera Nationale de Paris directed by Robert Carsen, and the production is thankfully free of modern quirks, which make so many contemporary productions unwatchable. The sets are traditional and have been prepared with great care, and the playing of the orchestra, admirably conducted by Ulf Schirmer is in the best traditions of the house.

TDK have produced a clean warm sound which complements the autumnal character of the opera and the visual delights are admirably caught.

I have not enjoyed an opera DVD so much for a very long time, and if traditional productions are for you, then try this one – you will not be disappointed.

John Phillips


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