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