|Kaiser and Fleming; (c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera|
Before attending the opera, in addition to getting this glorious recording from the library, I felt obliged to research its genesis, as well as its musical-dramatic structure. As Jonathan Miller, towards the end of a 2008 lecture, observed, "What's [he] up to? In 1942, writing an opera about the relative importance of words and music?" There's a typically thoughtful piece from Mark Berry on the matter; I think a recent piece by Likely Impossibilities may be relevant here as well. (Yes, of course I turned to scholarly collections as well. There is no consensus.) What is the relation of all Capriccio's cultured folk to the world around them? To ours? Does their artificial isolation vitiate the value of their debates? To the last question I would respond with a joyous 'no,' for if the debates are to be considered honestly at all, they must be related to who we are, and if we are to examine ourselves honestly (as Madeleine does in the last scene) we must examine and engage the world. As for Strauss... I think there may be more autobiography in the figure of La Roche--earnest, colossally vain, unsure how to cope with the changes in the world around him--than the composer knew. The pomposity of the director's dictating his epitaph drew a laugh from the audience, but I was closer to tears.
John Cox's 1920s sets were elegant (predictably, I coveted the pillows,) but I felt the production--pictures here--gained its charm and poignancy from the singers, directed by Peter McClintock. In their hands, the characters seemed like the sort of people I'd enjoy spending an afternoon with, clearly not superficial (well... the Graf is sort of superficial, but he can be teased.) Andrew Davis drew warm sound from the orchestra, and subtle, delicious irony (as well as appropriate bombast when complaints are made the singer-drowning orchestra.) I occasionally had a suspicion of not-quite-perfect coordination with the singers, but the rest of the performance was so satisfactory that I am inclined to attribute that to my imperfect knowledge of the piece. Coming from a large orchestra, the sound was remarkably delicate, and the moonlight music was absolutely lovely.
In praising the singers, I really can't omit the fine work of the servants in their octet, vocal and comic timing precise. (Monsieur Taupe didn't make that strong an impression, but I'd feel guilty leaving him out since everyone else forgot him.) Michael Devlin was a suave and sonorous major domo. Olga Makarina and Barry Banks were good sports as the Italian singers, with broadly exaggerated vocal mannerisms. Danish baritone Morten Frank Larsen made his Met debut as the count, with expressive singing and fine comic acting. Peter Rose brought to La Roche all the vocal and dramatic subtlety I'm used to not getting from Ochs, whom he also frequently portrays. He was, of course, exaggeratedly fussy and pompous at times. But for me, Rose accomplished a gradual but poignant revelation of La Roche's complexity. I liked his rich bass, and was impressed by his German.
|Braun, Connolly, Kaiser (c) Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera|
Sarah Connolly was so good I doubt my ability to be coherent about her. I thought she was magnificent in every way (and perhaps she could consider 1920s-inspired concert attire? She looked amazing.) Her Clairon was smart, sexy, and in control, and I loved it. She commanded the dramatic nuances of the situation beautifully, and I am in love with her voice, strong, focused, and rich. The sensuality of her gravi was palpable; Olivier was understandably uncomfortable and I was delighted. Canadian Joseph Kaiser had his house debut as Flamand. He has a very bright, warm lyric voice, and the unenviable task of singing a Strauss tenor role. He was committed, but not, to me, thrilling; still, it was the first night, and he may loosen up vocally and dramatically over the course of the run. Russell Braun's Olivier was a delightful surprise. I was impressed with his performance as Chou En-Lai, but the longer lines of Strauss displayed both the power and beauty of his instrument to great effect. He also gave, I thought, a beautiful dramatic portrayal of the conflicted Olivier, both through expressive singing and expressive gesture. Need I say that his German made me very, very happy? It did.
|(c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera|