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Strauss, Richard: Capriccio (DVD) Arthaus 2003 (Decca/San Francisco 1995)

Strauss: Capriccio (DVD)


Composer Richard Strauss
Conductor Donald Runnicles
Director Stephen Lawless
Kiri Te Kanawa (Countess Madeleine)
Maria Fortuna (Italian Soprano)
Tatania Troyanos (Clairon)
David Kuebler (Flamand)
Craig Estep (Italian Tenor)
Michael Sénéchal (Taupe)
Håkan Hagegård (Count)
Simon Keenlyside (Olivier)
Dale Travis (Major-Domo)
Vistor Braun (La Roche)
Orchestra Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera
Label Arthaus Musik
Code 100354
Released Re-released September 1, 2003. Original release by Decca, 1995
Recorded at the San Francisco Opera on June 20, 25 and 28 1993
Running time 144 minutes
Edition details Region 2 (Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Middle East including Egypt), PAL,
ASIN: B00008O8C0

For more details of this production click here: Capriccio, San Francisco Opera, 1993

This DVD has recently been re-released for the German market, complete with a booklet of photos:  It can be ordered through http://www.die-opernsammlung.de/


Photo Gallery

What the critics say

JBS, Gramophone June 1995

In between close-ups and group shots, the camera shows the vast stage of the San Francisco Opera, its height dwarfing that of any Parisian gardensalon, so that we reflect on the benefits of video. Here the conversation piece can be followed from a position almost as privileged as that of the MajorDomo and his staff, silent presences throughout the discussions. Stephen Lawless’s production ensures that it is a pleasure too, and Peter Maniura’s direction of the filming eliminates any problem about looking in the right place. There is just one exception to that, for I can’t think we do well to be looking at the orchestra and Donald Runnicles during the string sextet at the start.

Visually and vocally, two characters are almost equally at the centre of this performance. The Countess has her central position mapped out for her, but the relative importance of the men is to some extent the debating point of the whole opera. Here the place goes to La Roche. Wryly and ruefully, the man of the theatre speculates that in the projected opera with themselves as subject he will be cast as the bass-buffo. Victor Braun does a delicious five-second ‘ham’ act of the arthritic caricature he expects, but he himself has made far too strong, real and likeable a character for that kind of Dr Bartolo-routine to be thinkable. In this performance, only the first sight of him, asleep with mouth agape during the chamber music, suggests anything of the cousin-to-Baron Ochs figure either; after that, he is a man of resource and some charm, and his honest preference for arias over recitative and an orchestra that does not drown the singers will win him more friends than his creators may have intended. Braun, 60 this year, has preserved his fine voice well, and his Herculean solo is well and truly sung. This is an opera without a hero, but if one had to be cast from its ranks, on this showing it should be La Roche.

All do well. Simon Keenlyside is in resonant voice and has impeccable stage manners. Michel Senêchal comes in blinking from the dark as Mr Mole the prompter. Tatiana Troyanos, within months of her lamentable death, is a gallant Clairon. Then there is Dame Kiri: her tone not quite so pure and radiant as of yore, yet steady and often beautiful, her presence that of a gracious aristocrat, a woman of charm, feeling and intelligence. The ending of the opera is commonly held to be enigmatic. The smile which the Countess flashed at the Major-Domo (who looked as though but for his wig he would have scratched his head) suggested to me, I fear, an improbable solution.

Alan Blyth for Gramophone, 2003

This performance, deriving from a 1993 staging at the San Francisco Opera, is blessedly free from modern gimmicks. It is set by Maurice 7 Pagano in the original 18th-century milieu with lavish costumes by Thierry Bosquet. Stephen Lawless’s direction, faithfully followed by Peter Maniura’s video direction, also avoids tricks, playing the piece relatively straight as it traces the gentle yet pointed progress of the argument proposed by Strauss and his librettist, Clemens Krauss, with grace and some visual wit. Runnicles’s sympathetic conducting catches all the valedictory nature of Strauss’s writing in his carefully paced, affectionate reading.

Kiri Te Kanawa glides through the central role of the Countess with a nice balance between dignity, humour and passion. She inflects her music with shimmering, silvery tone while not making as much of the text as some German-speaking sopranos of the past. David Kuebler is an ardent, bright eyed Flamand, Simon Keenlyside a quizzical, lyrical Olivier. Hikan Hagegird catches the right touch of puppy-like ardour the Count has for Clairon, taken here with her customary flair, in one of her last performances before her untimely death, by Tatiana Troyanos. Braun is a dramatically experienced but rather sub-fuse La Roche and Sénéchal revels in the cameo role of the prompter, Monsieur Taupe. John Steane lamented the absence of subtitles when reviewing the VHS issue; happily they are present here.

Eric Myers for Opera News, November 2003

Dialogueheavy, no action, no plot Richard Strauss’s Capriccio was an experiment that shouldn’t have worked. Six characters in eighteenthcentury Paris debating the balance of words and music in opera while sipping chocolate in a drawing room? It could have amounted to the stultifying operatic equivalent of My Dinner with Andre. But contemporary audiences have embraced this magical, transcendent work.

San Francisco Opera originally mounted Capriccio in 1990, in a John Cox production that originated at Glyndebourne, misguidedly setting it in the 1920s a silly conception at odds with the libretto. For the magnificently cast 1993 revival preserved here, SFO kept Mauro Pagano’s original drawingroom set but wisely hired Stephen Lawless as director and Thierry Bosquet as costume designer. They returned the story to its proper time period (1775), and the opera to its original luster.

Te Kanawa had waited to take on the Countess, a role she was born to play, until late in her stage career. Her effortless sound elegantly conveys the character’s soignée charm, and she is a visual delight as she glides about the stage, in her pannier dresses, with the grace of a swan. (Her final scene, though exquisitely sung, is marred by Lawless’s only directorial misstep a decision to have the Countess flirt coyly with her Majordomo just before the curtain’s fall.) Troyanos is a voluptuous Clairon. By this time her voice had attained a ravishing contralto richness. It’s impossible to believe that she was already a terminal cancer patient, and that her death would follow a mere six weeks later.

As La Roche, Victor Braun had lost much of the beauty in his voice (he was nearing sixty), but he sings the role with great depth of feeling. David Kuebler and Simon Keenlyside, as the verballyjousting composer and poet, are a virile team, with Kuebler showing a particularly appealing timbre. Håkan Hagegård brings lyricism and style to the Count, and veteran tenor Michel Sénéchal’s cameo as the prompter is a special treat. Fluid, responsive conducting by Strauss specialist Donald Runnicles makes the moonlit orchestral interlude before the final scene almost unbearably moving.

In the right hands, Strauss’s final opera can emanate the kind of nearmystical glow shared by such earlier successes as Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos. Performances such as this one helped earn Capriccio a place in the standard repertory.

Richard Fawkes’ choice for Opera Now, January/February 2005

This is the exquisitely cast San Francisco production by Stephen Lawless which has Kiri Te Kanawa on top of her form as the Countess who has to decide whether are more important in opera or music. Based, by conductor Clemens Krauss, on a libretto previously set by Salieri, the intellectual dilemma is turned into the very real choice the Countess faces between the poet (Simon Keenlyside) and the composer (David Kuebler). There are even some laughs along the way as Victor Braun, in a scene-stealing performance as the stage director, puts on a disastrous entertainment for the Countess’s birthday, the star of which is the late Tatiana Troyanos (who dies two months after this recording was made). Delightful.

George Hall for BBC Magazine

Performance: 4 stars

Sound: 4 stars

Richard Strauss’s final opera, a ‘conversation piece’ that charts a leisurely discussion about the merits and demerits of opera itself, might seem to be made for the small screen rather than the vast expanses of the opera house. This San Francisco production was filmed in 1993. Stephen Lawless’s staging, with period (late 18th-century) set and costumes, offers a fair degree of detail in many of the leading characterisations and in their interaction, but the stage lighting often registers as too dark.
Simon Keenlyside’s superb Flamand and David Kuebler’s soulful Olivier stand out as poet-and-composer rivals for the love of the Countess whose chateau is the setting for the action. Kiri Te Kanawa looks and often sounds glamorous as this aristocrat with refined tastes, though her German is indistinct and her delivery of the text bland.
She’s outclassed by Tatiana Troyanos as the actress Clairon, in one of her final appearances before her early death, and by Victor Braun’s expert La Roche – a portrait of the seen-it-all-yet-still-believes-in-it stage director. There’s a treasurable account of the prompter Monsieur Taupe from veteran Michel Sénéchal.
Donald Runnicles conducts a performance that maintains sensitivity and fluidity and misses none of Strauss’s musical in-jokes. The orchestra is assured and neat in the chamber-music textures.
Limited information in the booklet – only Runnicles, Te Kanawa and Troyanos are allotted biographies – and no extras on the disc itself. But as a performance of a late-Romantic masterpiece this has a good deal going for it.

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