Words or music? This is the dilemma that the Countess Madeleine must wrestle with, as two suitors (one a poet, the other a composer) vie for her love. Which will the Countess choose? Strauss' luminous and lovely final opera contains charming music that belies its composition in the midst of war in October of 1942. SummerFest performances of Capriccio represent the second year of a planned four-year Strauss cycle, focusing on ravishing but lesser-known works by this 20th century master. 

 

 

Productions Credits

World premiere reduced orchestration by Braden Toan with permission from Boosey & Hawkes.

Orchestral parts editing by Robert Frankenberry, Evan Neely and Roger Zahab.

Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman appear courtesy of Texture Contemporary Ballet.

Capriccio is sung in English, with English titles projected above the stage.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

 

Video

 

 

Production Team

Music   Richard Strauss
Libretto   Clemens Krauss
English Translation   Maria Massey
Director   Gregory Lehane
Conductor   Brent McMunn
Choreographer   Alan Obuzor
Scenic Design   Christine Lee Won
Costume Designer   Eunjin Lee
Lighting Designer   Bob Steineck
Hair and Makeup Designer   Karen J. Gilmer
Assistant Director   Emily Cuk
Stage Manager   Dustin Cañez
Assistant Stage Managers   Rachel Walrath
    Alaina Bartkowiak

 

Cast

The Countess   Diana McVey
Clairon   Victoria Fox
Flamand   Benjamin Robinson
Olivier   Christopher Scott
The Count   Andrew Cummings
La Roche   Jeremy Galyon
Italian Singers   Julia Fox
    Rafael Helbig-Kostka
The Major-Domo    Jesse Enderle
Dancers   Alan Obuzor
    Kelsey Bartman
Ensemble   Angky Budiardjono
    Dustin Damonte
    Gabriel DiGennaro
    Isaiah Feken
    Aaron Kaswen
    Joshua Smith
    Patrick Shelton
     

 

The Story

Part 1

In a chateau on the outskirts of Paris, the widowed Countess Madeleine listens to  a sextet composed by her suitor, Flamand. Also in attendance are Olivier, a poet and rival suitor, and the dozing impresario La Roche. La Roche is staging Olivier’s new tragedy for Madeleine’s birthday celebration.

Soon the actress Clairon arrives. She and the Count, Madeleine’s brother, recite a passionate sonnet from the play. Clairon, the Count, and La Roche leave to begin rehearsing in the chateau’s theater. Shortly after Olivier repeats the sonnet while Flamand rushes off, intent on setting it to music. Olivier takes the moment to declare his love for Madeleine. 

Flamand returns and sings the sonnet, now graced by his music. As Olivier joins the rehearsal, it is Flamand’s turn to reveal his love for Madeleine. She assures him that she will give him an answer the following morning. As the rehearsal continues, the Countess orders refreshments.

The Fall of Carthage

Part 2

La Roche introduces an up & coming dancer and two Italian singers. Each performs for the group, which sparks a discussion on the question of what takes priority in the arts. La Roche then announces that he is planning to present an allegory, The Birth of Pallas, followed by a spectacle, The Fall of Carthage, for the celebration. Such productions are de-railed by the others of the group, compelling La Roche to make a heated defense of theatrics. His art demands more passionate characterization and dramatic music than either Flamand or Olivier have thus far supplied.

The Count suggests that Flamand and Olivier join forces to write an opera about the arguments that they have heard that day, and that the characters in the opera include everyone in attendance. Moreover, it will be up to Madeleine to decide the opera’s conclusion. Suddenly the frontiers between reality and theater have been pierced. But, that is for tomorrow. It is late, and the guests depart for Paris. 

As the servants rummage about, they muse on the fact that all the world is a stage, wondering what part they will play in the new opera.

As moonlight filters into the darkened salon, Madeleine appears dressed for dinner. Olivier has left a message promising to visit her the next morning – the same as her rendezvous with Flamand. Her answer to their proposals will determine the conclusion of the opera and to her own romantic dilemma. She glances into the mirror, posing to herself the inevitable question, “Can one win without losing?” The butler announces supper. With a curtsy to the mirror, Madeleine turns to leave. She has made up her mind.

 

Meet the Composer

Richard Strauss
[born Munich, 11 June 1864; died Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 8 Sept 1949]

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.

During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father's cousin. In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn.

In early 1882 in Vienna he gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher and "cousin" Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. 

Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.

Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), were controversial works: Guntram was the first significant critical failure of Strauss's career, and Feuersnot was considered obscene by some critics.

In 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences. The premiere was a major success, with the artists taking more than 38 curtain calls. Many later performances of the opera were also successful, not only with the general public but also with Strauss's peers: Maurice Ravel said that Salome was "stupendous", and Mahler described it as "a live volcano, a subterranean fire". Strauss reputedly financed his house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen completely from the revenues generated by the opera.

Strauss's next opera was Elektra (1909), which took his use of dissonance even further. Elektra was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two subsequently worked together on numerous occasions. For his later works with Hofmannsthal, Strauss moderated his harmonic language: he used a more lush, melodic late-Romantic style based on Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that he had used in his tone poems, with much less dissonance, and exhibiting immense virtuosity in orchestral writing and tone color. This resulted in operas such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911) having great public success. Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1942. With Hofmannsthal he created Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932). For Intermezzo (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto. Die schweigsame Frau (1934), was composed with Stefan Zweig as librettist; Friedenstag (1935–6) and Daphne (1937) both had a libretto by Joseph Gregor and Stefan Zweig; and Die Liebe der Danae (1940) was with Joseph Gregor. Strauss's final opera, Capriccio (1942), had a libretto by Clemens Krauss, although the genesis for it came from Stefan Zweig and Joseph Gregor.

According to statistics compiled by Operabase, in number of operas performed worldwide over the five seasons from 2008/09 to 2012/13, Strauss was the second most-performed 20th-century opera composer; Puccini was the first and Benjamin Britten the third. Strauss tied with Handel as the eighth most-performed opera composer from any century over those five seasons. Over the five seasons from 2008/09 to 2012/13, Strauss's top five most-performed operas were Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos, Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, and Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Librettist

Clemens Krauss
[born Vienna, 1 Feb 1874; died Vienna, 15 July 1929] 

Clemens Heinrich Krauss was an Austrian conductor and opera impresario, particularly associated with the music of Richard Strauss.

Clemens Krauss

Krauss was born in Vienna out of wedlock to Clementine Krauss, then a 15-year-old dancer in the Vienna Imperial Opera Ballet, later a leading actress and operetta singer, niece of the prominent nineteenth-century operatic soprano Gabrielle Krauss. His natural father, Chevalier Hector Baltazzi (1851-1916), came from a family of wealthy Phanariot bankers resident in Vienna. Baltazzi's older sister Helene was married to Baron Albin Vetsera and was the mother of Baroness Mary Vetsera, who was accordingly Clemens Krauss' first cousin.

Krauss made the rounds of regional centers, conducting in Riga (1913-1914), Nuremberg (1915) and Stettin (1916-1921) (formerly part of Pomerania in Germany; now part of Poland). The latter appointment gave him ample opportunity to travel to Berlin to hear Arthur Nikisch conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, a major influence. He then returned to Austria as director of the opera and symphony concerts in Graz. In 1922, he joined the conducting staff of the Vienna State Opera and teacher of the conducting class in the Vienna Singakademie. He conducted the Vienna Tonkünstler concerts from 1923 to 1927, and was Intendant of the opera in Frankfurt and director of the Museum concerts there from 1924 to 1929.

He guest-conducted in the United States in 1929, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic. Also in 1929, he was appointed director of the Vienna State Opera. Its orchestra, which was part of the independent concert entity known as the Vienna Philharmonic, appointed him its music director in 1930. He was a regular conductor at the Salzburg Festival from 1926 to 1934, where in 1930 he conducted Alban Berg's avant-garde atonal opera Wozzeck.

Krauss gave up his Vienna positions in 1933-34 to direct the Berlin State Opera in 1935 after Erich Kleiber had resigned in protest against Nazi policies. In 1933, he took over the preparations for the premieres of Richard Strauss's opera Arabella after the departure of conductor Fritz Busch (another non-Jewish anti-Nazi). Krauss's own position on Nazism was unclear, although he did enjoy a close relationship with Nazi official Alfred Frauenfeld and it has been claimed that he sought Nazi Party membership in 1933. In 1937, he was appointed Intendant of the National Theatre Munich following Hans Knappertsbusch's resignation. He became a close friend of Strauss, and wrote the libretto for his opera Capriccio which he premiered in Munich in 1942. He also conducted the premieres of Strauss's operas Friedenstag and Die Liebe der Danae. During the early 1940s, he taught at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg where among his pupils was composer Roman Toi.

 

One Final Opera

Finis quae coronat opus (“The end crowns the work”)—thus in four words William Mann, the distinguished music critic, summarizes Richard Strauss' achievement in Capriccio. In substance, he states that in this fifteenth and final opera Strauss addressed his life long concern as how to balance words and music in an opera, presenting his case with the kind of sophistication that can be found in the work of few other composers: beautiful music, interesting characterizations, a light hearted treatment with serious overtones, and an intellectual challenge to those who have a deeper acquaintance with the history of music and its traditions. Its subject matter was generated in part by Antonio Salieri's one act opera, Prima la musica e poi le parole, which bandies about the primacy of words and music. 

Capriccio saw the light of day during the darkest moments of the Second World War. It involved not only such historical notables as Mozart, Da Ponte, Gluck and Casti, but also Strauss' contemporaries—Stephan Zweig, Joseph Gregor, Hans Swarowsky, Rudolph Hartmann, and most significantly Clemens Krauss who, along with Strauss, is the accredited author of the opera. It was with the encouragement of Krauss that Capriccio was ready for performance in 1942.

The importance of Krauss cannot be underestimated. He was the most perceptive musician of the theater in the twentieth century. As an opera conductor, he had a profound understanding of the theater in all of its manifestations. Nor should it be taken lightly that Viorica Ursuleac, his wife, was Strauss' favorite soprano in his later years.

The delights and sophistication of Strauss' "caprice" could run volumes...suffice to point out a few examples:

>Richard Strauss at his desk

When Flamand, the musician, presses his suit with the countess Madeleine, he tells her that he first glimpsed her when she was reading the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century philosopher. As he becomes more ardent and asks that she give him an answer to his suit, she puts him off with a quotation from Pascal, saying that "the happiness of an undeclared love is thorny but sweet."  And then trying to evade his subsequent entreaties when he asks her feelings for him, she quotes Pascal's most famous lemma, "The heart has its reasons which reason cannot fathom," articulating the basis of her decision at the end of the opera and answering to Strauss' satisfaction the question,  "which is more important in opera, the music or the words."

Much is made of Oliver's poem, extracted supposedly from his play which is being rehearsed in the chateau's theater. In reality it is a cherished sonnet by the sixteenth century Pierre de Ronsard that begins, "Je ne saurais aimer que vous." Sadly, in its German or English translation it is unrecognizable. 

In the second act following the performance of the ballerina, take note of the moment when Flamand contends that music is an unwilling accomplice of the theater. Madeleine disagrees, saying that the theater with music is the secret mirror of reality. Her point is emphasized by the emergence of a melody—one of Strauss' finest symbolizing opera as an ideal. The tune is taken from one of his song cycles, a satirical one entitled “The Tradesmen's Mirror,” where it represents the pure inspiration of music that publishers prostitute for their own gain. It will return again to introduce the final scene of Capriccio, this time glowing and dignified and expanded in a way only Strauss could manage.

In the late eighteenth century, the period in which Capriccio is set, artists and the informed public took seriously the question of music and the dramatic text which supported it—especially since Christoph Gluck, a proponent of Italian opera reform had come to Paris in 1773, where his reputation and reforms were winning public support with the success of his opera Iphigenie en Tauride, even though traditionalists still clung to the more Italianate forms and to the, by then, senseless seeming libretti of such professional librettists as Metastasio, Cesti and even Da Ponte. Strauss gives us a generous hint of Gluck's score in Capriccio as well as a scathing rendition of one of Metastasio's text from the opera Adriano in Siria when La Roche introduces a duet for tenor and soprano.

Next, when La Roche suggests that Olivier and Flamand together compose an opera, and Olivier suggests that Ariadne might be an acceptable subject, Strauss slyly introduces music from his own Ariadne auf Naxos. Moreover, when Flamand suggests Daphne, Strauss again inserts the transformation music from his more recent opera Daphne.

Take note as well that both La Roche and Clairon are historical presences. Available sources are chary concerning the career of La Roche, but Claire de la Tude was a well-known actress in her day, having made a reputation with her interpretation of Racine's Phaedre. She was a favorite of Voltaire. When she states in Capriccio that she must be going, the implication is that she has a performance the next day. Once again a charming anachronism, since she was now in her fifties and had retired from the stage in 1766.

The premiere of Capriccio on October 28, 1942, in Munich was an overwhelming success, the cast a distinguished one, featuring, inter alios, Ursuleac as the Countess and Hans Hotter as Flamand. Excerpts of these performances have been preserved and are available on CD. Additional performances were scheduled, until the Munich Opera house was destroyed on October 2, 1943, by Allied bombs. Premieres were quick to follow in many of the major German cities, but the opera was ignored in the United States until 1954 when it was at last taken up by the Juilliard School.

A final observation concerns Madeleine, the lively and intelligent countess caught between two loves, and so a symbol of opera itself. Strauss has gathered the elements of operatic tradition he loved best—the hit tune from Die Meistersinger, the chamber music sounds of Mozart, a recreation of rococo music which he composed so convincingly, illusive quotations from Mozart's piano concertos, the dance, the art of bel canto, the laughing ensemble from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, full commenting intermezzi…a la Wagner and much more, yet all of these elements in homogenous and felicitous form.

—Jerry Clack