Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Classical DVD and CD Review


The Bohemians Vol 3
Lindsay Quartet
CD DCA 788

This month I'll take a rest from reviewing new releases and instead look at some older classic issues. In particular, in the wake of the Taiwan debut of Richard Strauss' Rosenkavalier I'll assess highly-praised DVDs of two other operas by the great German master.


Richard Strauss

San Francisco Opera

Art Haus 1000354

Capriccio was Strauss' last opera. While World War II raged and cities in Germany and the UK burned, Strauss offered an opera about opera, a static piece with a strikingly lyrical score set outside Paris. It isn't his best late work in the genre - that honor surely goes to Daphne, premiered in 1938. But it's nevertheless something all Strauss enthusiasts will want to acquire, and if they haven't already got hold of the DVD of the 1993 San Francisco Opera production, they should do so immediately.

This version faces strong competition from the 2005 one from Paris Opera with Rene Fleming, which sets the work in the year of its composition (1942), and hence in Nazi-occupied France. All in all, however, it retains its own special authenticity, and is of course faithful to the composer's intentions.

Capriccio is meant to be intelligent fun, featuring light-hearted discussions of operatic history and the problems of staging. Central is the question of whether words or music are more important, dramatized by a composer and a poet, Flamand and Olivier, both falling in love with a countess. In choosing between them she has to decide what most makes opera tick (in the end she evades making a choice). Echoes of Rosenkavalier are impossible to miss, and there are parallels with Ariadne auf Naxos as well.

This traditionalist production (by Stephen Lawless) works as well as this conversational opera can ever be made to work. Kiri Te Kanawa is ideal as the serene but perplexed Countess, while David Kuebler and Simon Keenlyside compete in more than love as Flamand and Olivier; they have different strengths and honor is more or less equally divided. Hakan Hagegard makes a strong Count, Victor Braun a fine La Roche (an opera director), while Tatiana Troyanos manages to avoid being over-characterful as the opera singer Clairon. Donald Runnicles conducts his San Francisco forces with distinction.

It's no chance that Strauss himself wrote part of the libretto, insuring himself against the audience deciding that the music-versus-text decision goes in the text's favor. But he had long turned his back on the stridencies of modernism, and here is getting close to the ecstatic lyricism of his Four Last Songs.


Richard Strauss

Metropolitan Opera, New York

Deutsche Grammophon 248994

Strauss' Arabella (1933) has a complicated plot. The title role is the daughter of an impoverished aristocratic family in Vienna and she must marry someone rich. But the dressing up of her younger sister as a boy, the arrival of a stranger from Croatia, several examples of "A loves B who, however, loves C," the question of whether someone visited someone else's bedroom, and a bizarre custom of a girl giving a boy a glass of water as an agreement to marry - all this makes the opera hard to take seriously.

The 1996 production from New York's Metropolitan Opera was directed by Otto Schenk, the man originally responsible for the Taipei Rosenkavalier. It's absolutely superb and gains enormously from being set in the colorful early 20th century, rather than in the altogether drabber dinner-jacketed 1930s. Musically it succeeds on every front, the work's shortcomings are by-passed, and the stage action is made equal to the music (superb, if something of an acquired taste).

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