Richard Strauss Is Well Served by the Teatro Real’s New Capriccio

SpainSpain Strauss, Capriccio: Teatro Real Orchestra / Asher Fisch (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 2.6.2019. (JMI)

Capriccio (c) Javier del Real

Production:
Director – Christof Loy
Sets – Raimund Orfeo Voigt
Costumes – Klaus Bruns 
Lighting – Franck Evin

Cast:
Countess Madeleine – Malin Byström
Olivier – André Schuen
Flamand – Norman Reinhardt
La Roche – Christof Fischesser
Count – Josef Wagner
Clairon – Theresa Kronthaler
Monsieur Taupe – John Graham Hall
Majordomo – Torben Jürgens
Italian Singers – Leonor Bonilla and Juan José de León

Richard Strauss’ Capriccio is not a frequently performed opera though it’s not a rarity either. But if one judges by its presence on the Spanish stage, I’d have to say we’re dealing with a true rarity. In the past 25 years, the only other performance of Capriccio took place at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in December 1996, when an opera season had to be improvised due to the delayed opening of Teatro Real.

Even at the risk of the Grand Inquisitor of the Straussian Faithful condemning me to the stake, I have to say that the opera lasts too long – especially the first hour which can be somewhat tedious. The opera picks up with the ‘performance’ organized by La Roche, and ends in a truly extraordinary final half hour – if there is an exceptional singer as the protagonist. Something like touching the sky with your hand, as we used to say in Spain.

This performance was more than satisfactory, with a fine production, good musical direction and a solid, competent vocal cast, although there were no outstanding voices.

I’m used to seeing Asher Fisch, an always dependable conductor, in Munich in revivals of Italian operas. Things worked out here even better than I had expected – fine leadership in a work that has much to conduct. Under his baton was the superb Teatro Real orchestra: their quality is more than remarkable, and I dare say it’s the best pit orchestra in Spain at the moment.

Countess Madeleine was played by soprano Malin Byström, whom we had the opportunity to see in Spain as the protagonist in Massenet’s Thaïs. She may not have an exceptional voice, unlike other interpreters in the recent past such as Renée Fleming and Soile Isokoski, but she is a remarkable actress-singer and gave a convincing performance.

The two suitors, personifying words and music respectively, were baritone André Schuen as Olivier, the poet, and tenor Norman Reinhardt as Flamand, the composer. Both did well, but the baritone was better vocally than the tenor.

The performance of Christof Fischesser in the part of La Roche was the best of the entire cast. He possesses an attractive voice and filled the stage every time he was singing. Josef Wagner as the Count, the brother of Countess Madeleine, did well, and the same can be said of mezzo-soprano Theresa Kronthaler in the part of the actress Clairon.

In the secondary characters, I should mention the success of John Graham Hall as Monsieur Taupe and Torben Jürgens as the Majordomo. The Italian singers, played by soprano Leonor Bonilla and tenor Juan José de León, were also very good.

This is not an easy opera to mount, and the new staging by German director Christof Loy, a co-production of the Teatro Real and the Zurich Opera, is really excellent. There is one basic set for the entire opera: an elegant room to which furniture is added and removed. What stands out especially here is Christof Loy’s stage direction of both the main actors and the extras.  The costumes are modern and attractive, and the lighting is handled well.

There was almost a full house at the Teatro Real, and the audience was enthusiastic, with the biggest applause for Malin Byström and Christoff Fischesser.

José M. Irurzun

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