Strauss - Capriccio

ONP Palais Garnier, Paris, Wednesday September 19 2012

Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Production: Robert Carsen. Sets: Michael Levine. Costumes: Anthony Powell. Lighting: Robert Carsen, Peter Van Praet. Die Gräfin: Michaela Kaune. Der Graf: Bo Skovhus. Flamand: Joseph Kaiser. Olivier: Adrian Eröd. La Roche: Peter Rose. Die Schauspielerin Clairon: Michaela Schuster. Monsieur Taupe: Ryland Davies. Eine italienische Sängerin: Barbara Bargnesi. Ein italienischer Tenor: Manuel Nuñez Camelino. Eine junge Tänzerin: Laura Hecquet. Der Haushofmeister: Jérôme Varnier. Acht Diener: Antonel Boldan, Chae Wook Lim, Vincent Morell, Christian Rodrigue Moungoungou, Slawomir Szychowiak, Ook Chung, Yves Cochois, Hyun-Jong Roh. Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.

I've already described Robert Carsen's detailed, interesting 2004 production of Capriccio, which mildly raises one or two awkward questions as well as ending in a blaze of Schmalz, at length, and it will be familar to many from the DVD (a video almost ruined for me by some silly gimmicks), so there's no need to go into it again here.

On paper the cast looked good, which is why, having liked the staging in 2004, I decided to buy seats this season. But September has brought suddenly cool weather to Paris and nearly everyone you meet has a cold; and in any run of operas there are off nights. I think this was one.

Strauss
It got off to a rickety start, in all departments. The sextet was a bit pale. The orchestra, as French orchestras often do, reminded us that a sense of easy, seamless fluency in Strauss doesn't come automatically just from playing the notes. Joseph Kaiser stumbled a couple of times over the passage from medium to upper register and later, when the music soared, he was covered by the orchestra. Skovhus warmed up gradually from a very weak start. Michaela Schuster had some good notes, but my neighbour and I both wondered why the Paris opera hadn't found a better Clairon. Adrian Eröd had limited impact as Olivier. I stifled the unkind thought that the Italian singers seemed out to confirm La Roche's affirmation that bel canto is dead. And Peter Rose, who had very good reviews earlier in the run, was here discreetly sipping from a tumbler of water and obliged, so it seemed, to hold back, going for elegance rather than oomph.

Still, everyone, singers and players, warmed up in the second half. Michaela Kaune, though Carsen's production calls for a fair degree of cool stiffness, is a more natural actress than Renée Fleming (and, thankfully, without that great, sticky, sickly, signature splodge of glossy lipstick). Her voice is less complex, more straightforwardly silvery in timbre; it was less erratic, certainly, on Wednesday than in Rusalka in Brussels.  She put in a fine performance, if only occasionally a truly thrilling one.

But it would be a poor Capriccio indeed that failed altogether in the magnificent final scene. So, cool, rickety start or not, Kaune let go and we ended, rightly, in at least a twinkle of glorious Schmalz.

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