In Review > North America

Intermezzo

WORMSLEY
Garsington Opera
6/8/15

In Review Garsington Intermezzo hdl 615
Mark Stone and Mary Dunleavy, Robert and Christine Storch in Bruno Ravella's production of Intermezzo at Garsington Opera
© Mike Hoban 2015
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Dunleavy and Sam Furness (Baron Lummer)
© Mike Hoban 2015
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Dunleavy
© Mike Hoban 2015

Autobiographical operas are rare, but Richard Strauss’s eighth opera — in which the real identities of those intimately caught up in the plot are only lightly disguised — is a good example of the genre. Composed following Strauss’s largest and most portentous stage-work, Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Intermezzo (1924) turns about as far in the opposite direction as one could go. With a libretto by the composer himself (Strauss’s regular librettist, the high-flown Hofmannsthal, would have nothing to do with such a frivolous undertaking), this domestic comedy is an unashamedly lightweight piece, but in the right production it can nevertheless prove a highly enjoyable experience.

Based on real events, the plot is easily told. While her husband Robert Storch is away on a conducting trip, Christine Storch is all too easily impressed by Baron Lummer, a young man she meets while out tobogganing, and who is eventually revealed to be a wrong ‘un. Meanwhile, she opens a handwritten note, (mis-)addressed to her husband, which seems to cast clear doubt on his fidelity to her. Cue a marital explosion; but inevitably, all misunderstandings are put to rights by the time the Act II curtain has come down. 

Over the decades, Garsington Opera (based for the past five years at the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire) has made Strauss a spécialité de la maison, with productions of Ariadne auf Naxos, Capriccio, Daphne, Die Ägyptische Helena (in its British premiere), Die Liebe der Danae (first professional British production), Die Schweigsame Frau, Arabella and Intermezzo, the last of which the company was essaying this season for the second time. It’s a piece that suits the venue well. Directed by the rising Moroccan-born, British-based Bruno Ravella, and conducted by the seasoned Dutchman Jac van Steen, the new production (seen June 8) was performed in an excellent translation by the late Andrew Porter — a very sensible decision, given how wordy the opera is.

Mary Dunleavy sang the impossibly arduous part of Christine Storch (alias Pauline de Ahna Strauss), a role vast in size and almost entirely conceived in parlando mode. Though she could have done with a little more cream to the tone at times, her light, bright soprano, elegant manner and canny acting skills brought her considerable success in the assignment. As the put-upon Robert Storch (though it should certainly be remembered that Strauss himself wrote the text that casts this self-projected paragon in an almost angelic light), baritone Mark Stone offered matinee-idol good looks, vocal warmth and personal charm; this was a top-class realization of the part. 

The nefarious Baron Lummer was sung with energy and élan by the young British tenor Sam Furness, while Irish soprano Ailish Tynan gave a thoroughly entertaining account of the Storchs’ maid, Anna — who has seen it all before and will doubtless see it all again. Extremely touching in the secondary role of the Storchs’ young son, Franzl, was Louis Hynes, who was — almost incredibly, given the excellence of his performance — making his first-ever stage appearance in this production. 

Strauss’s opera comprises many short scenes, almost cinematic in their rapid progression from one locale to another. Giles Cadle’s ingenious sets managed to make possible the innumerable quick changes necessary to allow the action to move, then to move again, and almost immediately afterwards to move once more. The realism of the Strauss’s home and its environs was as cleverly captured as the period look of Cadle’s costumes. 

Ravella’s direction was unfailingly sharp and witty. Van Steen drew high-quality playing from Garsington’s own orchestra, which knows this repertoire as well as any ensemble in the UK, and which played it with keen attention and considerable style, making highlights of the many strongly characterized interludes. He also made them sound musically worthwhile, which the work’s detractors claim to be an impossibility. spacer 

GEORGE HALL

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