In Review > International

Capriccio

FRANKFURT
Opera Frankfurt
2/1/18

In Review Frankurt Capriccio hdl 218
Gordon Bintner (Der Graf), Tanja Ariane Baumgartner (Clairon), Alfred Reiter (La Roche), Camilla Nylund (Gräfin Madeleine), AJ Glueckert (Flamand) and Daniel Schmutzhard (Olivier) in Brigitte Fassbaender’s production of Capriccio at Opera Frankfurt
© Monika Rittershaus
In Review Frankfurt Capriccio lg 218
AJ Glueckert (Flamand), Daniel Schmutzhard (Olivier) and Camilla Nylund (Madeleine)
© Monika Rittershaus

OPERA FRANKFURT'S WELL-CONSIDERED, involving new production of Capriccio made clear how high standards are at this company, now considered one of Germany’s best. Brigitte Fassbaender’s staging opened January 14. On February 1, the seventh performance of the run, Sebastian Weigle—who triumphed with the Met’s new Rosenkavalier last season—led a compelling reading, balancing Strauss’s chamber-based intimacy with orchestral splendor, as in the richly autumnal “Mondlicht” passage and final scene. This opera can be a tough sell in the United States; it was salutary to hear Strauss and Clemens Krauss’ “conversation in music” played to a native German-speaking audience (with projected titles in both German and English). Even with an international-quality cast working under a strong director, one noted the occasional two-minute span of Capriccio that seemed repetitive.

Fassbaender—who in her days as a leading mezzo-soprano sang Clairon at Glyndebourne in 1990 and on Ulf Schirmer’s 1993 recording—offered typically detailed work, rich in psychological interaction if occasionally inventive in generating side business to the point of distraction. But her basic directorial gambit worked wonderfully: setting the piece in Nazi-occupied France at the time of its 1942 première. No overt storm trooper uniforms appeared—Johannes Leiacker’s outfits for both aristocrats and artists proved as elegant as his set, a vast, plant-free jardin d’hiver, ravishingly lit by Joachim Klein, that incorporated a curtained stage at the rear. Yet everyone was on guard, keeping secrets and attentive to nuance: an aristocratic child mimicking Hitler was swiftly spirited away. In a cameo by Graham Clark, his tenor still penetrating at seventy-six, Monsieur Taupe was clearly a spy, stealing as evidence one of the slides La Roche (Alfred Reiter) showed in his Fall of Carthage diversion. These black-and-white images of burned synagogues and bombed cityscapes spilled over to the set; this passage felt not fully coherent, but presumably placed the brilliant but artistically reactionary La Roche on the side of those lauding Germany’s early victories. 

Throughout, Camilla Nylund’s Countess Madeleine and her Major-Domo (her seeming intimate, as played by the dashing Gurgen Baveyan) carried out joint secret duties with the musicians and servants, here doubled—amassing weapons in violin cases and inspecting posters promising “Libération!” which the Countess kept hidden from her brother (Gordon Bintner) and creative suitors Flamand (AJ Glueckert) and Olivier (Daniel Schmutzhard). At the end, Madeleine’s final choice was not between words and music, nor indeed between Olivier and Flamand, but between Collaboration and the Resistance: in a perspective–expanded version of the set, she doffed her panniered dress, took an overcoat and beret from the Major-Domo and led the servants out into the night to join the Maquisards of the French Resistance.

Nylund, an elegant and graceful performer, initially sounded as if adding Venus, Sieglinde and Salome to her repertoire had taken a pronounced toll on her tone and accuracy: she phrased idiomatically but with blancmange timbre and pitch problems. The Finnish soprano improved by the octet, but only in the final scene—after a few minutes offstage—did she sound like a genuine Madeleine, singing lightly but beautifully. Reiter’s energy and artistry as La Roche somewhat compensated for tonal hollowness. Glueckert’s tenor sounded wonderful, bright and winning. Schmutzhard, boyishly charming and a splendidly detailed comedian, made the most of a fairly ordinary instrument; his light timbre hardened under pressure. Bintner, looking aptly aristocratic and radiating the character’s clueless entitlement—fielded a fine baritone with a pingy top; the equally attractive Clairon of Tanja Ariane Baumgartner proved superb in tone and inflection. The Italians—entertainingly enacted but not caricatured—were brilliantly vocalized by American soprano Sydney Mancasola (a company Gilda and Musetta) and Met Lindemann program alumnus Mario Chang (Frankfurt’s current Werther and Devereux).  —David Shengold  



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