Bo Skovhus and Renée Fleming
Photo : Axel Zeininger/Wiever Staatsoper 2008
I’ve just had one of those nights. They don’t happen often, but everyone who gets this crazy opera habit does have them every so often and it’s why we keep going. I’m referring to a performance where everything comes together perfectly - fantastic singing, a great production, impeccable musical direction and performance. And how’s this for self-referential irony: the theme of the opera in question is this very issue of the perfect melding of elements into a work of art greater than the sum of their parts. Tonight was the third performance of the Vienna State Opera’s new production of Strauss’ Capriccio
starring Renée Fleming. It’s fabulous. It looks great, it sounds great and it is unlikely that you’ll ever see another Capriccio
as good as this one.
The production was designed and directed by Marco Arturo Marelli and is traditional in many ways but is imbued with a fair amount of modern technology including some video. Most of the set consists of stage-tall triangular pieces that rotate to reveal red theater curtains, words and music, or the etched-glass walls that make up the Countess’ salon. These pieces can be arranged into a semi-circular backdrop but are nearly constantly in motion given that they are also placed on a circular rotating stage that pauses only intermittently over the course of the evening. This carousel perfectly mirrors the ongoing aesthetic debates, declarations of love, and crises of manners that make up the events surrounding the Countess’ birthday celebration. It’s beautiful and often laugh-out-loud funny.
The cast is impeccable and a perfect example of luxury casting with Bo Skovhus, Michael Schade, Adrian Eröd, Franz Hawlata, and Angelika Kirchschlager. Acting and vocal standards are equally high and there are no weak links. Then there is the show's international superstar, Renée Fleming. This is one of the roles that made her famous and she is in top form here. Forget all the Violettas and Manons you may have seen her do, this is how I will remember her in years to come – glowing, breathing wonderful life into Strauss’ work. Of course, there may be more of this in the very near future, as Ms. Fleming appears to be on a “greatest hits” tour of sorts, revisiting several roles that originally brought her to prominence including Thaïs and Rusalka. She’ll even take another go at Lucrezia Borgia this fall in Washington, DC. Of course, all this is supported by a detailed and achingly beautiful performance of Strauss’s music by the State Opera orchestra under Philippe Jordan. He’s young but already an old hand in the opera pit. If tonight is any indication, there are exciting times ahead in Paris when he takes over the music directorship of the national opera there in 2009.
Last night my partner pointed out that there were several video cameras taping the performance of La Forza
including one that followed Nina Stemme out for her curtain call. Let’s hope that someone has the sense to tape this one as well. It’s brilliant and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
P.S. I’m sitting here in the hotel room watching the cast including Renée Fleming getting interviewed on the local TV station about the performance. It’s painful to think about the lack of arts coverage in the media in the US.
Labels: Opera Review 07/08, Out of Town