The last and most subtle of Richard Strauss's operas, Capriccio gets a finely nuanced interpretation in this San Francisco Opera production. A generally excellent cast is highlighted not only by the radiant presence of Kiri Te Kanawa but by the deceptively robust performance of Tatiana Troyanos in her last operatic appearance before her untimely death from cancer. The composer described Capriccio as a "conversation piece for music in one act", and he put much effort into not only the music but the words, on which he collaborated with conductor Clemens Krauss. Krauss's verbal input was particularly appropriate in this work, because the real subject (symbolised by a conventional love triangle) is the competition (and alliance) between words and music in opera, a subject naturally close to the composer-librettist's heart. The conversation runs through the whole opera in various forms. It begins immediately after the curtain goes up, with a quarrel between the poet Olivier (Simon Keenlyside) and the composer Flamand (David Kuebler) over the respective merits of their arts. They are rivals for the hand of the widowed Countess Madeleine (Te Kanawa); she is to choose between them (i.e., between poetry and music) but she is still undecided as the final curtain descends. The intervening two hours are rich in artistic shop talk and backstage situations that will enchant sophisticated opera-lovers, as well as the love interest for the rest of us. David Runnicles conducts with a sure sense of Straussian style; and Mauro Pagano's 18th-century set creates the right atmosphere. Keenlyside and Kuebler are eloquent and believable, Te Kanawa sweet, regal and ambiguous. Hakan Hagegard and Victor Braun give particularly vivid performances in supporting roles. --Joe McLellan
Manon (2 Dvd)
Of all Puccinis major operas, the intimate tragedy of Madama Butterfly is least in need of elaborate staging and might therefore benefit most from the close scrutiny of film. The story is domestic, the setting Spartan, the incidental characters kept to a minimum. This 1974 version, however, demonstrates that Butterfly still needs a healthy injection of proscenium arch melodrama. Director Jean-Pierre Ponelles production strives for realism but remains unfortunately studio-bound, having neither the benefit of location filming nor the heightened reality of an opera stage. The exterior is a perpetually fog-shrouded heath of indeterminate locale; the interior is cramped and unadorned. The setting is just too prosaic to contain the epic emotions of grand opera. Thankfully, the cast is superb, headed by Placido Domingos rakish Pinkerton and Mirella Frenis rubicund Butterfly. Their singing is incomparable, as is Herbert von Karajans musical direction of the Vienna Phil. The singers mime to pre-recorded music, which is occasionally disconcerting since when film demands close-ups opera provides broad gestures. Musically, this Butterfly is impeccable. Visually it adds nothing that could not be seen to better effect in a stage version. On the DVD: Madama Butterfly is presented disappointingly on disc in a poor NTSC transfer full of distracting graininess that makes every scene, both inside and out, look like it takes place in an omnipresent drizzle. Sound is reasonable stereo and adequate 5.0 surround. There are subtitles in the major European languages as well as Chinese, and the booklet contains a background essay plus synopsis. --Mark Walker
Please wait. Loading...