Let’s just get one thing straight: I ADORE Capriccio. I think it’s genius! While It’s arguably some of Strauss’ best music, the opera is almost never performed because it challenges its audience to think and pay as close attention to the text as to the music. The opera also ends on a note of ambiguity, as it should. But when you consider the Metropolitan Opera crowd - a bunch of literal minded ninnies who just want an evening of Verdi oom-pah-pah replete with a healthy heaping of Zeffirelli schlock - their unwaivering resistance to try anything new or challenging, makes the prospect of staging an usual piece like Capriccio, about as enticing as a lunch with Shannen Doherty. After two excruciating runs of Rossini’s Armida, in a performance that was unanimously considered a huge failure among opera critics, this Capriccio felt like a homecoming for La Fleming and the Metropolitan Opera.
The stakes were almost nonexistent last night. La Fleming is one of the best Straussians of our day, and the roll of the countess has become something of a calling card for her. There was NO doubt she was gonna score a home run with this performance. The vocal writing could have been composed specifically for her voice; her creamy middle register - which has always been her sweet spot - was given every opportunity to shimmer and Fleming did not disappoint. The hunky Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser, who was a fantastic Narraboth in Salome a few years back, was a highly passionate and impulsive Flamand. There was an element of danger to this hot headed musician and the fact that he shaped Strauss’ punishing, high-lying phrases with lyrical grace was all the more impressive.
Russell Braun played the writer Olivier with a mix of cool suaveness and rakish poise that emphasized Olivier’s cerebral temperament. It was a perfect contrast to Mr. Kaiser’s intensity. Mr. Braun sang with ringing ardor and plushness which is a very rare quality with the majority of baritone voices today.
Capriccio proves to be an insightful, thought-provoking meditation on process of creating art. It is truly wonderful to have this excellent piece being performed with a cast that can more than do it justice