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Richard Strauss


Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Vienna, 2014

Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor


Die Gräfin –                                                           Renée Fleming
Der Graf –                                                              Bo Skovhus
Flamand –                                                             Michael Schade
Olivier –                                                                 Markus Eiche
La Roche –                                                           Kurt Rydl
Clarion –                                                               Angelika Kirchschlager
Monsieur Taupe –                                               Michael Roider
Eine Italienische Sängerin –                              Íride Martínez
Ein Italienische Tenor –                                     Benjamin Bruns
Der Haushofmeister –                                       Clemens Unterreiner

Marco Arturo Marelli, stage director, set and lighting designer
Dagmar Niefind, costume designer
Lukas Gaudernak, choreographer


Richard Strauss - Capriccio 
Dirigent: Horst Stein
Inszenierung: Johannes Schaaf
Gräfin Madeleine: Anna Tomowa-Sintow
Graf: Wolfgang Schöne
Flamand: Eberhard Büchner
Olivier: Andreas Schmidt
La Roche: Theo Adam
Clairon: Iris Vermillion
Salzburger Festspiele 1990

In an opera, which is more important, the words or the music? Mozart plumped for the music, Gluck for the words. It is a favorite subject of discussion among composers and aestheticians, and Richard Strauss discussed it at length with his conductor, Clemens Krauss, in 1933 during the rehearsals for Arabella. Six years and several operas later, Strauss wrote to Krauss suggesting that they collaborate on the libretto of an opera on the subject. It was to be the last opera that Strauss completed.

Capriccio, Op. 85, is the final opera by Richard Strauss, subtitled "A Conversation Piece for Music". The opera received its premiere performance at the Nationaltheater München on 28 October 1942. Clemens Krauss and Strauss wrote the German libretto. However, the genesis of the libretto came from Stefan Zweig in the 1930s, and Joseph Gregor further developed the idea several years later. Strauss then took on the libretto, but finally recruited Krauss as his collaborator on the opera. Most of the final libretto is by Krauss.

The opera originally consisted of a single act lasting close to two and a half hours. This, in combination with the work's conversational tone and emphasis on text, has prevented the opera from achieving great popularity. However, at Hamburg in 1957, Rudolf Hartmann, who had directed the opera at its premiere in Munich, inserted an interval at the point when the Countess orders chocolate, and other directors have often followed suit, including performances at Glyndebourne Festival Opera. The final scene for Countess Madeleine can often be heard as an excerpt. Capriccio received its American professional premiere at The Santa Fe Opera in 1958 after the Juilliard School staged it in 1954 with Gloria Davy and Thomas Stewart as the aristocratic siblings.




Opera by Richard Strauss,
Clemens Krauss and Strauss wrote the German libretto.

The Countess 
an actress 
Flamand, a musician 
Olivier, a poet 
The Count, the Countess's brother
La Roche, director of a theatre
Monsieur Taupe
Italian singer,
Italian singer, tenor
The Major-Domo
Musicians and servants

Time: About 1775
Place: A château near Paris
Premiere, 28 October 1942


Soprano. Countess Madeleine, a young widow. Unable to decide between her two suitors, the poet Olivier and the musician Flamand. Her brother arranges for an entertainment to be written and performed for her birthday and the two admirers come to represent ‘words’ and ‘music’. Which will she choose? The subject of words versus music occupied Richard Strauss all his composing life, and in this opera he let the Countess Madeleine's two suitors represent those two aspects of opera. Her final choice will give the answer—she arranges to meet both Flamand and Olivier in the library the next morning. Alone and bathed in moonlight, she sings a long aria arguing with her reflection in the mirror the various merits of her two suitors. However, the audience is left guessing—or is there a hint in the orchestral postlude to her aria, with its reference to a Flamand theme? Aria: Morgen mittag um elf! …Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht (‘At eleven o'clock! … Your image in my ardent bosom glows’). For the last of Strauss's great soprano roles, all in some way representations of his wife Pauline, this closing aria lasts nearly twenty minutes. Greatly admired Countesses have included Lisa Della Casa, Maria Cebotari, Gundula Janowitz, Dorothy Dow, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Tomowa Sintow, Lucia Popp, Elisabeth Söderström, Kiri te Kanawa, Felicity Lott, and Renée Fleming—a roll‐call of great Strauss sopranos, many of whom have also shone as Mozart's Countess. Created (1942) by Viorica Ursuleac.

Capriccio - Richard Strauss
E. Schwarzkopf, N. Gedda, D. Fischer-Dieskau, H. Hotter, C. Ludwig
Orchestra: Philarmonia Orchestra conducted by W. Sawallisch


Contralto. Actress friend of the Count, who brings her to his sister Madeleine's birthday celebration. She has previously had an affair with the poet Olivier. She takes part in the entertainment being rehearsed for the Countess's birthday. This includes the love sonnet written by Olivier and then set to music by Flamand. Despite the fact that in the score Clairon is designated a contralto, she was created (1942) by Hildegarde Ranczak, a soprano who also sang the role of Salome. However, she is usually sung by a mez., famous among whom have been Elisabeth Höngen, Christa Ludwig, Kirstin Meyer, Tatiana Troyanos, Trudeliese Schmidt, Anne Howells, and Brigitte Fassbaender.


Tenor. A musician. He is in love with the Countess Madeleine and whilst listening to a sextet in her château, he discovers that the poet Olivier feels the same about her— who will she choose? The two men represent the two constituents of opera: words and music. Flamand naturally favours the music: Prima la musica—dopo le parole (‘First the music—then the words’), he replies to Olivier's statement that the words are the most important element. Olivier has written a sonnet for Madeleine and Flamand composes music to it for her birthday, giving rise to great distress and disapproval in the poet and a long discussion—to whom does it now belong, the poet or the composer? The Countess claims it as her present from them both, so it no longer belongs to either of them. Flamand declares his love for her and his desire to marry her and asks her for an answer. She promises to give it to him, in the library tomorrow morning at 11 o'clock. Aria: Verraten hab’ ich meine Gefühle! (‘I have betrayed my feelings!’). Created (1942) by Horst Taubmann.


Baritone. Poet in love with Countess Madeleine. He writes a sonnet for her birthday and is very upset when his rival, the composer Flamand, sets it to music. As they are both in love with the Countess, he was hoping that his words would impress her more than Flamand's music: Prima le parole—dopo la musica!, he says (‘First the words—then the music!’). This gives rise to an argument—to whom does the work now belong, the poet or the composer? Madeleine settles the argument—it is her present from them both and it now belongs to her. After Olivier leaves the château, he sends a message to the Countess via her Major‐domo—he will meet her at 11 o'clock the next morning in her library (exactly the same arrangement she has made with Flamand) in order to learn how the opera will end—in other words, does she choose the poet or the composer? Aria (the sonnet he has written): Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht (‘Your image in my ardent bosom glows’). Created (1942) by Hans Hotter.


Baritone. Brother of the Countess Madeleine. He has organized a group of friends to perform a play for his sister's birthday, and they gather at her château to rehearse. The guests include the well‐known actress Clairon, to whom the Count is attracted. Aria (with Clairon): Ein Oper ist ein absurdes Ding (‘An opera is an absurd thing’). Created by Walter Höfermayer.

La Roche:

Bass. A theatrical impresario, he has been invited by the Count to his sister's château. It is the Countess's birthday and her brother is planning to entertain her with a play which La Roche will produce. It is suggested during the rehearsal that an opera should be written about the events of the day. La Roche sings a long and impressive aria: the guests participating in the entertainment have all been laughing and arguing about the way in which plays are produced and gradually he is losing his patience with their arrogance in thinking that the actors are the ones who really matter in the theatre—after all, what do these young people really know about the art of production? Aria: Hola, ihr Streiter in Apoll! (‘Enough! You ignorant fools!). This role is thought to be based on the famous producer Max Reinhardt, who rescued the première of Der Rosenkavalier from its incompetent producer and to whom, in gratitude, Ariadne auf Naxos was dedicated. Famous singers of La Roche include Paul Schöffler, Hans Hotter (on record only—he never sang it on stage), Karl Ridderbusch, Benno Kusch, Manfred Jungwirth, Ernst Gutstein, Marius Rintzler, Theo Adam, and Stafford Dean. Created (1942) by Georg Hann. 

Monsieur Taupe:

Tenor. The old man who acts as the prompter for the play being organised by the Count for his sister Madeleine's birthday. M. Taupe hides in a corner and falls fast asleep at the beginning of the rehearsal, waking up only after everyone has left. His name is a witty play on words by Strauss, Taupe being the French for ‘mole’. Created (1942) by Carl Seydel.

Bass. He directs the servants to clear up after the guests and brings a message from the poet Olivier to the Countess. Created ( 1942 ) by Georg Wieter.


Italian Singer:

Soprano. She and the Italian Tenor are artists invited by La Roche to entertain the Countess's house‐guests. This scene usually provides an opportunity for very funny interplay between the two singers. Duet: Addio, mia vita, addio (‘Farewell, my life, farewell’). Created (1942) by Franz Klarwein, who later in the run sang Flamand, and by Irma Beilke.


The theme of the opera can be summarized as "Which is the greater art, poetry or music?". This was a topic of discussion at the time of the setting, as in an opera named for the issue, Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the Music and Then the Words) (Salieri, 1786). This question is dramatized in the story of a Countess torn between two suitors: Olivier, a poet, and Flamand, a composer.

At the Countess Madeleine's château, a rehearsal of Flamand's newly composed sextet is in progress. (This sextet is in reality a very fine composition for string sextet and is played in concert form as a piece of chamber music, independent of the opera). Olivier and Flamand debate the relative powers of words and music. They engage in a rather furious argument which is semi-spoken rather than sung in definable arias. The theatre director La Roche wakes from a nap, and reminds them both that impresarios and actors are necessary to bring their work to life. Olivier has written a new play for the Countess's birthday the next day, which will be directed by La Roche, with the Count and the famous actress Clairon performing. La Roche, Olivier and Flamand proceed to a rehearsal.

The Count, the Countess's brother, teases his sister about her two suitors, Flamand and Olivier, and tells her that her love of music is due in part to the attentions that Flamand pays her. In turn, she tells her brother that his love of words is in keeping with his attraction to the actress Clairon. The Countess admits that she cannot decide which of her suitors she prefers. Clairon arrives, and she and the Count read a scene from Olivier's play, which culminates in a love sonnet. They leave to join La Roche at the rehearsal.

Olivier tells the Countess that he means the sonnet for her. Flamand then sets the sonnet to music, while Olivier declares his love for the Countess. Flamand sings them his new composition, accompanying himself on the harpsichord. Olivier feels that Flamand has ruined his poem, while the Countess marvels at the magic synthesis of words and music. Olivier is asked to make cuts to his play and leaves for La Roche's rehearsal. Flamand declares his love for the Countess and poses the question – which does she prefer, poetry or music? She asks him to meet her in the library the next morning at 11, when she will give him her decision. She orders chocolate in the drawing-room. [At this point, some directors bring down the curtain and there is an interval.] The actors and La Roche return from their rehearsal and the Count declares that he is bewitched by Clairon. Madeleine tells him of her reluctance to choose between her two suitors, and the brother and sister gently tease each other again. Refreshments are served as dancers and two Italian singers entertain the guests. The Count, Countess, Flamand, Olivier, Clairon and La Roche reflect on the respective merits of dance, music and poetry. The discussion is lively, even aggressive on the part of the men. The Count declares that "opera is an absurd thing".

La Roche describes his planned two-part birthday entertainment for the Countess, the "Birth of Pallas Athene" followed by the "Fall of Carthage". The guests laugh and mock his extravagant ideas, but La Roche, in a monologue of the merits, attacks what he sees as the weakness of these contemporary youngsters, whose creations fail to reach the heart; he defends his faith in the theatre of the past and his own work as a mature director and a preserver of the great traditions of the arts. He challenges Flamand and Olivier to create new masterworks that will reveal real people in all their complexity. The Countess manages to reconcile the three, urging them to make peace, pointing out how their arts are interdependent; she commissions the pair to collaborate on an opera. They search for a plot and it is the Count, "who doesn't care much for music, he prefers military marches" teases his sister, who hits on the bold idea of an opera which depicts the very events of that afternoon, the characters to be real people "like us", just as La Roche wishes – the ending to be decided by the Countess.

The Count and Clairon depart for Paris with the theatre company. In a witty touch, the next scene consists of the servants commenting, as they clean up the room after the guests have all left, on how absurd it would be to portray servants in an opera. "Soon everyone will be an actor," they sing. They deride their employers for 'playing' at the theatre and discuss who the Countess might be in love with. The Major-Domo discovers the prompter, Monsieur Taupe, who has fallen asleep and has been left behind. In a scene of much humour, Monsieur Taupe explains that it is actually he who is the most important person in the theatre – without him, there would be no entertainment. The Major-Domo listens patiently and then arranges for food and his transport home.

As evening falls, the Countess returns, having dressed for supper, and learns from the Major-Domo that her brother has gone to Paris with Clairon, leaving her to dine alone. The Major-Domo reminds her that both Olivier and Flamand will meet her in the library in the morning to learn the ending of the opera. Alone, and still undecided as to both the ending of the opera and her choice of lover, she sings of the inseparability of words and music. In like manner she tells herself that if she chooses one she will win him but lose the other. She consults her image in the mirror, asking "Is there any ending that isn't trivial?" The Major-Domo announces that "Dinner is served" and the Countess slowly leaves the room.

The opera is a light-hearted treatment of a serious subject: the relative importance of music, poetry, dance and theatre, cleverly set as an opera within an opera.

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