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R. Strauss: Capriccio -- San Francisco Opera [DVD] 
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Countess Madelaine is being courted by poet Olivier and musician Flamand, but cannot make her mind up between them. Her brother the Count is in love with Olivier's former mistress, Clairon, opposite whom he is to star in a play commissioned for the Countess' birthday. The Countess' indecision over her rival courtiers reflects the debate between the importance of music and words in opera. Performances from Kiri Te Kanawa, Troyanos, Hagegard, Braun, Kuebler, Keenlyside, and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
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
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
The musical standard-setter for "Capriccio" has long been the late fifties EMI recording under Sawallisch, with a fabulous cast of Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Gedda, Fischer-Dieskau, Wächter, and Hotter. This cast can't match the unique sophistication of those legendary singers, but their singing is in no way inferior, and their characterizations are right on the mark.
Kiri Te Kanawa is a wonderful Countess. She sings beautifully, she looks glamorous, and she finds every nuance in this last of Strauss' great soprano characters. Tatiana Troyanos plays the great actress Clairon as though born for it. David Kuebler and Simon Keenlyside are youthful and ardent as the Countess' suitors. Hakon Hagegaard is a delightful Count, with his theatrical pretensions and his horror of opera. Victor Braun is an effective LaRoche, reveling in the larger-than-life character, though he sounds a bit weary in his big speech. The smaller roles are also fine. The ageless Michel Sénéchal is just right as the drowsy prompter,while the Italian Singers, the dancers, the Major Domo, and the eight servants are sheer perfection. Conductor Donald Runnicles, like Sawallisch, keeps things moving and avoids sentimentality, and the orchestra plays beautifully. The single set and the costumes are lovely (especially the Countess' gown for the final scene), and the staging is stylish and elegant. Strongly recommended.
Highest recommendation to this DVD with not a single reservation.