A soaring Renée Fleming in Capriccio at The Met

This has been a super opera season for those who love the German composers. With the first two of Wagner’s the Ring Cycle being offered, and now a rarely performed Capriccio from Richard Strauss, the Teutonic music makers are well represented at the Met this year.

The new production of “Das Rheingold,” opened the current Met season. “Die Walküre” comes in April; “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” will be introduced in the 2011-12 season; the entire “Ring” cycle will be given near the end of that season. The cost for the four new stagings is estimated – conservatively – at $16 million dollars, a good portion of which goes to pay for the “Valhalla Machine” – all 45 tons of it.

Renée Fleming as the Countess in Strauss’s “Capriccio.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera Taken at the Metropolitan Opera during the rehearsal on March 25, 2011.

Compared to that heavyweight, this is the fluff with a light as air setting befitting a Count and Countess. While most everyone is familiar with Strauss’s Salome and Der Rosenkavalier, his Capriccio is much less well known to many. Nevertheless, in the Met production with its nineteenth century setting, the surroundings should feel familiar, as well as the music, caught as it is between the late Romantic and early Modern eras.

In the production is the fabulous Renée Fleming singing her first complete Met performances as the elegant Countess. Capriccio began performances on March 28. Fleming sang the demanding final scene of the opera in a gala opening the Met’s 2008-09 season, but this season’s performances will be her first time singing the full opera with the company.

My colleague Susan Hall over at Berkshire Fine Arts has done a review of the production which she had the good fortune to see live. In it she said: “Renee Fleming is the Barbara Streisand of opera, powerful enough to surround herself with talented and handsome men in the productions she undertakes. With her beautiful, bell-like tones and charming presence, Fleming as Madeline will be as delightful in the HD transmission as she is in the house. She gets the men she deserves.” You can read her entire report at this Berkshire Fine Arts link.

The April 23 matinee performance will be telecast live in HD to the usual Berkshire screens at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield and The Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.

Andrew Davis, who led the Met premiere of the opera in 1998, returns to conduct its first revival, which also stars Joseph Kaiser as the composer Flamand, Russell Braun as the poet Olivier, Sarah Connolly as Clairon, Morten Frank Larsen in his Met debut as the Count, Peter Rose as the flamboyant La Roche, and Barry Banks and Olga Makarina as a temperamental Italian tenor and soprano; all are making Met role debuts.

In Capriccio, Strauss uses the romantic indecision of the widowed Countess—who is pursued by both a composer and a poet—as the opportunity for a sophisticated, breezy examination of aesthetics. The Countess wonders which is more important to musical drama: the music or the written word? The opera’s supporting characters, including the actress Clairon, the stage director La Roche, and the Countess’s love-struck brother, amplify and complicate this central artistic question.

While Fleming sings her first Capriccio at the Met this season, she has sung the Countess to wide acclaim in other venues, most recently in 2008 and 2010 productions at the Vienna State Opera. This is the third Strauss heroine in Fleming’s wide-ranging Met repertory, which also includes the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and the title character in Arabella; it is the twenty-first complete role she has sung with the company.

John Cox’s production, which updates the setting to the twentieth century, was created for the opera’s 1998 Met premiere. The staging features sets by Mauro Pagano, interior décor and costume design by Robert Perdziola, and lighting design by Duane Schuler.

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Live in HD April 23 at 1:00 PM

Capriccio will be experienced by millions of people around the world this season in movie theaters, on the radio and on the internet, through distribution platforms the Met has established with various media partners. The April 23 matinee will be transmitted to more than 1,500 movie theaters in 46 countries around the world as part of The Met: Live in HD series.

For More Information, See the Met’s Web Site

For more information, including bios of the performers as well as general information about the Met season, please see the Met’s Web site at http://www.metoperafamily.org/

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