‘A Conversation Piece for Music’, Richard Strauss’ Capriccio invited audiences to step away from reality to muse on the relationship between words and music in the operatic form.
Capriccio premiered in Munich in 1942, with an early starting time and no interval to have audiences home before the Allied air raids on Munich began at 10pm. Written in the midst of World War II horrors, the question of whether words or music holds greater might seems ill-considered, but Capriccio brings hope for a different world and serves as a reminder of the power of the art form.
Victorian Opera, in collaboration with the Australian National Academy of Music, brought Capriccio to the Palais Theatre in Melbourne for one night only, marking conductor Simone Young AM’s first return to a Melbourne podium in 20 years and her first time with Victorian Opera.
In the program notes, Young describes her former struggle with ‘a work that seemed to be almost criminally frivolous’, yet her subsequent appreciation for Capriccio’s power and place in history is undeniable as she expertly showcased a stellar cast.
The tale opens with the Countess’ two suitors – the composer, Flamand (tenor Michael Schade), and the poet, Olivier (Stephen Marsh) – caught up in a rigorous debate over the power of music and words in spoken, rather than sung, arias.
Schade lived up to his stellar reputation, with excellent vocal control and sass in Flamand’s response to his rival, Olivier, and the Count (Samuel Dundas). Schade’s prolonged attempts to stab himself with a pen through the Count’s self-aggrandising reflections on his artistry were particularly enjoyable.
The Italian Singers (Carlos E Bárcenas and Kathryn Radcliffe) were equally charming, with masterful comedic timing and vocal flair.
Soprano Vida Miknevičiūtė was exquisite, drawing out the Countess’ anguish over her suitors and an impossible question with clarity, particularly at the top of her range.
While its simplicity was almost charming, the absence of sets and costumes detracted from the opera’s immersive power. Singers and musicians were left to awkwardly navigate microphone stands, and worked too hard to give the illusion of dynamic movement to an otherwise static set.
Yet despite this limitation, Capriccio was a treat for Melbourne audiences. While the Countess may have been left mulling over her choice, the audience was left with a clear answer: words and music came together in opera to create something magical.
Victorian Opera and Australian National Academy of Music
Palais theatre, St Kilda, Melbourne
Conductor: Simone Young AM
Assistant Conductor: Simon Brukard
Cast: Vida Miknevičiūtė, Samuel Dundas, Deborah Humble, Michael Schade, Stephen Marsh, Simon Meadows, Carlos E Bárcenas, Kathryn Radcliffe, Michael Petruccelli, Teddy Tahu Rhodes.
Capriccio was performed on 31 August 2023.