To be read before
Richard Strauss was born in Munich in 1864 and died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1949.
The son of a celebrated horn player from Munich, Richard Strauss initially established his reputation as a composer of symphony music. In 1894, he conducted Tannhäuser in Bayreuth and his first operas, Guntram and Feuersnot, were strongly influenced by the music of Wagner. His adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome in 1905 earned him a degree of notoriety that was due as much to the innovative character of the music as the scandalous nature of the subject. Elektra, in 1909, marked the debut of a long period of collaboration with the Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal and displays a level of violence rarely attained in the domain of opera. With Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Strauss seemed to “settle down” returning to the Viennese tradition of the character opera. Numerous works followed, including Ariadne Auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Intermezzo (1924), Die ägyptische Helena (1928), Arabella (1933), Die Schweig-same Frau (1935), Friedenstag (1938), Daphne (1938), Die Liebe der Danae (1938-1940), and Capriccio (1942).
A few months prior to his death, he composed the Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra.
Richard Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio, revolves around a question that has always haunted the lyric arts: what should take precedence in an opera, the words or the music? The libretto proposed to Strauss by Stefan Zweig (living in exile at the time), had seen numerous versions and after being sketched out by Joseph Gregor, the librettist of Daphne and Die Liebe der Danae, it initially returned into the hands of the conductor Clemens Krauss and then into those of the composer himself, who put the final touches to the definitive version. In effect, Strauss injected a great deal of himself into the various characters, particularly the Countess, who does not close the debate at the end of the work, leaving the audience to ponder the question. Furthermore, he managed to avoid the abstraction that such a question could raise by “embodying” words and music in the characters of Olivier the poet and Flamand the musician, who are both vying to win the Countess’s heart.
From a musical point of view, Capriccio is a powerful synthesis of the best of everything that Strauss had achieved over the course of his life. As its subtitle suggests, the work is a musical conversation piece, where the composer takes stock of all his vocal savoir-faire with incomparable dexterity and refinement, ranging from simple recitative to ensembles of unrivalled virtuosity, not to mention the most elegant arias, as in the final scene in which the Countess questions her mirror and takes leave. This moving scene replete with musical reminiscences is also a final tribute from Strauss to the female voice that he so adored, his farewell to opera.
Capriccio was first performed on October 28th 1942, at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.
The work at the Paris Opera
Capriccio was first performed at the Palais Garnier in March 1993 in a production from the Grand Théâtre de Genève. The work, conducted by Peter Schneider and directed by Johannes Schaaf, featured Felicity Lott (the Countess), Eberhard Büchner (Flamand), and Andreas Schmidt (Olivier).