The 1993 San Francisco Opera production of Strauss’ Capriccio is about as literal a take on the work as one could imagine. Stephen Lawless’ production sticks to the stage directions as laid down with an almost fetishistic fidelity. This is backed up by highly decorated costumes and sets firmly placed in a slightly over elaborated 1775. The traditionalists dream? I suppose so if one thinks that Strauss and Krauss meant the work to be taken literally. I don’t. This is an opera about an opera about opera. It begs to be deconstructed and the time and circumstances of its composition tend to reinforce the idea that all is not as it seems. To take it at face value is actually a bit absurd but that’s what happens here and the result is rather dull and unsatisfying.
Some of the performances aren’t bad though. Kiri Te Kanawa is a decent Madeleine though she warbles a bit and doesn’t get inside the part the way Renée Fleming does. A very young Simon Keenleyside is a well characterised and beautifully sung Olivier. Victor Braun is a sympathetic and unbuffoonish La Roche. Unfortunately the rest of the cast aren’t as good. Hakan Hagegard and Tatiana Troyanos as the count and Clairon are much too broadly and clownishly played and David Kuebler’s Flamand is actually quite hard to listen to. In the pit, Donald Runnicles seems to be having one of his off days. Everything is too relaxed and unfocussed and tends to to mush. To be fair the sound quality isn’t helping here.
The technical quality is nothing to write home about either. An adequate 4:3 picture is coupled with a rather mushy Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. Peter Maniura’s video direction is typical TV work of the period. Subtitles are English only and documentation is restricted to a list of chapters.
I really can’t think of a good reason to buy this disk. The competition is much better. Both competing versions feature Renée Fleming in fine performances and very good supporting casts. My pick would be Robert Carsen’s brilliant Paris production but if that’s too conceptual for your taste there’s the 2011 production from the Met Live in HD series which has Andrew Davis in the pit and is far superior to the San Francisco effort. It’s also available on Blu-ray.