The MetHD broadcast of Strauss’ Capriccio has been issued on Blu-ray. I enjoyed the original broadcast but found watching it again on disk rather unsatisfying. The main problem is the production. It’s a John Cox effort from 1998. The period is updated from ancien régime France to just after WW1, apparently to make the people more contemporary while allowing an opulent, old style Met “all the things” production. Peter McClintock’s direction of the revival emphasizes the most obvious comedy (the ballerina falling over with her legs in the air, for example) while doing little or nothing to bring out the sheer cleverness of this opera, about an opera, within an opera. It all seems very heavy handed, in fact the word that popped into my head several times was “vulgar”.
The performances, with perhaps one exception, are of a very high calibre. The standout is Peter rose as La Roche. He sings stylishly and acts well throughout. This could easily have been buffo’d up in this production but he avoids that tendency. Joseph Kaiser and Russell Braun are convincing as the composer Flamand and the poet Olivier. Sarah Connolly is suitably majestic as Clairon and Morten Frank-Larsen comes off well, if slightly Germanically, as the Count. Barry Banks and Olga Makarina, as the Italian singers, have more slapstick than singing but they manage OK. The problem is Renée Fleming’s Madelaine. I can’t tell whether the problem is the recording or the voice but there’s something scoopy going on in her upper register. It seems to get pretty much ironed out, mercifully, in the big final scene but a Capriccio without a top notch Madelaine is a bit pointless. The orchestra and Andrew Davis in the pit are balanced so far back from the voices that most of the time one doesn’t notice them. This is a pity as, when they can be heard, Davis shows what a fine Straussian he is.
Video direction is by Gary Halvarson and it’s unfussy by his standards. The only extra is an introduction by Joyce di Donato. There’s no interval so no interval shenanigans. The picture is very fine (on Blu-ray) but the sound issues are a problem with both the surround and stereo tracks. The booklet has notes by John Cox and George Hall and there is an indexed synopsis and full track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.
Madelaine is a signature role for Renée Fleming but I don’t think this recording does her justice. Much better to get hold of Robert Carsen’s subtle and inventive Paris production which features an equally strong supporting cast and showcases Ms. Fleming much more effectively. Alas, it’s DVD only; no Blu-ray.