Saturday, April 23, 2011

Embodied opera

I just saw Strauss' great last opera, Capriccio. Two and a half hours straight, no intermission, live in HD from the Met. What an experience of music, words and theater!

The plot is almost nothing: a debate among three men who represent that troyka I just wrote: composer, poet, impresario. Which of their art forms is the best?
The opera doesn't allow any resolution, but it also doesn't shrink from the struggle, which is itself the heart of the piece. Each of them gets their powerful moments of assertion; and none of them wins. But in the meantime, we realize more about how we experience opera: torn among these three poles, blown now by the powerful winds of orchestra and melody, then working our way through the ironies and positions manifest in the words, then throwing ourselves into the theatrical paradoxes of illusion and reality.

At the center of it all is the soprano, of course. Today she was Renee Fleming, coy, passionate, clear and beautiful. All the men in the opera love her. Two of them, the poet and the musician, explicitly  court her, demanding that she choose one of them. Whether she's supposed to choose on aesthetic or erotic grounds is never very clear; both are in play through the whole opera.

In fact, art and sex are made pretty much the same in Capriccio. If at the end, the Countess refuses to choose either man as a partner, she also refuses to decide between words and music. She will not say, in the terms of the "plot" (if you can call it one), how the opera is to end.

So after singing her way through her irresolution, she shrugs and goes off to supper. We don't shrug!

Check out just a few minutes of these videos of Renee doing the twenty-minute-long last scene. You'll probably get hooked, too. Will you be hooked on the music, the words, the theater, or the countess, or all of them at once?


Tammela said...

Beautiful -- I listened to a bit of this on public radio (streamed live online from home) yesterday. I miss speaking/hearing German.

Nelson said...

Nicely expressed, Nick. It was a wonderful version of this meta-opera. Very well done from my amateur's point of view. I would add just two observations. I thought that the two musical interludes in which Renee Fleming walks around the stage looking all gooey-eyed both could have been done differently and went on too long. Also, I do think she scribbles a note, which we don't see, at the end of the opera with the final choice of her love interest. The way she fondles the rose at the end I think she did not choose either the poet or the composer. She chose . . . her gardener!

Nick said...

Tammela: so amazing that you could find this streaming in Ukraine!

Nelson: indeed, 'gooey-eyed' she was. I felt it didn't matter that much, but it certainly exhausted her repertoire of gestures.