Opera Bites: Strauss' 'Capriccio' is an opera about opera

Friday, April 22, 2011
Renee Fleming, as the Countess, right, and Joseph Kaiser, as Flamand, are shown during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss' "Capriccio" in the Metropolitan Opera at New York's Lincoln Center. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

On Saturday, the high-definition broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera will be Richard Strauss' last opera, "Capriccio." The performance will begin at noon at the AMC Town Plaza 5 in Cape Girardeau.

Renee Fleming stars as the Countess, who inspires a passionate discussion about the question that has been asked of opera for years: What comes first, the words or the music?

The opera takes place in a chateau near Paris in the 1920s. The friends of the Countess are gathered here to celebrate her birthday. The composer, Flamand, and the poet, Olivier, spend most of their time arguing about which of them produces the most important part of an opera. As the opera progresses, these arguments become more and more heated with other characters joining the fray. The poet and the composer decide to write an opera and then ask the Countess how it should end.

The last scene of the opera is really wonderful: It is evening and the Countess is trying to decide what she will tell the two men about their work when they come to see her in the morning. She is also trying to decide which of the men she loves. She looks at herself in the mirror and realizes that she cannot make a choice. Her major-domo appears and announces that dinner is served. She smiles at herself in the mirror and slowly walks out of the room.

Renee Fleming is the perfect singer for the role of the Countess -- she is beautiful and elegant and her costumes are exquisite. This is a rather strange opera, and it never does answer the question about the music or the words. That is for you to decide -- if you can.

Barbara Herbert is an opera lover and host of KRCU's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

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