Credit AP Photo/Richard Drew
In the final moments of Capriccio, Madeleine sang to her own image in a mirror. "You mirrored image of Madeleine in love," she sang, "can you advise me; can you help me to find the ending for their opera?"
In this production of Capriccio by John Cox, broadcast into theaters as part of the Met Live in HD Series, there was no mirror. Instead, Renée Fleming sang directly to us. We were the mirror.
And we did help to find an unusual ending for this opera about the inspiration for creating an opera. It ended in a movie theater.
Capriccio is an opera of haunted refinements from a lost age. It takes place in a salon among colleagues and friends that interact as friends and colleagues might have interacted during a Schubertiade. But the setting for this production was of the age of Fitzgerald--as if Daisy, Gatsby and Nick took up opera.
Though often thought of as a vehicle for a soprano this opera requires an ensemble cast, and this ensemble was inspiring. Baritone Russell Braun as Olivier, and tenor Joseph Kaiser as Flamand both brought insight into these pivotal roles that are a personification of poetry and music respectively.
Baritone Morten Frank Larsen was charismatic as the Count, and he interacted with strong connection to the actress Clairon, sung by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly.
Scene 9 of this opera began as an extended parenthesis during which the principle cast was served hot chocolate while a divertissement, consisting of three dances and a duet in the Italian style were presented for their entertainment. Tenor Barry Banks and soprano Olga Makarina sang the music for the duet. Though this music was intended as caricature it was freakishly difficult, but one would hardly know given the ease with which it was performed. Banks and Makarina found wit and humor along the edges of naivety.
La Roche, the theater director, was sung by bass Peter Rose. Rose balanced his music between ambition and foolishness with perfect agility. His nine-minute exclamation comprising the "Director's Monologue," at the close of scene nine was engaging at a stage in this opera without intermission that can easily seem too long if not performed with such skill. Rose asked us to sympathize with him, and we did. His powerful lines created a gateway toward a new ending for the opera.
The characters decided to work together to write an opera inspired by their interaction that day. It became a prototype episode for the Seinfeld television series. But we become increasingly aware that we were actually listening to the opera that they wrote instead of the opera to which we thought we were listening.
During scene 11 we observed the servants setting up dinner. They discussed what they had overheard during the day. Like us, they were the audience. “The next thing you know," the ensemble sang, "they will be putting servants in their opera.” They froze. Then continued their preparations.
One of the advantages of running this opera without intermission (which is as as Strauss intended), is that the passing of afternoon into evening onstage seemed real. There was a tranquility produced that gave the silvery moonlight scene an opportunity for serenity rare in this age of text messaging.
Fleming was brilliant in the final soliloquy. In this opera that creates itself, she also created herself; she became our Madeleine.