Monday 11 June 2018

A little bit of magic: Miah Persson in Richard Strauss's Capriccio at Garsington

Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Gavan Ring, Miah Persson, Sam Furness, Caspar Singh, Nika Gorič, Hanna Hipp, William Dazeley, Neal Daves - (Photo Johan Persson)
Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Gavan Ring, Miah Persson, Sam Furness, Caspar Singh, Nika Gorič, Hanna Hipp, William Dazeley, Andrew Shore - Garsington Opera - (Photo Johan Persson)
Strauss Capriccio; Miah Persson, Sam Furness, Gavan Ring, Andrew Shore, William Dazeley, Hanna Hipp, dir: Tim Albery, cond: Douglas Boyd; Garsington Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 June 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A strong cast and a radiant account of the title role show that music and art do matter in Richard Strauss's final opera

Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Miah Persson - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Miah Persson
Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Tim Albery's production of Richard Strauss' Capriccio, a collaboration between Santa Fe Opera and Garsington Opera, debuted in Santa Fe in 2016 [see my review], and it has now reached Garsington with an entirely new cast and conductor. We caught the 4th performance on Saturday 9 June 2018; Douglas Boyd conducted with Miah Persson as the Countess (her role debut), William Dazeley as the Count, Sam Furness as Flamand, Gavan Ring as Olivier, Andrew Shore as La Roche and Hanna Hipp as Clairon.

Tobias Hoheisel's spectacular set consisted of a modernist, Mies van der Rohe-style house with the panelling from an 18th-century room at its centre, like a collected object. The rear wall was glazed and looked out onto a terrace (at Santa Fe this gave a view of the hills beyond the opera house, but in Garsington, this was simply evoked with lighting). Costumes were loosely 1940's with Miah Persson wearing a pair of extremely striking outfits which seemed somewhat later in date than the rest of the costuming.

Premiered in Munich in 1942, Strauss' final opera completely avoids any sense of the war and the troubles which lay behind life at the time and can seem a somewhat sweet confection, a group of aristocrats arguing about music, words and art. But for Strauss, this was a subject which really mattered, and for the opera to work we have to believe that these people really do care intently about art, that it is one of the most important things in their life. The opera is very wordy, very conversational and there is always a limiting factor when hearing it in German with surtitles (like Intermezzo there is a good argument for performing the opera in the language of the audience).

Albery's very physical production had the virtue of making us believe that these people really did care, that what went on in this room mattered. All concerned were highly involved and there was a strong sense of competitive dialogue. Strauss filled the opera with jokes (often musical ones), though we do not always laugh at performances nowadays this one was funny, in the right way. Though at times, the performance veered towards physical comedy especially in the scene were Olivier and Flamand gang up on La Roche and try to decry his old-fashioned ideas for staging opera.

Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Gavan Ring, Sam Furness - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Gavan Ring, Sam Furness - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
This physical aspect combined with a performance from Douglas Boyd and the Garsington Opera Orchestra in the pit which created a robustness to the music, pushing it from the conversational to the more conventionally operatic. The big moments tended to flower as dramatic, operatic moments rather than flow as pure conversation. Yet the result was to convince us that these people really meant it.

The big plus for the production was the Countess of Miah Persson, elegant, stylish and completely at ease with the sheer wordiness of the role. The Countess might have one of Strauss' most ravishing scenes in the closing pages of the opera, but to get there the singer must cope with two hours of complex dialogue. Persson made it all seem natural and elegantly intense, as she showed a vivid sense of the words and the dialogue going on around her. Persson was not the flirtiest of Countesses (that palm has to go to Felicity Lott whom I heard in the role in Brussels and at Glyndebourne), in her scenes with Sam Furness (Flamand) and Gavan Ring (Olivier) she created more a sense of muse than a potential mistress. The relations between herself and the two men mattered deeply, but you felt that for this Countess it was art that really drew her in rather than any flirtation leading to a possible sexual relationship.

Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Hanna Hipp - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Hanna Hipp
Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Both potential lovers were brilliantly characterised and somewhat contrasting. Sam Furness was a rather nerdy, yet undoubtedly sexy Flamand, unsure of both the power of his music and his own power, rather intense yet apt to get carried away. Furness has fine lyric tenor and a wonderfully ringing tone, and in his declaration to the Countess produced oodles of gorgeous tone and it seems churlish to complain that having the volume set less, making it more conversational would have benefitted the piece. Gavan Ring was similarly vocally intense, a rather older more mature Olivier, definitely the senior in any operatic partnership between the two, more considered, less impulsive than Furness' Flamand, Ring was no less vividly convincing and similarly operatic in his declaration to the Countess.

Andrew Shore's La Roche was a brilliant comic creation, someone it was easy to laugh at and of course everyone gangs up on him in the second half, and then he turns the table with a brilliant defence of his art, and it is this speech which is at the essence of the opera, and here Shore drew on his experience to make both text and music count. William Dazeley made an elegant Count, taking life at a rather easier pace than his sister with Hanna Hipp as Clairon, the actress who draws his attention. Dazeley and Hipp developed a delightful sparring relationship, with Hipp very much channelling one of the strong 1940s Hollywood film stars; whilst her hairstyle suggested Veronica Lake, her manner suggested more Bette Davies.

Nika Goric and Caspar Singh were the delightful Italian singers, with Lowri Shone as the elegant dancer. Benjamin Bevan created the role of the Major-Domo with great aplomb. Silent for most of the opera, Bevan was still wonderfully expressive and of course, he gets the last word in the opera! Graham Clark had great fun with the role of Monsieur Taupe, the prompter who appears at the very end. The young group of singers who formed the servants were inevitably ubiquitous during the action and then amused greatly with the chorus commenting on the actions of their 'betters'.

The opera opens with Strauss's glorious sextet, here played in the 18th-century salon by an ensemble which included four students from the Royal Academy of Music in a performance which made the opera start with real expressive style. The orchestra gave us some superb solo moments in Strauss' complex score, though in an ideal world the overall tone could perhaps have done with being a little more luxurious. As I have suggested, there were also moments when the orchestra was a little too present, and this tended to push the music away from purely conversation piece.

Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Miah Persson - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Richard Strauss: Capriccio - Miah Persson - Garsington Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Garsington had assembled a wonderfully balanced cast, which enabled Miah Persson to shine beautifully. And shine she did, bringing a little bit of magic to the stage, and in the closing scene, she managed to combine radiance of tone with a sense of the implicit rightness and seriousness of the dilemma the countess faced.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Coloured lights: Kander & Ebb's The Rink makes a triumphant return (★★★½) - musical theatre review
  • Genial conversations with old friends : I Musicanti at St John's Smith Square (★★★½) - Concert review
  • Writ Large: Peter Phillips & the Tallis Scholars in Spem in alium (★★★½) - Concert review
  • A visit to 1760s London: Ian Page and the Mozartists' Mozart in London (★★★½) - CD review
  • Philosophical re-thinking: White Light from Hugo Ticciati & O/Modernt  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Music & politics: Purcell's Welcome Songs for King Charles II (★★★★) - CD review
  • Songs and duets from Carolyn Sampson and Iestyn Davies at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Liam Scarlett's new production of Swan Lake at the Royal Ballet - ballet review
  • 90th birthday celebration: my interview with composer Thea Musgrave - interview
  • Comedy & pathos:  Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile, Lucy Parham & Henry Goodman (★★★★) - Cd review
  • Sparkling opener: Verdi's La traviata at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Dark Lord's music (★★★½) - CD review
  • Worth seeking out: Verdi's La Traviata from Hampstead Garden Opera  - (★★★½) opera review
  • George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence  (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • A heart in exile: pianist Lucy Parham talks about her latest composer portrait - interview
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum:  Gallicantus (★★★★) - CD review
  • programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin  at London Festival of Baroque music (★★★★ / ★★★½) - concert review
  • Home

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