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Strauss - Capriccio

 

 

The Countess - Katherine Broderick / Sophie Angebault

The Count - Nicholas Merryweather / Lukas Kargi

Flamand Bragi Bergthorsson / Gareth Huw John

Olivier - Philip Spendley / Jean-Philippe Elleouet

La Roche Philip Gerrard

Clairon - Chloe De Backer / Tania Mandzy

An Italian Tenor Tyler Clarke

An Italian Soprano Milda Smalakyte

Haushofmeister Ritz de Ridder

Monsieur Taupe Amar Muchhala

Conductor Clive Timms

Director Martin Lloyd-Evans

Designer Jamie Vartan

Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell

Choreographer Mandy Demetriou

 

Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London 6 June 2007

 

There really isn't another opera like Capriccio a birthday entertainment is being planned for the Countess and the poet and composer, who are both in love with her, argue about the superior importance of words versus music. Everyone is pulled into the discussion until it is agreed that they will perform an opera based on their own debate, and like facing mirrors, the entertainment becomes a conversation piece turned upon itself. GSMD's Head of Opera Studies, Clive Timms, has been longing to stage it, but has had to wait until this year for a mix of students on the Opera Course from which it could be cast, and the result is nothing short of a triumph.

 

Director Martin Lloyd Evans made the decision to transfer the action from an 18th century French chateau to the period of Strauss' lifetime, a strategy that works well with the libretto and is more than justified by Jamie Vartan's superbly evocative jugendstil set.

 

The orchestra sounded silky smooth in Strauss's lush scoring, and both singing and German diction were excellent from every member of the cast. On the first night I was particularly impressed by the creamy tenor and elegant phrasing of Bragi Berthorsson as the composer Flamand, neatly contrasted by Philip Spendley's gruffish Olivier, and by Nicholas Merryweather's portrayal of the Count, finely balancing the authority of his status with a certain awkwardness as a performer, whilst always making a play for the leading lady.

 

Katherine Broderick has been much in the news of late with her competition successes. She brought a natural dignity to the role of Countess, and whilst her voice has a slightly steely quality that may not fit everyone's idea of a Straussian soprano, her totally secure technique carried her through with honours. She was also able to make perfect sense of the denouement, where her aesthetic musings are cut short by the trivia of every day life.

 

I am reliably informed that the second night's cast also impressed remaining unfazed by a false alarm fire evacuation.

 

Directing a director as a central character is the sort of intellectual challenge that Lloyd Evans thrives on. Anyone who has been privileged to watch opera in rehearsal would recognise the dramatic gestures and taut coiled-spring energy of his vision of La Roche, which Philip Gerrard portrayed very clearly. This young Canadian bass also coped well with the considerable demands of his mighty Act 2 monologue; especially impressive as this was the only principal role not to be doubled, so he sang all four performances.

 

The minor role performances were all noteworthy. I loved the two Italian singers (Tyler Clarke and Milda Smalakyte), perfectly in character both in their archly eighteenth century mannerisms and in their real life personas, gorging themselves with gusto from the party buffet. Ritz de Ridder made the sort of Hofmeisteister that even the Admirable Crighton would have approved, and Amar Muchhala provided a delightful cameo as the sleepy prompter.

 

At the end of the opera the side casings of the stage were completely removed to reveal the cast variously distributed about the backstage areas, half-in, half-out of character turning the wheel full circle and continuing the artistic debate.

Serena Fenwick

 
Photo: Katherine Broderick as the Countess and Philip Spendley as Olivier; credit Nobby Clark