- Capriccio, opera, Op. 85 (TrV 279)
Richard Strauss' valedictory opera is the least overtly dramatic of his many works for the stage. Set in an elegant rococo salon, the slim plot of Capriccio concerns the competition of a poet and a composer for the affections of Countess Madeleine. It's just a metaphor for the opera's real concern, however: the relative merits of words and music in opera, a topic the characters debate at length before heading off to write one of their own. Perhaps more so than most operas, words and music really are equally essential to Capriccio, and its conversational nature makes the libretto a necessary companion for non-German speakers. But when the music takes over, as it does most radiantly during the "Moonlight Music" interlude and the Countess's final monologue that follows, it's clear where Strauss' sympathies ultimately lie. In order to succeed, Capricco requires a great ensemble cast of singers who can create compelling and distinctive characters. On all counts, this 1957 recording is hard to beat. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf added another Strauss heroine to her repertory with the Countess, and it is one of her most magnificent portrayals, beautifully sung and full of deep insight. However, Christa Ludwig nearly steals the show with her coquettish performance as the actress Clairon, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hans Hotter, Nicolai Gedda, and Eberhard Wächter all make this musical conversation a very lively one. Anna Moffo is on hand as well, turning in a delectable cameo as the Italian Soprano. When he led this recording, Wolfgang Sawallisch was just at the beginning of a long career, but his special affinity for this composer is already apparent. Under Sawallisch's baton, London's Philharmonia Orchestra matches the cast in capturing Capriccio's witty, elegant, and sophisticated tone to perfection.