Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - Capric­cio Capric­cio, Capric­cio

Richard Strauss’ last opera, is a rather pri­vate piece. It is es­sen­tially an ex­tended de­bate on an in­tel­lec­tual ques­tion: In opera, does mu­sic or text have the up­per hand? strolls along a Möbius strip in which life and art ex­ist on a con­tin­uum — an opera about a sa­lon gath­er­ing that gives rise to that very opera, or viewed from the other di­rec­tion, a sa­lon gath­er­ing that be­comes an opera about it­self. It’s all ter­ri­bly “meta.” Santa Fe Opera gave the work its Amer­i­can pre­miere in 1956 and re­vis­ited in 1966 and 1993. Now here it is again in a hand­some, witty, and warm­hearted pro­duc­tion that will be a par­tic­u­lar treat to opera in­sid­ers but ought to leave any­one bask­ing in a pleas­ant af­ter­glow.

Strauss set his opera in the mid-18th cen­tury; di­rec­tor Tim Al­bery pre­ferred to set the piece in what seems to be the 1940s, and To­bias Ho­heisel’s sets (he over­saw both scenic and cos­tume de­sign) bridge the chrono­log­i­cal gap. The cen­tral room is the Count­ess’ sa­lon, a study in gold-over-white ro­coco ele­gance. At the out­set, floor-to-ceil­ing French doors look out onto the dis­tantly set­ting sun — in this case, the ac­tual set­ting sun, which fur­ther erodes the bound­ary be­tween art and re­al­ity.

Fash­ion­able cos­tumes of that later pe­riod pro­claim wealth and offhanded ele­gance. Ev­ery­thing re­volves around the Count­ess. So­prano Amanda Ma­jeski por­trays her with ca­sual charm and sin­cere warmth. Her so­prano is tightly fo­cused, her in­to­na­tion is spo­ton, and her de­liv­ery rolls forth with con­ver­sa­tional nat­u­ral­ness, with a reined-in qual­ity that proves apt for the por­trayal she has crafted.

High qual­ity car­ries through to the other roles. Tenor Ben Bliss as Fla­mand: Such a lovely voice, lightly buoy­ant yet fully fleshed out. Bari­tone Joshua Hop­kins as Olivier: His bright, un­fussy de­liv­ery pro­vides a use­ful coun­ter­bal­ance to a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion molded a bit to­ward sulk­i­ness. As La Roche, bass-bari­tone David Govert­sen amus­ingly per­son­i­fies the­atri­cal van­ity; his frank de­liv­ery lets the com­edy roll forth unim­peded. Cla­iron is played by mez­zoso­prano Su­san Gra­ham, a su­per­star who shows how will­ing she is to meld into an en­sem­ble cast. She is also sub­tly flir­ta­tious, just enough to lead on the Count (Madeleine’s brother), here nicely sung by bari­tone Craig Verm. So­prano Shel­ley Jack­son and tenor Galeano Salas were entertaining as the over­wrought Ital­ian singers; bass-bari­tone Adrian Smith was a solemn Ma­jor-Domo; and tenor Al­lan Glassman gained smil­ing sym­pa­thy as the pa­thetic prompter, who bum­bles in to dis­cover that he has slept through all the fun.

There were a few places where the ques­tion, “Which is more im­por­tant, the words or the mu­sic?” seemed to be an­swered with “The or­ches­tra.” Both Bliss and Hop­kins had trou­ble be­ing heard in a cou­ple of cli­mac­tic phrases, though not Ma­jeski, whose tone pen­e­trated the tex­ture with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its beauty. Leo Hus­sain con­ducted a rel­a­tively taut read­ing. In the midst of trou­bling news from around the globe, an es­capist evening bask­ing in Straus­sian love­li­ness pro­vides a tonic for the times.

Ad­di­tional per­for­mances of “Capric­cio” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 5, 11, and 19.

state ranges from sub­dued to de­spon­dent. Helene Sch­nei­der­man brought a firm mezzo-so­prano to the role of the Old Baroness, but the real power of her per­for­mance came from her act­ing, through which she em­anated com­mand­ing cen­sure.

Zach Borichevsky looks fine in the part of Ana­tol, tall and trim. His tenor is at­trac­tive and bright, al­though it could grow ten­u­ous at the top of his range. His voice, which is on the small side, could seem vo­cally un­der­bal­anced, which be­came no­tice­able in the en­sem­bles. In gen­eral, his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion was that of a spoiled frat boy. That proved ef­fec­tive in places, but else­where, one might hope to glimpse more of an al­lur­ing yet omi­nous crea­ture.

Plau­dits are due to the bass-bari­tone James Mor­ris as the Old Doc­tor. He of­fered vi­brant tone, clear but nat­u­ral enun­ci­a­tion, and stage de­meanor born of long ex­pe­ri­ence. His in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the aria “I should never have been a doc­tor” was a sub­tly turned por­trayal of a good-hearted char­ac­ter who is not out­ra­geously drunk but rather amus­ingly tipsy, which is far more entertaining.

Late-Ro­man­tic lyri­cism stands at the piece’s heart, such that it can sug­gest a movie score for ex­tended ex­panses. Leonard Slatkin con­ducted a se­cure and care­fully col­ored per­for­mance, ex­tract­ing the best work I have heard this sea­son from the com­pany’s or­ches­tra. This pro­duc­tion will prove re­ward­ing to ex­pe­ri­enced opera lovers, but it also rolls out the wel­come mat to ap­pre­ci­a­tors of classic films who might not au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that opera is for them.

Per­for­mances of “Vanessa” con­tinue at 8 p.m. on Aug. 12, 18, and 24.

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