Friday night was the first night of Richard Strauss’s opera (even ‘meta-opera’) Capriccio, at the Garsington Opera Festival at Wormsley. Wormsley, to which the Festival moved seven years ago from its original location in Garsington Village just outside Oxford, is held on the Getty Estate, in a beautiful wooded valley, just off Junction 5 of the M40, and 30 minutes drive from Oxford.
It was a delightful evening, with an excellent production (a co-production with Santa Fé Opera). Garsington’s director, Tim Albery, succeeded admirably in achieving a naturalness of movement and action. Capriccio, Strauss’s last opera premiered in 1942, is a ‘conversation piece’ on the subject of opera itself, and the relative importance of the words versus the music. Crucially, and unlike so many opera performances, on Friday evening every word was clearly sung and audible.
The opera is set in late 18th-century France, but in this production, the action takes place in the late 1930s, the time when Strauss was writing the piece. But one scarcely notices this, and there were no jarring anachronisms. The set is a mixture of baroque elegance and 1930s chic, such as might actually have been found in a French chateau in the 1930s. The star of the evening was the Swedish soprano Miah Persson as the Countess. Persson was a poised and beautiful figure, elegantly dressed. She has a wonderfully rich liquid-like voice. She was especially moving in the glorious final 25 minutes, as the Countess, in a typically Straussian elegiac solo soprano scene, wonders who to choose of her two suitors, the poet, Olivier, or the composer, Flamand (an ardent Sam Furness). At the very end she leaves the stage without apparently having made her choice, but it is Strauss’s music that tells us his answer.
Excellent performances, too, from Andrew Shore, characterful acting and dramatic singing as the pompous and old-fashioned theatrical impresario as La Roche, and from Bayreuth and New York Met veteran Graham Clark – luxury casting in the small role of Monsieur Taupe, the prompter. The Garsington Opera Orchestra – including, it was good to see, many very young instrumentalists - played beautifully under the baton of conductor Douglas Boyd. A great achievement, and a perfect evening.