Intermezzo is Richard's Strauss' thinly-veiled 1924 depiction of his tumultuous relationship with his accomplished wife Pauline. In 1920s Austria a famous composer Robert Stroch is packing to leave for rehearsals in Vienna. His nagging wife moans and complains until the moment he departs, at which point she begins to mourn his absence. While he's away Pauline receives a love letter addressed to Stroch but intended for another, flys off the handle and rashly demands a divorce from a distance. Based on a real life episode in the Strauss' marriage, the opera was intended as 'a bourgeois comedy with symphonic interludes', but is more of a tame soap opera.
You'll probably recognise some of Christine's traits of self-dramatisation, emotional flagellation and pomposity from an acquaintance, but the character possesses none of the humanity required to actually make her relatable. Her husband on the other hand is pretty much perfect. In the words of Strauss' characters, Stroch is kind, generous, intelligent and thoughtful, by his wife's admission he is the better parent, and over a few drinks at the card table he won't have a bad word of banter said against his high maintenance wife. The marriage is drawn so drastically one-sided it's actually tiresome.
Christine's gossip-worthy friendship with a louche young Baron, initiated after crashing on a ski slope, offers some comedic interest, and Sam Furness looks to be having a great time as the floppy-haired scrounging cad. This side-plot relationship with Baron bore adds something a little more interesting to the plot, though still feels slight and underdeveloped.
The singing performances are pretty on point throughout John Fulljames' production. Mary Dunleavy as Christine in particular is exquisite. Real credit too should be given to the whole cast for dramatic performances that at times suggest there may be more depth to Strauss' characters than is actually there. I suspect it may have been more fun had the libretto not been translated into English; we might have had a chance to miss the dull and dated plot and put our own to the truly wonderful music. Ailish Tynan as the Strochs' put-upon maid Anna has natural comic timing, demanding most of the production's all-too-few laughs.
Garsington do tend to pull out all the stops when it comes to set design, and here Giles Cadle has created a clever and elegant adaptable dolls house of a set, complete with retractable toboggan run, pop-up ski lift and swing out beer garden. Despite the effectiveness of the design though, due to the sheer number and variety of the scene changes, there's still an awful lot of carrying around of tables, from stage left, to stage right, off stage and on again. It's better than a dropped curtain, and there's enough music in between that it's not too tedious, but it still doesn't feel their usual super slick.A number of mishaps of set, brass and line recollection on the night would have been instantly forgotten in a more joyful production that had swept us along for the ride, but sadly instead they seemed to echo a greater disharmony and uneasiness of the opera. Garsington really do a pretty good job of what is effectively a pretty poor opera. It's a curious choice for a festival opera that is trying to attract a younger generation along to their summer seasons. It is the intermezzi that really save Intermezzo. The music is sublime; the meaning is rubbish.