Capriccio - Victorian Opera

Capriccio - Victorian Opera

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Posted 2023-09-04 by Tricia Ziemerfollow

Thu 31 Aug 2023

Opera is normally a very visual medium with elaborate sets and stunning costumes setting time and place. Although many Operas are evolving to more modern staging.

So, when I arrived at the St Kilda Palais Theatre and the stage was filled with the orchestra instead of them being in the pit, I was curious. There was a man on a bed asleep and no maestro at lead. The orchestra started, and still no Maestro. Curiouser and curiouser. This opera is normally set in Countess Madeleine's château. They are rehearsing composer Flamand's new sextet or chamber music.
St Kilda Palais Theatre is grand old lady - Photos Tricia Ziemer

Capriccio Op 85 is the final work of composer Richard Strauss and libretto Clemens Krauss based on the musings of Stefan Zweig in 1930 and finally staged in 1942. Artistic Director Richard Mills writes, "Capriccio, is a humane and poetic utterance achieved in the context of a world bent on destruction in 1942, has a clear and enduring resonance and relevance for our community today. It is a testament to the power and value of love, poetry and music expressed through the human voice celebrating a wonderful harmonious union of word and tone – a great gift to humanity from a great composer and true nourishment for our souls in an increasingly vulgar, stupid and dangerous world." These men were trying to bring beauty back to a war turn disillusioned and emotionally damaged Europe. They even shared thoughts to each other about whether they should bother. Luckily for our society, they persevered, and we are enriched.

It is based on a very simple but deeply felt precedent debated in the orchestral world, the theatre and in the filming industry probably since the dawn of man. Which comes first; the music, the words, or the talent on the stage? What really brings a performance to life that lifts our souls and takes us on wonderous journeys?

While I was training in Cinematography, I had a professional sound technician of the highest standing, Ric Creaser tell me, "Turn off the sound and the music and watch your favourite musical or movie and see how long it is before you are completely bored. Sound is king." He was spot on.

This opera explores the same premise, and enchantingly so. It was a delightful production with some of Melbourne's Opera greats bringing it to life. Is it the talent?
Simone Young - Photo by Bertold Fabricius


The maestro Simone Young finally stood up on stage and started directing the orchestra. I took this as part of building the clever ambience of what comes first, music, talent or words. The orchestra took gentle flight. As the opera singers slowly emerged onto the stage the debate began in earnest between the value of the music versus the words versus the talent.

Simone Young stated she had declined to perform this Opera in the past. She said, "Capriccio is a paradox, and one I have battled with for decades. I fell in love with it when I visited the Salzburg Festival in 1986... But the question remained in my mind – how could Strauss have been so unconcerned by the horrors of the Second World War to have written a “Conversation Piece” in 1942 about which was more important, words or music?... a work that seemed to be almost criminally frivolous. And yet the ravishingly beautiful music, the charming, elegant and witty text, and my memory of that wonderful Salzburg performance kept me fascinated by the work. My very dear friend Michael Schade has sung Flamand many, many times, and I discussed my reservations with him. He had a completely different take on the work." Simone followed this with an email.

Michael Schade, one of the world's tenors of German-Canadian descent, responded to Simone's email, stating: “I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to be performing THIS particular Strauss with you. It really is literally the best of Richard Strauss’ life-time genius bottled into a huge, long wordy one act opera… I always call it “the Rose in the bunker” for he composed it as the bombs were falling on his beloved Munich. He, meanwhile, just built a gorgeous world for himself and human-kind forever… a parting present.” And together with the orchestra and other singers, they created that magic in Melbourne just on Thursday night. Bravo.

As the opera progresses, Michael, as Flamand, gets into a fiery debate with Olivier, played by our own Australian talent Stephen Marsh. He just started to grace our stage in 2017 and has starred in 15 different roles to date. As a composer Flamand expounds on the composed music coming first; whereas Olivier thrusts back with repertoire that his written poetry is the king. The snoring theatre director La Roche, performed by baritone Simon Meadows, starts awake and joins the debate. Simon is also an award-winning Australian singer. He says words to the effect that you are both daft and it is the talent that brings art to a performance and the people. That is the best translation I have for the German singing even with English Subtitles.

- Vida Mikneviciute - Photo Migle Golubickaite


These two men are also romantically striving for the attention of the Countess, performed by Lithuanian soprano Vida Mikneviciute, who is a famous guest on stages around the world. She first graced our stage in 2022 and won a Green Room Award. It was so lovely to hear her soaring lilted again.

Olivier writes the Countess a sonnet to express his love then Flamand steals it and sets it to music on the harpsichord. It was so lovely to hear a harpsichord again. The Countess is torn between two men and their two mediums of expression and says she can't decide.

When the glorious Clarian graces the stage the Count is mesmerized. Clarian, played by Mezzo-Soprano Deborah Humble, is one of Australia’s most successful international singers. The Count is performed by Samuel Dundas. Samual was a member of both Victorian Opera’s Artist Development and Opera Australia’s Moffatt Oxenbould Young Artist Programs and also performs on the world stage. We are so blessed with talent here in Melbourne who are so easily accessible and divinely talented.

Finally, La Roche gets in a huff and berates the two gentlemen saying they are trivializing the growing issue and are not respecting the "great artistic traditions". He then challenges Flamand and Olivier to create a masterwork that reveals the true complexity of people and life. So, all together they agree to "stage" the great debate they have just had through the day.

The servants lament that now they are going to be actors themselves. They feel it is all a bit madcap. As everyone leaves the theatre, the last person remaining is the prompter, Monsieur Taupe. He is found asleep by the Major-Domo. Taupe sings, "I am the most important person in the theatre, since without me, there would be no entertainment."

Clarian and the Count, having fallen in love, head to Paris together.

At dinner alone that night, the Countess, sings of the inseparability of words and music. She cannot choose, stating, "Is there any ending that isn't trivial?"


This Victorian Opera has breathtakingly showcased this Opera at its finest and the talent has revered the subject bringing out the best of the drama and humour. But of course, the debate will go on forever. For me, an image says 1000 words, but sound gives it the depth of life.

What is really wonderful about this production is you can still see it via the Victorian Opera website at here with video on demand. With a full subscription, you will never miss an opera.

St Kilda Palais Customer Service is World Class


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262347 - 2023-09-04 06:56:49

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