The Met Streams Capriccio and La Bohème

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Note: Met broadcasts can be seen on their streaming channel www.metopera.org.

Thursday, May 7
Strauss’s Capriccio ~ 2 HRS 28 MIN
Starring Renée Fleming, Sarah Connolly, Joseph Kaiser, Russell Braun, Morten Frank Larsen, and Peter Rose, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. From April 23, 2011.

With little more than a quick change of costume, Renée Fleming moves smoothly across a couple hundred years from Monday night’s Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s wonderfully melodic Marriage of Figaro to tonight’s Countess Madeleine in Strauss’s enigmatic Capriccio. This evening she is the beautiful woman at the center of a far more modern work subtitled, “Conversation Piece for Music.” Capriccio was Strauss’ last opera and premiered in 1942. The opera originally consisted of a single act lasting close to two and a half hours, and that, in combination with the work’s conversational tone and emphasis on text, has pretty much prevented it from achieving much general popularity.

This evening, the Countess is courted by two men: the composer, Flamand, sung by Joseph Kaiser and the poet, Olivier, sung by Russell Braun. The cast also includes Peter Rose as the theater director La Roche, Sarah Connolly as the actress Clairon, and Morten Frank Larsen as the Countess’s brother. John Cox’s elegant production places the action in the 1920s. Andrew Davis conducts.

The idea is basically simple – on the surface, Madeleine is being courted by a composer and a poet. The subtext, however, examines the age-old debate among opera afficionados, and others, concerning which is more important – the words or the music. Spoiler alert – don’t expect a winner here – either on the surface or in the subtext. Apparently, Salieri’s (1786) opera entitled Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the Music and Then the Words) did not sufficiently settle the issue. It flared up again in another inconclusive spat between fans of Puccini (advocating for words!) and fans of Gluck (arguing for music). The subject matter then, is decidedly limited. For the occasion of the Countess’s birthday Flamand has written her a string sextet, and Olivier a sonnet – which should she choose? Given that, however, Strauss has packed many beautiful musical moments and much wit, humor, and literary reference into this piece. So – especially if you are a Fleming fan – it is well worth a listen.

Friday, May 8
Viewers’ Choice: Puccini’s La Bohème ~ 2 HRS 02 MIN
Starring Renata Scotto, Luciano Pavarotti, Maralin Niska, Ingvar Wixell and Paul Plishka; conducted by James Levine. From March 15, 1977.

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As you can see, this is a “fan” request — an oldie but exceptionally goodie. Yes, it is certainly dated, but so are many of us! (If you want more modern, see Rent – same story, different location!) The fact remains that there still is nothing like Pavarotti’s voice, so any chance to hear that voice – even in a very old recording, is a good thing. Puccini’s heartbreaking story of young love in the garrets of Paris’ Latin Quarter as the Belle Epoque is ending has certainly been an audience pleaser for well over a hundred years. But with James Levine at the helm and the starry duo of Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto as the lovers Rodolfo and Mimi, you can hardly go wrong. This was the very first broadcast in the legendary series of telecasts that was called “Live from the Met.” It is a rocky, and ultimately tragic, love story as experienced by six young Bohemian friends in the years immediately before the Industrial Revolution. And, by the way, if you loved the music in Moonstruck – it was largely taken from this incredibly beautiful opera. You can never see Bohème too many times!

In case you need a quick review, we follow the trials and tribulations of two couples (Rodolfo and Mimì; Marcello and Musetta) – each with their own unique challenges, plus two other Bohemian friends – Schaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. In Act 1 it’s love at first sight for Mimì and Rodolfo and consequently we are treated to the Bohème trifecta: “Che gelida manina” (What a cold little hand) “Mi chiamano Mimì” (They call me Mimì) and “O soave fanciulla” (Oh lovely girl) all in a row. Act 2 takes us to the Café Momus on Christmas Eve where Mimì is introduced to the other Bohemians and Rodolfo’s friend Marcello is reminded of his (barely contained) desire for Musetta when she appears with her new “patron.” Her “Quando me’n vo’” (often called Musetta’s Waltz) is a showstopper – and has its desired effect. Musetta and Marcello are together again.

By Act 3, the mood darkens. Rodolfo has tried to leave Mimì – ostensibly because of his jealousy but actually because he cannot stand to see her suffering (from consumption) in his cold garret and he hopes she will find someone else who will be able to take better care of her. Marcello and Musetta are fighting again, as well. The act ends as they split, but Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together just until Spring. Their quartet: Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!—”Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!”) is one of the most beautiful in all opera. Act 4 finds us once again in the garret – Marcello and Rodolfo are lamenting their lost loves, this time in a tenor-baritone duet that is particularly gorgeous, “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” (Oh Mimì, you will return no more). Musetta interrupts saying she has brought Mimì who is too ill to climb the steps on her own. All that remains then are the Bohemians’ fervent, if futile, attempts to save her, the final heart rending duet which revisits Rodolfo’s and Mimì’s first meeting and Mimì’s final gentle slide into death – most unusual for a soprano – and remarkably effective!

Picture Credits

1.               Renée Fleming in Strauss’s Capriccio at the Met. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2.               Renée Fleming is the Countess, and Joseph Kaiser the composer, in “Capriccio” at the Met. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

3.               Renée Fleming in Strauss’s Capriccio at the Met. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

4.              Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti in Puccini’s La Bohème (1977). Photo Credit… Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera.

5.               Maralin Niska as Musetta and Ingvar Wixell as Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème (1977). Photo Credit… Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera.

6.             Ingvar Wixell as Marcello and Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit… Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera.

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