|About this Recording
8.112034-35 - STRAUSS, R.: Capriccio (Schwarzkopf, Wachter, Gedda, Fischer-Dieskau, Hotter, Ludwig, Philharmonia Orchestra, Sawallisch) (1957-1958)
Great Opera Recordings
A Conversation Piece for Music in One Act
The Countess – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, 2–7, 9 and 11 September, 1957 and 28 March, 1958
The death in 1929 of the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal represented a water-shed in Richard Strauss’s creative life. Hofmannsthal had been Strauss’s close collaborator and the librettist of several of his most successful operas, most notably Der Rosenkavalier of 1911. Looking out for a new creative partner, Strauss came into contact with another distinguished Austrian writer, Stefan Zweig. The two collaborated on the opera Die schweigsame Frau, first performed in Dresden in 1935 under difficult circumstances, Strauss having refused the Nazi demand for the writer’s name to be removed from posters advertising the opera, Zweig being Jewish. Zweig could no longer work formally with Strauss but he continued to advise him. One of his suggestions for a possible future operatic subject was an eighteenth-century libretto parodying opera, Prima la musica, poi le parole (First the music, then the words), by Casti (1724–1803), which had been set to music by Salieri. Following the onset of war in 1939 Strauss became depressed: looking for another opera subject after Daphne he returned to Zweig’s suggestion, and discussed it with another close colleague, the conductor and director of the Munich Opera, Clemens Krauss. Strauss felt that Casti’s libretto would offer the opportunity ‘to do something unusual’, but who could fashion the libretto? Krauss initially suggested that Strauss himself write it, having done so with Intermezzo, but the composer responded ‘I know my limitations’. Instead he suggested that Krauss might try. After some hesitation Krauss agreed and then set to work enthusiastically: ‘the boss is writing poetry’ his secretaries told visitors to his office. Work progressed quickly, with both artists collaborating closely: Strauss himself contributed the central idea of a sonnet written by a poet and set to music by a composer for a countess with whom they are both in love. As the première approached the question of an interval in the face of enemy air-raids raised its head. Krauss recommended doing without. Strauss responded: ‘Just consider: the first act of Götterdämmerung lasts two hours and has several scenes. We, however, need two and a half hours for a piece with one scene and without any dramatic events.’ Krauss agreed, but nonetheless insisted. The first performance took place on 28 October 1942 in Munich, with Krauss conducting and his wife, the Romanian soprano Viorica Ursuleac, taking the central rôle of the Countess. ‘I can do no better’ Strauss said afterwards. Immediately recognised as one of the composer’s finest and most subtle works, Capriccio poses the central dilemma in opera: what is more important, the words or the music? Like opera itself, the Countess is unable to choose between poet and composer. At the end she stands before her mirror, as the Marschallin had done many years before in the first act of Der Rosenkavalier, and cannot decide. The Countess and Strauss, an expert at combining sensuality and intellect in his operas, both take their leave without an answer: ‘Words and sound have been blended to a unity…to form something new. The secret of the hour—to salvage one art, by means of another.’
Sixteen years later, during 1957 and 1958, the EMI record producer Walter Legge produced this landmark recording of Capriccio in London for EMI’s Columbia label, with his Philharmonia Orchestra. Having already achieved great critical and popular success with his 1956 production of Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Herbert von Karajan and featuring his wife Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin, Legge cast Schwarzkopf once again in a central rôle of Capriccio, as the Countess. He surrounded her with the finest singers of the day: from Vienna came Eberhard Wächter and Christa Ludwig to sing the Countess’s brother the Count and the actress Clairon. From Germany came Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hans Hotter—two heavyweights of the post-war operatic stage—to sing the poet Olivier and the Theatre Director La Roche. And from Sweden came the mellifluous tenor, Nicolai Gedda, ideally cast as the musician Flamand. Conducting was the young German maestro Wolfgang Sawallisch, with whom Legge had worked closely since 1954. One oddity about this recording was that it was recorded in monophonic rather than in stereophonic sound, which at this time was generating increasing interest amongst consumers and within the recording industry. The reason for this probably lies in the summer 1957 recording date, when EMI had few stereo recorders, most of which may have been reserved for recording sessions abroad. Legge himself was a slow convert to stereo, telling the producer and conductor Georg Solti and John Culshaw in late 1958, just before their Viennese recording sessions for Decca of Das Rheingold, that stereo would never catch on. This Wagner recording, however, exploited stereo effectively and went on to achieve record sales in both America and England. Without the benefit of stereo Legge’s production of Capriccio was unable to hold its place in the catalogue for long: by the end of the 1960s it had been relegated to a record club label run by EMI. So great are its musical merits, however, that it has subsequently come to be recognised as the masterpiece that it is.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was born near Poznaƒ in 1915. She studied singing in Berlin with Maria Ivogün, and made her operatic stage début at the Berlin Staatsoper in 1938 as a Flower Maiden in Parsifal. Following four years singing in Berlin, she joined the Vienna State Opera in 1942. She made her first appearance in the United Kingdom as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni when this company visited Covent Garden in 1947. Her début at La Scala, Milan, took place in 1950, and she returned there frequently to sing a wide range of rôles. In 1951 she created the part of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at its Venice première. Her American début took place in 1954 in San Francisco, as the Marschallin, a year after her marriage to Walter Legge. During the 1960s she restricted her operatic appearances to just a handful of Mozart and Strauss rôles, including the Countess in Capriccio. She retired from the stage in 1971, but continued to give Lieder recitals. Following Legge’s death in 1979, she restricted herself to teaching. She died in 2006, having been made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1992.
Christa Ludwig was born in Berlin in 1924. She studied with her mother and with Felice Huni-Mihaãek, and made her début in 1946. After singing in several different German opera houses she made her Salzburg Festival début as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro in 1954, and first appeared at the Vienna State Opera during the following year. Between 1957 and 1970 she was married to the Austrian baritone Walter Berry. She first sang at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Dorabella in Così fan tutte in 1959, and at Covent Garden as Amneris in Aida, in 1968. She had a wide operatic repertoire, excelling in the music of Mozart and Strauss, and was also a noted recitalist, with a great understanding of the music of Mahler. She gave her final operatic performance as Clytemnestra in Strauss’s Elektra in Vienna in 1994, and has subsequently remained active as a teacher.
Nicolai Gedda was born in Stockholm in 1925 into a Russian / Swedish family. After studying with the veteran tenor Carl Martin Öhman he made his début at the Royal Swedish Opera in Adam’s Le postillon de Lonjumeau in 1952. By this time he had already sung for Walter Legge, who quickly engaged him for numerous commercial recordings. His international stage career developed rapidly, with débuts in 1953 at La Scala, Milan, (Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni), in 1954 the Paris Opéra (the title rôle in Weber’s Oberon) and Covent Garden (the Duke / Rigoletto), and in 1957 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (the title rôle in Gounod’s Faust). The master of a vast operatic and concert repertoire, he remained active until well into his late seventies, recording the High Priest in Idomeneo in 2003. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born in 1925 in Berlin, where he studied singing. He made his professional début in 1947, substituting for a sick colleague as the baritone solo in Brahms’s German Requiem. This was quickly followed by his operatic début as Posa in Don Carlos in 1948, also in Berlin. He made his Salzburg Festival début in 1953 singing Mahler with Furtwängler, by which time he was active as both an international opera singer and as a song recitalist. He was a regular at the Bayreuth Festival between 1954 and 1961, and returned to Salzburg frequently until the early 1970s. From 1973 he also conducted occasionally. He retired from opera in 1978, the year in which he recorded his final operatic rôle, the title part in Aribert Reimann’s Lear, and from the concert hall in 1992.
Eberhard Wächter was born in 1929 in Vienna, where he studied singing and made his début as Silvio in Pagliacci in 1953 at the Volksoper. He subsequently joined the Vienna State Opera, where he became a central figure in the company. He made his débuts at Covent Garden as Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro in 1956, at the Bayreuth Festival as Amfortas in Parsifal in 1959, at La Scala, Milan as Count Almaviva in 1960 and at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as Wolfram in Tannhäuser, in 1961. Between 1987 and 1992 he was the manager of the Vienna Volksoper and from 1991 of the Vienna State Opera, until his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1992.
Hans Hotter was born in Offenbach-am-Main in 1909. He initially studied church music before turning to opera. He made his début in 1929 and sang in Germany and the Czech Republic before joining the opera companies of Munich and Vienna in 1940. After the Second World War he became recognised as one of the pre-eminent Wagner singers of his generation, singing major rôles such as Wotan in Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festival, Covent Garden, and elsewhere. Towards the end of his career he created penetrating studies of several character rôles, such as Schigolch in Berg’s Lulu. He died in 2003.
The setting is the salon of a rococo castle overlooking a park. To the left one door leads to the Countess’s salon, and another to the dining-room; to the right another door leads to the stage of a private theatre.
 Prelude: As the curtain rises the Andante from a String Sextet is heard. It has been written by the composer Flamand to mark the birthday of the young widowed Countess, and is being played to her in her salon. Both Flamand and the poet Olivier are standing near to the door to her salon, listening attentively and watching the Countess, while the Theatre Director La Roche sits asleep in an armchair.
 Both Flamand and Olivier discover that they are in love with the Countess, and discuss which she will prefer: words or music? They see themselves as loving enemies, friendly opponents.
 As the music ends softly the Theatre Director La Roche wakes up. He complains about the trials and tribulations of mounting serious operas by composers such as Gluck: endless rehearsals followed by failure. By contrast composers such as Puccini know their craft and appeal to the man in the street. The public wants flesh and blood characters on the stage, not remote figures from the mythical past. Opera buffa is ideal, with sparkling humour and feminine charm.
 Flamand reminds Olivier of his earlier affair with the beautiful actress Clairon. Olivier confesses to admiring her talent still, while La Roche remarks that the Count, the Countess’s brother, is likely to replace Olivier in Clairon’s affections. All three admire the Countess as she prepares to enter; they themselves depart into the theatre, La Roche saying that his work as stage director now begins.
 The Count and the Countess enter. The Countess remarks that she has been carried away by the music. Her brother asks if she is attracted to Flamand. The Countess replies that she finds it difficult to separate men from their works. The Count praises the dramatic writing of Olivier, but his sister suggests that he is as interested in the actress Clairon. The Count confesses to being anxious having to act on the stage with her but the Countess comments that his title will make up for any lack of talent. The Count presses her to declare a preference for words or music, Olivier or Flamand, but she replies that choice would mean loss. The Count expresses his carefree attitude to life, while the Countess is more circumspect: the joy of life is to acknowledge gladly and inwardly to yield.
 La Roche, Flamand and Olivier re-enter: the stage is now ready, and the programme for the Countess’s birthday celebrations is settled: music by Flamand, a drama from Olivier, and a spectacular theatrical ‘Homage Play’ about which La Roche can reveal little at present.
 Clairon is seen in the park; the Count goes to welcome her, and presents her to the Countess. All sing Clairon’s praises, while she fears that they may be disappointed in her after such a warm welcome. She asks Olivier if he has finished his poem, which forms part of the celebrations. He replies that he has just completed a sonnet, while looking at the Countess. Clairon suggests that she and the Count should read it together.
 Clairon and the Count read their parts. Clairon’s is an impassioned farewell to her lover on his departure, while the Count’s is similarly matched in intensity. Clairon’s character fears that her lover’s affection may fade, and asks him to swear to his love.
 The Counts recites a sonnet (taken from Ronsard) declaring constancy in the most grandiose terms. Clairon congratulates the Count on his performance. She takes the script from the Countess’s hands and ceremonially gives it to La Roche, asking him to start the preparations. As he departs with Clairon and the Count, La Roche asks Olivier to stay behind, as he cannot have the Poet present at rehearsals.
 The Countess watches them depart, commenting that Olivier’s writing was high-flown. Olivier replies that the Count’s delivery was not quite appropriate, and launches into the same sonnet himself. As he speaks directly to her the Countess upbraids him for changing the person to whom the sonnet is addressed. She suggests that is better not to proclaim love in public, and asks for Flamand’s agreement. He hurries out, saying that Olivier’s words have inspired music which he can already hear in his mind.
 Olivier is concerned that his poetry will be ruined through being set to music. He tells the Countess that he yearns for her, but she asks him to stand back—love is a fire that needs constant fanning. She draws his attention to Flamand, composing close by, and in answer to Olivier’s queries about music replies that it awakens mysterious dreams and expresses hidden depths. As Olivier continues to press her, Flamand rushes in with his latest composition.
 Flamand sings Olivier’s sonnet which he has just set to music.
 In a trio the Countess muses on the inextricable way in which words and music are joined, while Olivier curses Flamand for ruining his verses, as Flamand continues to sing.
 The Countess reflects on how beautiful Olivier’s words now are, while Olivier wonders whether the sonnet is still his. The Countess replies that it is hers. La Roche enters, urgently requiring Olivier to agree to a cut in the text; the two exit.
 Left alone with the Countess, Flamand declares that his true feelings have been revealed. He asks the Countess to choose between music and poetry, himself and Olivier.
 Flamand passionately declares his love, awakened this afternoon by seeing the Countess. He presses her and she replies that she will have a response for him the following morning at eleven. Flamand impetuously kisses her and rushes out.
 The Countess sits pensively in her chair while the rehearsal continues in the theatre. She rings for her Major-Domo and asks for chocolate.
 The Count enters, excited by his encounter with Clairon. The Countess mocks him and cautions him from going too far. She tells her brother that both the poet and composer have declared their love for her: perhaps the result will be an opera. Pressed by his sister, the Count declares words as his choice. The Countess wishes him luck with Clairon.
Scene IX (part one)
 Clairon, La Roche and Olivier enter in good spirits from the theatre, followed by Flamand. Clairon praises the Count’s dramatic efforts, despite the Prompter falling asleep. The Count asks her to stay for the evening but she has to return to Paris for another performance. The Countess offers them some chocolate before departure, which La Roche welcomes.
 (Dance 1: Passepied) As refreshments are served, three musicians and a young female dancer whom La Roche lavishly praises, perform. Olivier praises Clairon.
 (Dance 2: Gigue) Clairon assures Olivier that their relationship is finished.
 (Dance 3: Gavotte).
 The Count compliments the dancer, thanks the musicians and suggests to Flamand that his music has an exquisite partner in dance, a sentiment which Flamand rejects.
 (Fugue: Discussion on the Theme: Words or Music) The assembled company launch into a discussion of the respective merits of words, music and the stage.
 The Count remarks that they stand before the chasm of opera. Clairon is attracted by the idea, but why are the words always worse than the music? The Countess praises Gluck while the Count complains of recitatives and La Roche excoriates the orchestra, always noisy: bel canto is about to die! The Countess asks to hear La Roche’s two Italian singers before it dies.
 The two Italian singers sing a duet in the Italian style, expressing grief with gaiety. The Countess queries the appropriateness of music to text, while the Count praises the beauty of the music.
 While the two Italian singers enjoy the refreshments provided for them by the Countess, the Count asks Clairon if he may accompany her to Paris, to which she agrees, while querying the genuineness of his declarations of love. The Countess, Flamand and Olivier press La Roche to reveal his programme for the evening.
Scene IX (part two)
 La Roche announces the theme of his azione teatrale for the following day. It will be in two parts. The first will present the allegory of ‘The Birth of Pallas Athene’. His colleagues start to make fun of him and of this proposal.
 (Octet: Part One: Laughing – Ensemble). The mockery of La Roche develops pace. While the Count ridicules La Roche, and the Italian soprano enthuses about the cake, the Countess recognises that the Theatre Director is serious in his proposal and is offended. She must mollify him.
 The Countess asks La Roche to bear with them, they are only amateurs. She enquires what the subject of the second part of the spectacle will be. He proudly announces that it will portray ‘The Fall of Carthage’ with great spectacle.
 (Octet: Part Two: Dispute – Ensemble). Flamand and Olivier’s ridicule of La Roche becomes harsher. The Count looks on with amusement, the Countess expresses concern at Flamand and Olivier’s cruelty, the Italian singers fear for the loss of their fee, and Clairon forecasts eventual victory for the wily old Theatre Director.
 La Roche then powerfully both defends the theatre and attacks poet and composer for their immaturity.
 He, La Roche, serves the eternal laws of drama, preserving the old while waiting for the new. He wants to people the stage with real human beings, with their sufferings and joys. If writers and composers cannot create them they should cease their petty criticisms.
 Without men such as he, where would the theatre be today? He lives for the theatre and he will live on with glory in its history. Clairon rushes forward to embrace La Roche, and the Count applauds him.
 The Countess steps forward and entreats all to work together to produce a work of art.
 Flamand, Olivier, Clairon and La Roche agree to put aside their differences, recognising the will of the Countess. The Count realises that the outcome will be an opera.
 La Roche encourages all to set to work immediately. Flamand and Olivier search for possible subjects and suggest ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ or ‘Daphne’ [both set by Strauss], but La Roche is not enthusiastic.
 The Count suggests that they write a work based on the events of this day. The response from Flamand and Olivier is enthusiastic. La Roche is surprised and hesitant. Clairon once more prepares to leave for Paris, accompanied by La Roche. The Countess says goodbye to them all and retires.
 Clairon leaves with the Count. Flamand courteously suggest to Olivier that the words will have precedence in their new work, while Olivier insists that music should come first, while hoping aside that it will be the word. As they all depart La Roche reminds them of the importance of good stage effects.
 Eight servants enter and put the salon in order, while commenting on what has just happened: the Count is out for a little adventure while the Countess is in love but does not know with whom. The Major-Domo urges them to hurry up: when they have had dinner they will be free. A voice is heard from the theatre, calling for the Director.
 Monsieur Taupe, the prompter, staggers in. In the face of the Major-Domo’s queries, he explains who he is and what he does. If he sleeps, the actors cease to speak. The Major-Domo offers him supper and a coach back to Paris. Monsieur Taupe thanks him and asks himself if he is awake or dreaming.
Scene XIII: Final scene
 The stage is empty, the salon is in darkness, the moon shines onto the terrace. The Countess enters, and stands on the terrace, bathed in moonlight. The Major-Domo enters, and lights the candles assisted by two other servants.
 The Countess asks where her brother is and the Major-Domo tells her that the Count has accompanied Clairon to Paris. The Countess reflects on his carefree nature. The Major-Domo goes on to mention that Olivier will come tomorrow morning to learn from the Countess how the opera is to end. The Countess asks when will he be coming and the Major-Domo replies at eleven o’clock.
 The Countess is concerned: Flamand will be surprised to see Olivier rather than herself when he returns tomorrow morning. She must decide what moves her most, words or music.
 She recites the sonnet heard earlier, and realises that it is fruitless to try to give precedence to words or music. They are inseparably bound together.
 The Countess recognises that she herself is enfolded within the love of Flamand and music, and Olivier and the word. She is loved but cannot give herself.
 If she chooses one, she loses the other. She looks in the mirror and asks her image to help her find an ending for the opera, which is not too trivial.
 The Major-Domo enters, to announce that dinner is served. The Countess waves at her reflection with her fan and goes into the dining-room. The Major-Domo, amazed at her behaviour, watches her and then looks back at the mirror.
Close the window