Conversation Piece with Music in one act by Richard Strauss

Recording from the Semperoper Dresden

A joint production of the Saxon State Opera with UNITEL in collaboration with ARTE as part of the »ARTE Opera Season« and MDR.

Thanks to the generous assistance of the Semperoper’s health partner, the Medical Laboratory of Eastern Saxony, the recorded production could be staged almost entirely as planned while obeying all relevant measures to protect against Covid-19 infection.

Kindly supported by the Semperoper Foundation

Cast & Plot

Conductor Christian Thielemann
Staging Jens-Daniel Herzog
Set Design Mathis Neidhardt
Costume Design Sibylle Gädeke
Lighting Design Fabio Antoci
Choir André Kellinghaus
Choreography Michael Schmieder, Ramses Sigl
Dramaturgy Johann Casimir Eule


Die Gräfin Camilla Nylund
Der Graf, ihr Bruder Christoph Pohl
Flamand, ein Musiker Daniel Behle
Olivier, ein Dichter Nikolay Borchev
La Roche, der Theaterdirektor Georg Zeppenfeld
Die Schauspielerin Clairon Christa Mayer
Monsieur Taupe Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Eine italienische Sängerin Tuuli Takala
Ein italienischer Tenor Beomjin Kim
Der Haushofmeister Torben Jürgens
Acht Diener Frank Blümel*, Friedrich Darge*, Alexander Födisch*, Torsten Schäpan*, Norbert Klesse*, Thomas Müller*, Juan Carlos Navarro*, Jörg Reißmann*
Drei Musiker Jörg Faßmann (Violine), Tom Höhnerbach (Violoncello), Jobst Schneiderat (Cembalo)
Eine Tänzerin Malwina Stepien
Tanzensemble Juliane Bauer, Iryna Midzyanovska, Mascha Schellong; Eugen Boos, Björn Helget, Arthur Troitsky, Frederick Zabel
Die alte Gräfin Jana Mesgarha

Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
*Herren des Sächsischen Staatsopernchores Dresden
Herren der Komparserie


Subtitled »A Conversation Piece with Music«, Richard Strauss’s »Capriccio«, which premiered in Munich in 1942, was the climax of the composer’s stage work, a farewell to opera and a confirmation of his (ambivalent) insistence on the autonomy of art at a time of total war. In a rococo chateau near Paris, the poet Olivier, the composer Flamand and the Countess Madeleine not only negotiate their erotic relationship to one another, but also the question – basic to opera history – of what is more important: the music or the words? Prima la musica, poi le parole? Richard Strauss’s response is to weave a fine musical tapestry, from the wonderful string sextet at the beginning of the opera, through the sparkling parlando, the seemingly weightless conversational tone, fugue, sonnet and octet, to the poetic moonlight piece and the sentimental-ironic finale. At the work’s conclusion, the undecided Countess interrogates her reflection in the mirror: »Can you help me find an ending to their opera? Is there one that isn’t trivial?«

In preparation for her birthday celebrations, the young, widowed Countess Madeleine has invited Flamand, a composer, and Olivier, a poet, to her castle near Paris. Both look on as the hostess listens raptly to a string sextet that Flamand has composed for her. The musician and poet are in love with Madeleine and their passions are inflamed as they discuss the question of whether poetry or music is preeminent: »Prima le parole, dopo la musica or Prima la musica, dopo le parole.« Theater director La Roche, who slept during the concert, doesn't think much of such arguments. He is at the castle to stage one of Olivier’s plays for the festivities. Madeleine enters into the discussion, accompanied by her brother, the Count: she, too, does not know which of the two muses she prefers, whether she should choose Flamand or Olivier ... Things are easier for the Count, who is in love with Clairon, a famous actress who is expected that day for a rehearsal. Clairon arrives. She and the Count compete in an alternating recitation of a sonnet from Olivier's new play. Flamand feels inspired by the words to compose and hurries off, while Olivier uses the opportunity to make a declaration of love to the Countess (in vain). Flamand returns and performs his musical rendition of Olivier's sonnet. Madeleine is delighted and accepts it as a gift from both artists. Olivier visits La Roche’s rehearsal of his play. Now Flamand in his turn declares his love for Madeleine – and is summoned to the library for a rendezvous the next day at eleven o'clock. After everyone has once again gathered in the salon, La Roche presents a young dancer and a pair of Italian singers to the distinguished company. The discussion about which art has supremacy flares up again: La Roche argues emphatically that on the stage, all the arts need to be subordinate to the production; there is also a lack of works that portray real and authentic people. To everyone's surprise, the Count makes a proposal: »Portray yourselves! Today’s events, what we all experienced …« Flamand and Olivier are commissioned to write just such an opera. The artists are full of enthusiasm and set off on their journey back home to Paris, the Count accompanies Clairon, and Madeleine remains behind alone. When the Major-Domo reports that Olivier will be waiting for her in the library at eleven o’clock the following day, she remembers that she had summoned Flamand to be there at the same time; which of the two should she choose? »If you choose one, you lose the other.«

Making-of trailer (1/4)

Images (1/14)

»Holà! Ihr Streiter in Apoll«

Semper:Thursday with La Roche’s monologue from »Capriccio«

La Roche KS Georg Zeppenfeld
Piano Johannes Wulff-Woesten

When Richard Strauss was working on his final opera, »Capriccio«, his vision was to create a light and rococo summary of his work for the stage and to explore his thinking on the meaning of opera. The result was a piece that, while finally overcoming classical traditions with its parlando-like conversational tone, plays with numerous references to the world of theatre, opera and the idiosyncrasies of its various creators.

One of the protagonists is the successful theatre director La Roche. Invited to stage a theatrical spectacle for the birthday of the Countess Madeleine, he clashes with the members of the younger creative generation, here represented by the composer Flamand and the poet Olivier. In his speech »Holà! Ihr Streiter in Apoll«, La Roche develops his vision of a truthful dramatic form that is full of life and power – and at the same time tells us the inscription that will one day stand on his gravestone. And what did Richard Strauss want from his librettist? »Theatre of the mind, brain food, dry wit!«

»Prima la musica!«

Semper:Thursday with the String Sextet from »Capriccio«

Musicians of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden:
Violin Thomas Meining, Barbara Meining
Viola Andreas Schreiber, Stephan Pätzold
Violoncello Martin Jungnickel, Friedwart Christian Dittmann

Richard Strauss String Sextet »Capriccio« op. 85

Words or music – what is more important in opera? »Capriccio«, Richard Strauss’s last work for the stage, poses this perennial question in a very concrete way: Both the poet Olivier and the composer Flamand vie for the heart of the Countess Madelaine, each with the means provided by his art. The famous string sextet from the beginning of the opera quickly turns out to be a work by the young Flamand, composed in a bid to win the Countess’s affection – a musical attempt at seduction in the flowing style of Strauss’s late works.