Capriccio represents the culmination of Strauss's operatic career, just as Metamorphosen and the Four Last Songs are the capstones of his orchestral and vocal writing. Capriccio was premiered in 1942 in Munich, whose beloved opera house was destroyed by Allied bombing the following year. The Nazi regime, too, soon fell, but Strauss's opera--focusing on eternal questions of love and art--has become increasingly popular and is widely considered one of his greatest works.
In the notes for this recording, George Hall writes, "Despite the extreme circumstances surrounding its creation--catastrophic for the wider world, imbued with fear and shame for Strauss himself, whose chief concern during these years was to protect his beloved Jewish daughter-in-law and grandsons--Capriccio is far more than the piece of elegant escapism Strauss's detractors have claimed it to be." In Capriccio, he continues, Strauss "reasserted his commitment to the values of art as a civilised and civilising pursuit at one of the periods when those values were most under threat."
This production from the Metropolitan Opera could not be bettered. Although the time is moved from the 18th to the early 20th century, the change of eras is hardly noticeable. The setting (the interior of the Countess's chateau) and costumes are beautifully detailed and realistic. Andrew Davis leads the musical forces in a superlative performance--from the ravishing opening sextet to the Countess's great closing monologue. All of the singers are excellent, but Renee Fleming is the unquestioned star, who is on stage almost throughout and holds the opera together. As Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini says, Fleming "grab[s] every chance to let her voice bloom." In the final monologue her voice is "plush and alluring, her phrasing noble."
At the end of Capriccio, the questions the opera poses remain unresolved. Words or music? Poet or composer? That is as it should be.