Strauss opera strong musically
By GEORGE JAHN,Associated Press Writer AP - 29 minutes ago
VIENNA, Austria - It's a story as old as marriage, and it was told delightfully Saturday in a new production of Richard Strauss' "Intermezzo."
Praise to the composer first for squeezing 2 1/2 hours of entertainment from a plot that appears too thin for substantive opera.
Instead of battalions, pyramids or heroic death scenes on stage we have _ a husband and a wife.
She opens a letter addressed to him. It's from the "other woman." Marital tragedy looms _ but in the last minute, events prove him innocent, and the relationship is saved.
Strauss' musical genius is unquestioned. But the man himself has been criticized as shallow, and the surface banality of the "Intermezzo" theme appears to bear out such complaints.
But for today's audiences, the story line is a treat, because it is a true slice of life from the composer's marriage to soprano Pauline de Ahna, a drama queen who _ at least to outsiders _ appeared to make Strauss' life a living hell.
Contemporaries describe her as demanding, unfair, ill-mannered and materialistic, ready to scold and belittle her husband at a moment's notice. But for the easygoing Strauss, she appeared to be just right.
"She gets horribly angry a lot," he once said. "But it's just what I need."
This scene from the Strauss marriage is now 106 years old _ Pauline found the letter in 1902. But in Saturday's production at the jewel-box-like Theater an der Wien, things were as real as if they had happened yesterday, and the ubiquity of the theme was only one reason.
Carola Glaser was a delightfully fresh Christine (a.k.a. Pauline), a commanding stage presence both dramatically and vocally. Her soprano was pure silver, her diction a delight. And her strong performance was even more impressive considering she took the role at short notice after Soile Isokoski pulled out because of voice fatigue.
Bo Skovhus was her perfect foil as Robert Storch, her composer and conductor husband. Skovhus' voice was powerful yet nuanced and his anguished theatrics convincingly portrayed a man under the thumb of his spouse _ and loving it.
The money-hungry Baron Lummer, who tries _ and fails _ to charm Christine was well portrayed by Oliver Ringelhahn, whose pure and flowing tenor rung to the rafters. Also good: Gabriela Bone as the maid Anna; Andreas Conrad as Stroh; and Wolfgang Newerla, James Creswell and Klemens Sander as Storch's skat partners.
In the pit, conductor Kirill Petrenko and members of the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien did full justice to the music to one of the world's most brilliant composers. They played with delicacy, decorum, intensity or bombast in turns for an opera whose long instrumental interludes demand the most from an orchestra.
The strong vocal and musical performances were more than welcome, considering the absence of staging and direction.
When Isokoski dropped out so did director Christoph Loy, leaving a job too big to handle for his assistants. The set Saturday was essentially a dark wooden wall that moved from the front to backstage. And other than the principals, the characters often appeared out of place and going through the motions.
But with Strauss' music so aptly performed, the rest would have been window-dressing in any case. And the master himself made a case for the simplicity of the plot ahead of its premiere in 1924.
"It's been the same for 2,000 years: Murder and killing, intrigues," he wrote of the normal stuff of opera, adding that the psychological study of marriage and its main actors, such as in "Intermezzo is "more interesting than any so-called action."
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