Capriccio – a Conversation Piece for Music

Capriccio was Richard Strauss’s swansong. ‘A conversation piece for music in one act.’ An opera about opera.

There are many stage works about theatre itself. The protagonist of the Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnár’s Play at the Castle – which was adapted by P. G. Wodehouse (The Play’s the Thing) and Tom Stoppard (Rough Crossing) – is a playwright himself wondering about how to start and end a play. Capriccio too is set in an aristocratic salon; the protagonists are playing theatre and arguing about theatre. The poet and the composer ask the question: whose role is more important? Both are in love with the Countess. They ask her to resolve the double dilemma, and she suggests the rivals should write an opera about the events in the salon. This leads to the creation of the contemporary opera we are hearing and seeing. It is modern in a Rococo setting, that is, it is eternal. Strauss’s wit sparks nostalgia. Would we be able to devote ourselves to real discussions about art?
A certain Giovanni Battista Casti wrote the libretto Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the music and then the words, 1786) that served as a basis for Capriccio. Strauss reversed the formula to ‘limit the music to serving the poem’. His libretto was written by the conductor Clemens Krauss, who also conducted the world premi?re in 1942.

Tamás Koltai