Capriccio at AVA

Is it the words or the music? that make the stuff of operatic dreams. Richard Strauss gets some great digs in at opera posing that question of art for his last Capriccio.

The backstage brainstorm session between divas, composers, lyricists and backers boils over in AVA’s lean and lush production. Director Dorothy Danner keeps this a sweet confection that keeps out of the way of Strauss’s challenging musical palette. The torrent of dialogue cycles masterfully paced by pianist Luke Houser, the sole musical accompaniment.

Actually the plot is a satire wrapped in a parody around a theatrical farce, sung in German for an American audience, no small challenge. AVA staging makes the surface inviting by opening the Corning Theatre’s backspace with its iron balcony and spiral staircase and the use of moving mirrors and panels.

An operatic troupe is in the throes of creating a new opera while making fun of the conventions, with jokes about the prompter falling asleep ‘Not a good sign’ the diva sings, several reverences to the drang in operas with the mythics, gods and goddesses, Kings and Queens skulking about. So much for overwrought plots and the inane verse of the libretti, when it turns into an orgy of emphatic tenors, baritones, sopranos, contras and mezzos singing over each other in a backstage free-for all (shades of The Band Wagon and any number of Sondheim scenes).

Moving around the egos are the tuxedoed male servants who silently go about their duties until everyone leaves and they let it rip ariatically until Houser bellows from the piano to “STOP gossiping.”