|Soprano Elisabeth Söderström, who sings Christine Storch|
in Richard Strauss' domestic opera comedy Intermezzzo.
Intermezzo (1924) is the story of a famous composer/conductor, his shrewish, difficult wife, and a misunderstanding that nearly destroys their happy marriage. The libretto, written by Strauss, was based on a real incident from his tempestuous marriage to his wife Pauline. The result: a conversation-filled series of snapshots, depicting a busy conductor, saddled with a difficult wife. The opera ends in a portrait of domestic bliss once harmony is restored.
With its quick-fire dialogue and fast-moving plot, this is an opera that is best heard in the listener's native language. In fact, Elisabeth Söderström, who sings the long, difficult role of Christine Storch on this set, wanted the complexity of the libretto to be understood by the Glyndebourne audience. The Swedish diva insisted that these performances, which marked the opera's premiere in the United Kingdom, were to be sung in English.
Ms. Söderström brings her considerable vocal resources to the role of Christine Storch, capturing the complex, multifaceted nature of the character. She is bossy, elegant, kind, shrewish, generous, rude, and occasionally condescending. But the love that Strauss had for his wife shows in the warmth of her vocal writing, even when the good lady contemplates a fling. Ms. Söderström was at an early peak when she made this recording, and having her version of this memorable role only adds to the value of this set.
She is well matched with baritone Marco Bakker in the role of Robert Storch, the composer's self-portrait. Mr. Bakker is a true baritone, and sails through the rapid-fire dialogue, coming into his own in the long duet that ends the opera. It is a pleasure also to hear Anthony Rolfe Johnson at the start of a great career, singing the role of Stroh, a fellow maestro. The similarity of the names is deliberate, leading to a case of mistaken identity that nearly sinks the Storch/Strauss marriage.
John Pritchard does well with the challenging score, leading the London Philharmonic through the many intermezzos that are scattered through the opera. (Strauss had a musical sense of humor.) The set was recorded at the Glyndebourne Festival, and the close miking, which allows listeners to hear the rustle of score pages in the orchestra pit, the breath of players and even the prompter, only lends to the sense of intimacy of a truly great evening at Britain's greatest opera festival.