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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

CD Review: On the Rocks With Intermezzo

Soprano Elisabeth Söderström, who sings Christine Storch
in Richard Strauss' domestic opera comedy Intermezzzo.
This is the latest in Chandos Records' trove of BBC recordings, a live performance of Richard Strauss' Intermezzo, one of the composer's most charming but least-performed operas. This high-quality 1974 performance, released in good stereo, may do much for the reputation of this neglected, underrated work.

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.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.