Lyric Opera of Chicago

Strauss is for Her

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Renée Fleming as the Countess.

Renée Fleming as lead role in Capriccio.

Renée Fleming in the final scene of Capriccio.


Countess Madeleine in Capriccio is beautiful, elegant, highly intelligent, irresistibly charming, and soaring forth in some of Richard Strauss’s most heavenly music. In other words, the role is a natural for Renée Fleming, as Lyric audiences will see and hear when Capriccio returns for the first time in 20 years.

Fleming, who’s triumphed in this opera in New York, Paris, London, and Vienna, sees the Countess as very independent (“I think it’s so interesting that when this piece was written, the real emancipation of women in Europe was relatively new”).  Her character has incredible grace and poise as she flirts with her two suitors and plays them off each other. “Olivier, the poet [baritone Audun Iversen] is completely passionate and ‘out there.’ Flamand, the composer [tenor William Burden] is more sensitive. These relationships are all so fascinating. It depends on who the two guys are who are playing those parts, but embedded in the opera are those two distinctions.” Fleming also mentions the actress Clairon [mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter]: “Her relationship with Madeleine can be appreciative, it can be competitive—it can be many different things, and that’s part of the fun.” 

There’s lots of fast-moving, fabulously witty repartee between the principals, although “with extremely challenging music—this is not an easy piece to learn. 

It’s a huge asset in Capriccio that Fleming speaks fluent German (“I don’t see how any of these Strauss roles can be done by anyone who doesn’t have the language”). This is definitely an opera where the audience needs to follow along with the text; as usual at Lyric, for this production there will be projected English titles, “which enable someone to pull out the important phrases in any conversation. There’s an extended octet that is very complex—you just need to get the gist of it and listen to it musically.”   

Fleming’s greatest joy in Capriccio is the glorious final scene, a monologue that is a gift for any Strauss soprano. But she also adores the ensemble aspect of the opera, which requires a very special group of artists. “It’s one of those pieces that’s so hard to prepare in the first place. It’s like you press ‘Start’ and it comes out—your body, your muscle memory, just lets it happen. But then in the rehearsal process you start listening to each other, looking at each other, and finding the little nuances. It’s not a broad—strokes piece, it’s a subtle piece, and preparing it is a very creative process for the performers.” 

Renée Fleming performs as the Countess at the Metropolitan Opera:




Photos: Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera
Header image courtesy of Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera.

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by an Anonymous Donor, Mr. and Mrs. J. Thomas Hurvis, Nancy W. Knowles, and Margot and Josef Lakonishok.
Production owned by the Metropolitan Opera.




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