The Guardian, August 24, 2004
Tim Ashley
Strauss: Capriccio, Edinburgh, 22 August 2004
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Strauss described Capriccio, his last opera, as his "testament". Essentially it's a bittersweet, erotic comedy about one woman's inability to choose between two equally appealing lovers - though it's also about opera itself and, some would say, about compromise as well.

Olivier and Flamand, the two men, are writer and composer respectively. There are veiled hints of a homoerotic attraction between the two, while the opera we are experiencing is a work they have created between them - in which words and music are inseparable.

Capriccio was written and premiered in Nazi Germany, opening Strauss to charges of political negligence, and the opera can also be interpreted as a demand for artistic permanence in the face of undermining forces.

It's hard to imagine a better performance than the one presented here, in which the work's sexual and emotional depths were brilliantly exposed and explored. Soile Isokoski, in glorious voice, was the Countess, faced with the impossible choice between Christopher Maltman's Olivier - a handsome, rough type, straight out of a novel by DH Lawrence - and Jonas Kaufmann's Flamand, an impetuous, wide-eyed, Byronic charmer.

Much was made of the bitter legacy of the previous af fair between Olivier and the actress Clairon (Anne Sofie von Otter, wonderfully self-dramatising), its unresolved, barely voiced tensions hanging in the air like a pall. Stephan Loges was the Countess's elegant brother, while veteran bass Siegfried Vogel was eloquent and reflective as La Roche, a character modelled on Strauss's friend the director Max Reinhardt, in exile at the time of the opera's composition. Leopold Hager's conducting coaxed playing of sensuous beauty from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, without losing sight of the work's sudden descents into darkness. The whole thing was witty, sexy, profound and close to perfection.

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