Opera Scotland

Intermezzo

Music
Richard Strauss (born Munich, 11 June 1864; died Garmisch, 8 September 1949)

Text
The composer.

Source
Original.

Premieres
First performance: Dresden (Staatsoper), 4 November 1924.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 2 September 1965.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 10 October 1986.

Background
Intermezzo is a delightful comedy which took rather a long time to establish itself in the repertoire, and is, indeed, still something of a rarity. It was at first criticised for the simple reason that Strauss had based the plot on incidents in his own family life, so he is the conductor Robert Storch and his wife Pauline is the beautiful, but sometimes infuriating, Christine. In this he followed his previous example a decade earlier of composing a symphonic poem, the Symphonia Domestica, which may not have included the kitchen sink, but did feature baby’s bath-time. This likewise was heavily attacked but quite recently has become widely recognised as an excellent work. The opera, in two acts, consists of a number of short scenes separated by a stream of lyrical interludes.

Main Characters
Christine Storch (soprano)
Hofkapellmeister Robert Storch, her husband (baritone)
Anna, her maid (soprano)
Baron Lummer (tenor)
Kapellmeister Stroh (tenor)

Plot Summary
The setting divides between Vienna and the Storchs’ country house in a Bavarian lakeside resort, which Strauss specified should be based on his own house at Garmisch. While Storch is working in Vienna, Christine is invited by friends to join a tobogganing party. She bumps into, and starts a flirtation with, a young aristocrat. This leads to dinner and dancing at a local inn. However his main interest is to obtain funding for studies opposed by his parents, who want him to study law. He sees Christine only as a possible source of cash, while she says that her husband may provide the funding. Christine opens a letter addressed to Storch, which turns out to be from a woman asking him for opera tickets, but written in terms of affection. In a jealous fury, she decides to leave her husband.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, Storch passes his spare time with friends playing cards, one of those friends being his assistant, Stroh. When Storch receives a telegram from his wife, it is revealed that Stroh knows the woman concerned. Storch is upset and mystified – he receives no replies from his own telegrams (since Christine is already consulting lawyers). Stroh, realising that the letter must have been intended for him, is sent to give Christine that explanation. It is only after a further meeting with Lummer, whom she now finds boring, and another argument between husband and wife, that Christine admits what a happy marriage they have.

 

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1980

Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch
Bavarian Radio Orchestra
Lucia Popp (Christine), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Storch), Adolf Dallapozza (Lummer).

This is an excellent recording, conducted by an expert and experienced Straussian, though he is likely to have had rather less experience with this wonderfully humane work. The lead role is a gift for a singing actress, and that is certainly a reasonable description of the great Lucia Popp. Even when playing the shrill, nagging fury, she maintains a lovely sense of the honest humanity of the character. As her husband, perhaps Fischer-Dieskau was a tad elderly by the time this was recorded, but he still sounds fine. The small roles are played by as good a team as Munich could muster, with Gabriele Fuchs as the maid, Kurt Moll as a suitably lugubrious opera star, and Martin Finke, whose dalliance is the cause of so much trouble for his boss.

NVC (1 DVD) Sung in English Recorded 1983

Conductor: Gustav Kuhn Director: John Cox Designer: Martin Battersby
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Felicity Lott (Christine), John Pringle (Storch), Ian Caley (Lummer).

The 1974 Glyndebourne production is a wonderful staging of a piece which gains from the detailed work all the performers have put in with the director, John Cox. It must also be said that for an Anglophone audience the use of a lucid English translation (by Andrew Porter) with clear diction is also a gain. When the production was new, that brilliant singing actress, Elisabeth Söderström, sang Christine. By 1983 she had handed over to Felicity Lott, who, in her turn, really makes the role her own. The Australian baritone John Pringle gives a warm hearted and subtle portrayal of the composer, and Ian Caley is good as the nice but dim Baron. Seasoned performers including Elizabeth Gale as the long-suffering maid, Glenn Winslade as Stroh, and Roger Bryson as Christine’s lawyer do the other roles. A further attraction of this disc for Scottish audiences is the fact that when John Cox was director of Scottish Opera, he borrowed the production in 1986 for a highly successful tour, though only Ian Caley survived from the Glyndebourne cast.

ORFEOLIVE (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1963

Conductor: Joseph Keilberth
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Hanny Steffek (Christine), Hermann Prey (Storch), Ferry Gruber (Lummer).

This recording also has classic status, in that it is a reminder of a production mounted in Munich and taken over by Vienna, which first allowed Intermezzo to be taken seriously. It was recorded not at the State Opera, but in the more intimate Theater an der Wien. The director was an expert Straussian, Rudolf Hartmann, using designs by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, soon himself to become a highly regarded director. In 1965 the Munich company came to Edinburgh with two operas, Così fan tutte and this staging of Intermezzo. The leading trio listed above all came to Edinburgh to give the piece its British premiere. Hanny Steffek is a delightful character actress, remembered for her appearances on recordings (supporting Schwarzkopf) of The Merry Widow and Così fan tutte, and she also sang Despina on the Edinburgh trip (and the great Fritz Wunderlich sang Ferrando).

The Cast

Anna
 Christine's chambermaid
Baron Lummer
 
Christine
 wife of Storch
Councillor of Commerce
 a card player
Councillor of Justice
 a card player
Fanny
 the cook
First Schuplattl Dancer
 
Franzl
 the Storchs' son, aged 8
Housemaid
 at the Notary's
Kammersänger
 a card player
Kapellmeister Stroh
 a conductor, and card player
Marie
 a housemaid
Notary
 
Notary's wife
 
Resi
 Baron Lummer's friend
Robert Storch
 a composer
Second Schuplattl Dancer
 
Thérèse
 a housemaid

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