University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Strauss: Intermezzo

06/23/2024 1:00 pm
06/23/2024 4:00 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

In baroque opera the intermezzo was a brief, small-scale contemporary domestic comedy in music inserted between the acts of a full-length Italian opera seria to provide "comic relief" from a serious subject out of ancient classical lore. Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (1734) is the classic example of the genre, which would morph into the Italian opera buffa we know from Rossini. Richard Strauss remembered the intermezzo genre when he composed his own work by that name.

Strauss's Intermezzo (1924) does not have a libretto by his usual collaborator, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who declined the project. After having dealt with serious classical subjects, as in his Ariadne (1912, rev. 1916), he wanted to create, in his own words, "a completely modern, absolutely realistic psychological comedy." What he came up with, this time collaborating with Hermann Bahr, was "a little marriage opera," a mannered bourgeois comedy set in Vienna and environs, dealing with a conductor at the Vienna Opera and his wife. Her accusations of infidelity are quashed by means of a simple spelling error. Intermezzo makes use of Strauss's latest advances in his style of lyric theater composition, but his usual big orchestral sound has been subdued here. Allowance is made for spoken-word melodram.

Intermezzo was recorded for EMI in 1980 in cooperation with Radio Bavaria, Munich. Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is heard as the Hofkapellmeister, opposite soprano Lucia Popp as his wife, aka Kleine Franzl. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts the Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio. EMI reissued the recording on compact disc in 1988.