The San Francisco Opera production of Richard Strauss' "Capriccio" may actually be more effective on the little screen (at 6 and 11 tonight on the Bravo cable channel) than it was in the cavernous War Memorial Opera House, where it was taped last summer during the Richard Strauss festival.
Television director Peter Maniura of the BBC favors focusing on individual characters and the nuances of their reactions. This point of view roots the potentially scholastic argument of the plot (which takes precedence in opera--the music or the words?) in a human conflict.
The broadcast also, sadly, preserves Tatiana Troyanos' final stage role; she would die of cancer less than two months later. As Clairon, she is somewhat hoarse of voice, but strong in character.
Troyanos is only one of an ensemble of persuasive singing-actors, directed in this opulent production by Stephen Lawless.
Kiri Te Kanawa takes pride of place as an outstanding Countess Madeleine, singing with alluring, refined vocalism and acting with subtlety and consideration.
Her suitors are David Kuebler (vocally a bit dry but eager as the composer Flamand) and Simon Keenlyside (vocally somewhat subdued but wry and dignified as the poet Olivier).
Hakan Hagegard sings the Count with assured, slightly dimwitted conviviality. Victor Braun makes an assertive La Roche. Michel Senechal charms as the forgotten prompter, Monsieur Taupe.
Craig Estep and Maria Fortuna are vocally agile as the Italian singers. Dale Travis is an amused Major-domo. Shannon Lily and David Justin dance Eleanor Fazan's choreography capably, though it requires some unnecessary comic byplay.
In the pit, Donald Runnicles serves Strauss with impressive finesse and lyricism.
Unlike the performance in the opera house, the "Capriccio" broadcast will be given without intermission. A word of caution: Viewers will find the English subtitles, projected over the rich, brocaded costumes, occasionally hard to read.