Intermezzo is an opera based on the real life happenings in the relationship between Richard Strauss and his wife Pauline, characterised on stage as Robert and Christine Storch.
Maestro Robert takes on a long conducting stint in Vienna, leaving Christine in her country house with their eight year old son Franzl, and a retinue of staff. On a tobogganing trip, Christine literally crashes into fellow aristocrat Baron Lummer, and they strike up a friendship ……… until he asks her for money. Christine opens a letter addressed to Robert, and finds a note from a Mieze Maier asking him to meet her at the opera, and afterwards in the bar. Highly strung Christine immediately considers divorce, but the letter turns out to have been sent to Strauss in error, as Mieze mistook his name for Kapellmeister Stroh. Robert returns home to fix things and domestic harmony is restored eventually.
This little performed opera is arranged in two acts, each of several scenes with interlude music continuing through the changes. It is a massive challenge for a designer who has to not only depict rooms in the Storch’s country house, but also an Inn, Lodgings, The Prater in Vienna, a ski slope, and much more. Designer Manfred Kaderk cleverly used Klimt’s The Kiss as a theme, with the Storches’ house decorated with gloriously over the top Klimt-kitsch wallpaper. At the start of the opera, in a nice touch, the two figures in The Kiss separated, and were reunited only at the very end.
The music is a wonderful sound scape of rich, passionate, and dissonant notes, and the Scottish Opera orchestra (complete with harmonium) under Francesco Corti tackled this difficult score with aplomb. The intermezzos were particularly engrossing, adding so much to the work, and giving the whole a very cinematic feel.
Roland Wood was an excellently robust Robert Storch, whether battling with Christine to get his belongings packed up for Vienna, playing cards with his friends the Councillors of Commerce and Justice, Kammersanger, Kapellmeister (all in fine voice), or returning home to sort out the domestic mess. Bavarian Anita Bader did well with the huge role of Christine, but lacked the power needed to get across Corti’s forces going at full tilt in the pit. It was a pity, because the much anticipated big finish was somewhat underpowered. Scot, Nicky Spence sang the smarmy-but-broke Baron Lummer with conviction.
There were some nice touches from director Wolfgang Quetes: the clear hierarchy of staff in the Storch household; the card game scene which erupted into ribald laughter and drink after Robert left the room after being teased about his difficult wife; Christine throwing a large bunch of red flowers onto the stage, yet within minutes, sitting doucely on her husband’s knee and feeding him toast.
Christine Storch is portrayed as a really difficult woman who is horrible to her staff. Family joke or not, I was left wondering what the real Pauline Strauss made of this opera when it was performed in 1924.