Intermezzo, Garsington Opera, Wormsley, Bucks: Serenely accomplished

There’s no weak link in this delightful production

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Richard Strauss’s Intermezzo may be at one level about a marital tiff, while at another – with words and music written by one of the partners – being a queasy exercise in narcissism. But it’s also a probingly intimate portrait of a marriage, and this is the spirit in which director Bruno Ravella and his cast have approached it.

A wife discovers a passionate love-letter sent by mistake to her husband, and their happy marriage is suddenly under threat: this is what happened to Strauss and his wife Pauline, and the libretto consists of what they actually said to each other as they painfully fought their way back to mutual trust.

Everything about this serenely accomplished production is spot-on, from Giles Cadle’s deft designs (morphing between chalet, ski-slope, and Wirtshaus), to Andrew Porter’s nicely-sprung translation, to Jac van Steen’s conducting of the quicksilver score, with its conversational intricacy and rapt symphonic interludes.

There’s no weak link in the cast which is led by two outstanding singers: baritone Mark Stone as the composer Storch, and soprano Mary Dunleavy as his wife Christine. Stone’s performance crackles with peppery authority, while Dunleavy dominates the stage every moment of the evening, drawing us all into her moods of exasperation, fury, nostalgia, and tenderness, and enchanting us with the beauty of her sound.