Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Strauss: Daphne
09 Nov 2005

STRAUSS: Daphne

The formidable Straussian Sir Georg Solti wrote that after the 1929 death of Strauss’s long-time librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “Strauss lived for another twenty years, but he never again wrote a great work.”

Richard Strauss: Daphne

Renée Fleming, Johan Botha, Michael Schade, Kwanchul Youn, Anna Larsson, Eike Wilm Schulte, Cosmin Ifrim, Gregory Reinhart, Carsten Mittmoser, Julia Kleiter, Twyla Robinson. Orchestra and Chorus of West Deutscher Rundfunk, Semyon Bychkov (cond.).

Decca 475 6926 8 DH2 [2CDs]

 

This assessment agrees with a long established bit of common wisdom: that Strauss wrote a great string of masterpieces early on—Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos—all of which quickly took their place in the central repertory, but that his later years were filled with “note-spinning” and inspirational sterility. This attitude is certainly reflected in his opera’s performance histories. There is a wealth of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts of the above titles dating back to the broadcast’s early years. But Daphne, which was first staged in 1938, had its New York stage premiere just last season, and not at the Met.

Well, I love Solti, but I think his assessment of Strauss is all wet! For me, Daphne is exhibit A. It is a richly imagined, extravagantly scored work which combines bits of the turbulent, hyper-imaginative Strauss of the early operas with the soaring, lyrical flights found in Rosenkavalier, Arabella, and later, Capriccio. And at only about 100 minutes in length, Daphne doesn’t sprawl in the same way that some of the composer’s longer operas do. It is a work of concise and sublime beauty.

Daphne was a sentimental favorite of its composer, who in his later years repeatedly played the opera’s finale on the piano for his own amusement. He referred to it as his Magic Fire Music (the famous finale of Wagner’s Die Walküre). When a documentarian appeared after the “securing” of Strauss’s home in Garmisch by allied soldiers during World War II, Strauss surprised him by not playing selections from Rosenkavalier or one of his famous symphonic poems, but rather—you guessed it—the Daphne finale. Strauss’s beloved but sometimes cantankerous wife Pauline, who had in the past compared her husband’s music unfavorably to that of Massenet, was delighted by Daphne, and famously gave conductor Karl Böhm a kiss after the premiere.

Sadly, the second-tier status of Strauss’s late operas has also meant relatively few outings in the recording studio. While there are several live monaural accounts of Daphne from various decades, including one under dedicatee Böhm, and featuring Hilde Güden, Fritz Wunderlich, James King, Decca’s new recording with soprano mega-star Renée Fleming singing the title role is the only modern stereo recording commercially available. The EMI set under Bernard Haitink featuring the wonderful Lucia Popp, isn’t currently in the catalogue.

The opera starts with a simple melody played by the oboe, and joined by a chorus of woodwinds. At sunset, shepherds lead their sheep to drink at a stream. In a sublime moment, as they depart, their voices rise in chorus, bidding farewell to the day. Their song is joined by the voice of Daphne, begging the day not to end in her beautiful aria “O bleib, geliebter tag!” Daphne is then hailed by her childhood playmate, the shepherd Leukippos, who has fallen in love with her. But when she realizes his intentions, she rebuffs him.

In a passage which must contain some of the lowest notes ever penned for a female singer (including an E-flat below middle C), Daphne’s mother, the earth goddess Gaea, counsels her daughter that one day she must turn to love. A group of maidens arrive, exited about that evening’s feast of Bacchus. They compare their finery, but note that Daphne has rejected her beautiful gown and jewels. They come upon Leukippos, and hearing his tale of woe, they urge him to dress as a woman so that he can be near Daphne at the feast.

As Daphne’s parents (her father is the river-god Peneios) and shepherds discuss the last glowing of sunlight on the peak of Olympus, the sun god himself appears in the guise of a cowherd. Daphne is impressed by the newcomer, and offers him a cup of water. Apollo is entranced, and asks Daphne to be his sister. After an increasingly impassioned duet, in which Apollo drops many hints as to his real identity, he kisses Daphne. As the orchestra quietly paints with extravagant tones both strange and ravishing, Daphne reacts with confusion. How could her brother kiss her so? Apollo plainly states his love, but Daphne is angered by his deception.

The feast of Bacchus begins. Leukippos appears in female garb, and dances with Daphne. A fight breaks out between Apollo and the shepherds. But when Apollo raises his bow above his head, a rumble of thunder is heard, and the shepherds flee in terror. Apollo accuses Leukippos of trying to deprive him of Daphne. Leukippos admits his true identity, and boldly declares his love. Apollo counters, in a triumphant aria, by revealing that he is the sun god, and in a climax of remarkable power, he strikes Leukippos dead with a lightening bolt.

Gripped with overwhelming grief, Daphne mourns over the body of her childhood friend, singing another long, heartbreakingly beautiful aria. She now regrets having rejected the love of Leukippos, and vows to stay there by his body until she is taken by the same hand. Apollo is shamed, and admits his wrong. He performs an incantation, wishing that all Daphne’s wishes should be fulfilled, and that as a laurel tree she should stand forever beautiful, and that her branches would be used to crown heroes.

Daphne rises and cries to her brothers the trees that she is coming to greet them, that she feels the sap rising inside her. She is then slowly transformed into a laurel tree, and the opera closes in wave upon wave of beautiful orchestral tracery, embellishing the first theme of the opera and eventually joined by Daphne’s wordless voice emanating from the tree.

Daphne is a great paean to the soprano voice by a composer famous for his beautiful soprano roles. And in so brief an opera, Daphne’s lengthy arias must take up more than twenty percent of its running length. Yet though Strauss equally has a reputation of hostility to the tenor voice, here he crafts two wonderful tenor roles as well, although like many of his others tenor roles, the role of Apollo requires both heroic heft and a strong upper register.

Under conductor Semyon Bychkov, the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln plays beautifully. All the soloists sing well, though largely they fail to best those found in the EMI set under Haitink. Clearly this recording was made because of Renée Fleming and as with nearly all her many recordings, her face smiles benignly from its cover. Fleming clearly has a very beautiful voice. But sometimes I feel that she attempts to be over-expressive, to add to what the composer wrote, as if not sufficiently trusting in the score’s efficacy. In “O blieb, geliebter tag!”, meant to be the enthusiastic outburst of an innocent young girl, Fleming darkens her tone and shapes the notes too carefully. What might be fine for Strauss’s Four Last Songs or the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier is here too studied, too mature. Johann Botha as Apollo sounds great, although he might have made more of some of the climactic moments (though the orchestral competition is fierce!). Michael Schade’s Leukippos is beautifully sung, and the Gaea of Anna Larsson is effective, though those basement-bottom notes can’t be easy for even the deepest voiced contraltos.

This set has the full German libretto translated into English along with an essay on the opera’s composition in a substantial booklet. For those who have never experienced the wonders of Daphne, both musical and dramatic, this set is an easy recommendation.

Eric D. Anderson

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):