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traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
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30 Oct 2008
STRAUSS: Die Liebe der Danae
Gala may be a budget label, but more opera sets of vintage live performances deserve a booklet essay as concise yet comprehensive, critically honest and yet fair, as Andrew Palmer's for this set, which preserves a 1980 performance of Richard Strauss and Joseph Grigor's Die Liebe der Danae.
Charles Mackerras leads the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Opera Chorus, and a very “BBC” cast, with American Arlene Saunders joining Norman Bailey, Kenneth Woollam, and Rosalind Plowright.
Palmer explains how this opera’s inspiration had come earlier in Strauss’s career, when he was working with Hofmannstahl. The story of Jupiter and his many loves was put aside at that time for story of the Egyptian Helen. Eventually Strauss returned to the idea, after the death of his first great librettist, combining the mythical “gods and goddesses” angle with a favorite Strauss theme of connubial strife leading to connubial bliss, as the Danae of the title convinces Jupiter to allow her to resume her happy married life with husband Midas.
The relative obscurity of this opera probably can be laid at the feet of the libretto, which lacks narrative drive and fully fleshed-out characters. Palmer also points to the punishing tessitura of much of the music, but that is true for many of Strauss’s more successful operas as well.
As a purely audio experience, however, the score glitters and frolics, with the “rain” music as Jupiter seduces Danae sparkling in a way not dissimilar to Wagner’s fire music. Strauss was never the best self-editor, and some of the passages go on long past their point of inspiration. The lengthy last scene between Danae and Jupiter would probably be exasperating in any production that didn’t have two very fine singers in the roles.
Mackerras does. Arlene Saunders doesn’t seem uncomfortable with the demands of her role, singing with appropriate beauty and passion. Her Jupiter, Normal Bailey, has the sort of rich and thick bass voice perfect for the role of the arrogant god. The rest of the cast is able, and Mackerras gets a surprisingly vivid and lively reading of the tricky score from the BBC musicians.
It remains unlikely that Die Liebe der Danae will finally find its place in the standard opera repertory, but for those who love their Richard Strauss, a recording as good as this one, for Gala’s price, must be a real find. The Midas touch strikes again.