Notes and Editorial Reviews
Full review from FANFARE Magazine:
You rather have to pity Josef Gregor, at least a little. All three of his librettos for Strauss were realizations of ideas by others.
Der Liebe der Danae, the last, was a realization of a 20-year-old scenario by Strauss’s first great librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, written between
Die Frau ohne Schatten and
Die äegyptische Helena. A theater historian by trade, Gregor was not a great or even good librettist. Incapable of telling any story concisely, he was particularly stymied by the elaborate symbolism and detail of Hofmannsthal’s three-act scenario, which is a conflation of the myths of Midas with that of Danae with a touch of what would become
Arabella thrown in. The short first and second acts tell of Pollux, who is broke and whose creditors are stripping his palace bare for payment. To stave them off, he tells them his nephews, the four kings, are off with the portrait of Danae, his only daughter, to entice a rich man to marry her. This turns out to be Midas, in this version a lowly goatherd who has been elevated to wealth specifically so that Jupiter can impersonate him and seduce Danae. As it happens, Jupiter miscalculates by using Midas as his messenger and, naturally, it instantly is love between Danae and Midas. As a further wrinkle, the four kings are married to four former lovers of Jupiter, Leda, Semele, Europa, and Alkmene, who each attempt to convince the god to return to her in the form in which he first seduced her. Jupiter then ungallantly comments on how time has been unkind to each. Even more distasteful is that they wind up more or less acting as procurers for him with Danae. All to no avail, of course. At the end of act II, when Midas is adamant about his love for Danae, Jupiter curses him with the famous golden touch and Midas promptly turns Danae into a golden statue. Her offstage voice rejects Jupiter for a life with Midas, now reduced back to poverty by the angry god. As you may have noticed, this leaves all of act III with largely no dramatic point beyond the magnificent music Strauss wrote for it (of course, act III is the richest musically, with two big duets for Midas/Danae and Jupiter/Danae, plus one for Jupiter and Mercury that segues into a beautiful quintet for Jupiter and the four queens). Still, in Hofmannsthal’s original scenario, act II ends with Midas and Danae’s consummation of their love, while act III takes on Jupiter’s revenge and the final apotheosis of true love—so the dramatically superfluous quality of act III is the joint product of Gregor and Strauss.
Der Liebe der Danae was dead on arrival at its official premiere in 1952. It has not had much of a career in the opera house, which can only partially be ascribed to the perception that it was hopelessly old fashioned. Still, despite the weak libretto, the music is wonderful in the late manner of the composer. While not particularly light, it definitely is a comedy, albeit a serious one, and throughout Strauss exploits his gift for complex ensembles, from duets to a few involving virtually all the principals plus the divided chorus.
Casting is extravagant in the extreme, as are the physical requirements both in terms of sheer number of locations as well as special effects. In addition to dramatic soprano, tenor, and bass-baritone (Danae, Midas, and Jupiter), Strauss adds a second major tenor part for one scene in act III (Mercury). The double quartet of kings and queens requires eight real voices, while Danae’s maid, Xanthe, who only appears in one scene in act I, participates in one of those exquisite duets for two equal soprano voices that are such a feature of Strauss’s operatic writing—it would be a great party piece for, say, Deborah Voigt, who has taken on Danae, and Renée Fleming, who should. As
Gramophone has said, it is a festival opera, a connoisseur’s bonbon, charming and extravagant.
This is the fourth recording (including the recording of the premiere under Clemens Krauss, the Botstein on Telarc, and the Garsington recording not generally available in this country), and cpo claims it is the first both to include all the score as well as restoring the part of Jupiter to its original tessitura. Hans Hotter was the original Jupiter in 1944, no slouch by any measure, but he apparently found the relentlessly high writing difficult. In addition to a variety of small cuts, conductor Clemens Krauss lowered the vocal line, something that has continued ever since, apparently, as both James Miller and Bob Rose claimed both the Krauss and the Botstein recordings used identical editions, which must be the one in print. The Kiel performance is live, before an awesomely quiet audience. Ulrich Windfuhr is another splendid Strauss conductor, making the Kiel forces sound excellent in what is becoming an impressive series of recordings of rare operas from this source. In a part that has been taken by Leonie Rysanek and Deborah Voigt, Manuela Uhl is not the most radiant Danae one can imagine. The music is enormously difficult and lies high, not unlike the Kaiserin in
Die Frau (it would have been an ideal part for Studer during her all-too-brief career as a leading Strauss soprano). Too often, Uhl seems to be struggling, moving note to note rather than phrasing in the sweeping lyrical lines that characterize all of Strauss’s writing for his favorite voice, and she finds soft lyrical singing especially difficult. She is especially painful in her big duets in act III. Franz Grundheber does very well by Jupiter, although he would have been even better some years back. Long one of the world’s great Wozzecks, he brings great verbal emphasis and reasonably steady tone to a relentless part. He is the god to the life, but he somewhat falls down as the great lover. Robert Chafin, on the other hand, is a find in the role of Midas, pouring out rivers of golden tone except when Strauss takes him below his effective range in the opening duet of act III. Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin gets better as he goes along, but is not really up to a part seemingly made for Wunderlich. Cornelia Zach, as Xanthe, has exactly the sort of voice the part requires, powerful and silvery in equal measure—in a sensible decision to cut costs a bit, she doubles as one of the four queens. Her fellow octet members are oddly uninspiring as soloists, but work splendidly as a group. The big ensembles featuring the four kings and queens are among the highlights of this recording. The recording of choice has always been that of the premiere, last available on Orfeo, which I have never heard. The present recording has much to recommend it, including the inclusion of the complete original scenario by Hofmannsthal as part of the extensive notes. It is more than a stopgap for those wanting an up-to-date recording of one of the rarest Strauss operas, without being by any means the last word on this lovely, difficult work.
John Story, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Die Liebe der Danae, Op. 83 by Richard Strauss
Franz Grundheber (Baritone),
Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin (Tenor),
Paul McNamara (Tenor),
Manuela Uhl (Soprano),
Cornelia Zach (Soprano),
Robert Chafin (Tenor),
Daniel Behle (Tenor),
Martin Fleitmann (Tenor),
Simon Pauly (Baritone),
Hans Georg Ahrens (Bass),
Susane Bernhard (Soprano),
Gro Bente Kjellevold (Mezzo Soprano),
Katharina Peetz (Alto)
Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra,
Kiel Opera Chorus
Written: 1938-1940; Germany
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