Notes and Editorial Reviews
The 100-minute, one-act Daphne was premiered in 1938 on a double bill with the composer's Friedenstag. The two were performed together for a while but were soon separated, and eventually Friedenstag dropped out of the repertoire. Today Daphne is performed relatively rarely--it isn't among Strauss' masterpieces. There's little action; the mythological plot tries the patience (Daphne, a virginal nature-girl, rejects the advances of the god Apollo in the midst of a Dionysian feast and is turned into a laurel tree after Apollo strikes dead her innocent suitor, Leukippos); and while the set pieces are stunning (Daphne's opening monologue, her lament for the dead Leukippos, her transformation scene), there is
otherwise a paucity of melodies and there are several truly dry spots. But it is gorgeously orchestrated and there's plenty of excitement in the Apollo/Daphne scene--and by the time the opera is over, you might be convinced that it's greater than it is. At any rate, it's most certainly worth hearing and getting to know.
There have been other "modern" recordings of this opera (in contrast to "historic"), both with lighter sopranos in the title role (Lucia Popp and Hilde Güden)--and "light" is what Strauss wanted. This is not to say that Renée Fleming is not excellent; I'd just like to go on record as saying that her sound is vaguely too mature ("matronly" would be unkind) for the part. But her singing, inflection, tonal allure, and sensitivity to the text make her performance shine, and she has no issue with the role's high tessitura. Her fans won't analyze the situation so carefully; with Fleming, it's the singer, rarely the song.
Strauss composed Leukippos and Apollo for tenors--the first lyric, the second heroic--both with difficult, high-lying music. Johan Botha's Apollo is note-perfect, which is no mean feat given how high and loud the role is; but he sings with less passion than, say, James King in the same role on DG, and he comes nowhere near Karl Friedrich in the historic set with Maria Reining. Michael Schade, as Leukippos, is ardent and also copes well with Strauss' sometimes cruel writing--one phrase begins on a high-C; but memories of the ravishing Fritz Wunderlich under Böhm on DG are not erased. Anna Larsson sings the contralto role of Gaea, Daphne's mother, with gravity and concern, and Kwanchul Youn as Peneios is dark and resonant.
The rest of the cast is excellent, Semyon Bychkov leads a clear, well-paced, if not-quite haunting performance, and the WDR Symphony and Chorus play and sing expertly. The number one choice still may be the DG under Böhm, with Güden an incandescent Daphne, and King and Wunderlich thrilling; but Fleming fans will need this fine set as well.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Daphne, Op. 82 by Richard Strauss
Julia Kleiter (Soprano),
Kwangchul Youn (Bass),
Twyla Robinson (Soprano),
Anna Larsson (Alto),
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
Michael Schade (Tenor),
Eike Wilm Schulte (Baritone),
Johan Botha (Tenor),
Cosmin Ifrim (Tenor),
Gregory Reinhart (Bass),
Carsten Wittmoser (Bass)
Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Cologne West German Radio Men's Chorus
Written: 1936-1937; Germany
Venue: Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany
Length: 99 Minutes 43 Secs.
Notes: Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany (02/28/2005 - 03/12/2005)
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