The old adage “the third time’s the charm” proved to be the case with me and Daphne, Richard Strauss’s ravishing bukolische Tragödie, when I recently heard it performed by Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra, so “Trove Thursday” commemorates that epiphany with their broadcast featuring Regine Hangler, Andreas Schager and Ain Anger.
My first encounter with Daphne was the resolutely earthbound New York City Opera production with Elizabeth Futral in 2004. It didn’t made much of an impression until the magical final scene which rarely fails to transport its listener. Just a year later the artists featured on Decca’s CD reassembled for a concert performance at Carnegie Hall.
Renée Fleming, the raison d’être of the enterprise, sang well but Daphne’s girlish naiveté didn’t come easily to the superstar soprano despite her usual affinity for Strauss. The evening proved most notable for Johan Botha’s ringing, seemingly effortless Apollo.
My initial encounter with Strauss and Welser-Möst and his Clevelanders occurred three years before Daphne when they performed Salome at Carnegie Hall. Despite the lustrous orchestra, the evening didn’t really take off mostly due to an opulent but mature and miscast Nina Stemme in the title role. You know there’s a problem when the soprano’s mom—a deliciously refulgent Jane Henschel—steals the show.
But my Daphne-moment finally arrived at the then-Avery Fisher Hall during a Cleveland Orchestra residency during the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival. The virtually unknown Hangler conveyed an endearingly artless innocence and soared ecstatically in the final transformation while Schager’s impressively secure Apollo nearly made one forget Botha. It was a surprising and utterly intoxicating evening in the usual desert of opera in Manhattan during the summer.
Despite her acclaimed portrayal, Hangler doesn’t appear to have broken through internationally remaining closely associated with her home theater, the Wiener Staatsoper, where she sings Rosalinde, Freia and Gutrune as well as Marianne Leitmetzerin. A significant non-Austrian appearance will occur in November at La Scala when she takes on Chrysothemis in the much-traveled Patrice Chéreau production of Elektra with Christoph von Dohnányi scheduled to be in the pit.
Before starting this introduction I hadn’t realized that this opera was originally conceived as part of a double-bill with Friedenstag, although the latter was initially performed alone several months before the world premiere of Daphne in October 1938.
Strauss’s desire to continue his collaboration with the Jewish Stefan Zweig as his librettist proved futile so he turned to Joseph Gregor whose text for Daphnewas more successful than that for the heavy Friedenstag The pairing ultimately proved unwieldy and the two operas soon parted ways with Daphne gaining more popularity though it still remains a relative rarity today.
The first Daphne, Margarete Teschemacher recorded excerpts under Karl Böhm to whom the opera is dedicated and who led the premiere.
Other notable sopranos who have embraced the grateful role of the chaste object of Apollo’s fatal ardor have included Maria Reining, Rose Bampton, Hilde Güden, Lucia Popp, Cheryl Studer, Soile Isokoski, Catherine Malfitano and June Anderson.
R. Strauss: Daphne
Severance Hall. Cleveland
27 May 2015
Regine Hangler – Daphne
Nancy Maultsby — Gaea
Andreas Schager — Apollo
Norbert Ernst — Leukippos
Ain Anger— Peneios
Franz Welser-Möst — conductor
Daphne can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
“Trove Thursday” has so far offered a variety of Strauss works—a mature Arabella with Lucia Popp and Wolfgang Brendel; the prologue of Ariadne auf Naxos featuring a rare Julia Varady Komponist; Ursula Schröder-Feinen’s glorious Elektra; the elusive Genia Kühmeier in the Vier Letzte Lieder and a glowing Der Rosenkavalier with Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Söderström, Anneliese Rothenberger and Oskar Czerwenka.
Another Strauss opera will appear here in just a few weeks!