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Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949) Der Liebe der Danae (1943)
Jupiter – Franz Grundhever (baritone)
Merkur (Mercury) – Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin (tenor)
Pollux – Paul McNamara (tenor)
Danae – Manuela Uhl (soprano)
Xanthe – Cornelia Zach (soprano)
Midas – Robert Chafin (tenor)
Nephews of Pollux – Daniele Behle (tenor), Martin Fleitmann (tenor), Simon Pauly (baritone), Hans Georg Ahrens (bass)
Semele – Susanne Bernhard (soprano)
Europa – Cornelia Zach (soprano)
Alkmene – Gro Bente Kjellevold (mezzo-soprano)
Leda – Katharina Peetz (alto)
Kiel Opera Chorus
Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulrich Windfuhr
Recorded live Konzertsall Kieler Schloss, 2, 11 April 2003
CPO 999 967-2 [3 CDs: 44.17 + 46.22 + 73.58]

 

Richard Strauss’s opera ‘Der Liebe der Danae’ got off to a bad start; its premiere in Salzburg in 1944 was cancelled due to the political climate and there was just a public dress rehearsal. The opera received a proper first performance in 1952 in Munich but since then it has not had much hold on the repertoire.

It was Strauss’s third opera with Josef Gregor as librettist (the previous ones were ‘Friedenstag’ and ‘Daphne’). Gregor had been recommended by Stefan Zweig (librettist of ‘Die schweigsame Frau’) after a further Strauss/Zweig collaboration was ruled out due to Zweig’s Jewishness. Gregor may have been a poorer librettist than Zweig but what all these operas show is Strauss’s struggling to find a literary collaborator as suitable as Hugo von Hoffmansthal had been. The break-through only came when he dispensed with a librettist altogether and wrote his own for ‘Intermezzo’ and ‘Capriccio’. For ‘Der Liebe der Danae’, Strauss had considerable input into the text, requesting re-writes from Gregor until the opera was in the shape that he wanted it.

Unfortunately, despite this effort, ‘Der Liebe der Danae’ is an uneven work and has a sparse performance and recording history. This is exacerbated by the structure of the opera. In over 2 ½ hours of music, just three characters (Danae, Midas and Jupiter) are fully developed. All the remaining figures are incidental, except for Danae’s father, Pollux, who has a substantial opening scene. So the bulk of the opera is carried by just three singers. This means that the opera must be cast with three substantial voices; voices that have the stamina to ride Strauss’s magnificent orchestration without tiring, but that can still do justice to his ravishing vocal lines. This is not easy, and it is perhaps significant that reviews of the recent recordings, based on live performances, have mentioned singers being over-parted; producers tend to go for singers who look and sound the part even if they don’t quite have the stamina for it. Such things do not matter so much in the theatre, but they matter on disc.

There have been three recordings, so far, of the complete opera. One made in 1952 after the premiere, with Clemens Krauss conducting and Anneliese Kupper, Joseph Gostic and Paul Schöffler; one made in 2000, based on the Garsington Opera performances, with Elgar Howarth conducting and Orla Boylan, Adrian Thompson and Peter Coleman-Wright and one made in 2001 based on an American concert performance with Leon Botstein conducting and Lauren Flanigan, Hugh Smith and Peter Coleman-Wright. In his Gramophone review, in April 2000, of the Garsington discs, Alan Blyth wrote that ‘We must still hope that Decca might give us a set with Fleming, Terfel and Heppner as (what surely would be) ideal principals.’ Unfortunately, we are still waiting for such a recording and it looks increasingly unlikely in the current climate, unless one of the major opera houses takes up the piece. As it is, CPO have released this disc based on live performances staged in 2001 at the Kiel Opera House.

The opera concerns Danae, daughter of Pollux the bankrupt King of Eos. Pollux must find her a rich husband to solve his financial problems. His nephews have been searching and have found Midas, the richest man in the world. His nephews’ wives are Semele, Europa, Leda and Alkmene, all of whom have been seduced by Jupiter. Jupiter is currently attempting to seduce Danae, sending her dreams of showers of gold. When "Midas" arrives, his messenger Chrysopher is the real Midas and "Midas" is in fact Jupiter in disguise. Inevitably, this ruse ultimately fails as Danae falls in love with Midas and prefers poverty with him to the riches of Jupiter.

Act I opens with a substantial scene for Pollux (Paul McNamara). McNamara makes a vivid impression but can sound a little uncomfortable with the tessitura of the part. Following an orchestral interlude describing the shower of gold, Danae (Manuela Uhl) has a scene with her servant Xanthe (Cornelia Zach); the chorus then heralds the arrival of her bride groom. First his messenger appears (Robert Chafin) and Danae falls in love with him then ultimately her bride-groom, Jupiter (Franz Grundheber) disguised as Midas, appears. In fact the whole structure of this act, after the orchestral interlude, is reminiscent of the opening scene of Act 2 of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’. But whereas in ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ the messenger is a mezzo-soprano, in ‘Der Liebe der Danae’ the real Midas is sung by an heroic tenor, probably Richard Strauss’s least favourite voice.

Manuela Uhl has a bright, young-sounding voice and from the pictures in the booklet, must have made an attractive Danae on stage. She has a slightly intrusive vibrato which rather mars her sense of line and she does not always give that sense of power to spare in the climaxes, so necessary in Act I if the final scenes of the opera are to be a success. Robert Chafin does well enough with Strauss’s tenor hero, but Strauss was never comfortable with this voice type and rarely wrote convincingly or gratefully. Chafin tends to sing too loudly, though he can shade his instrument down if he really needs to. As Jupiter, a part written for Hans Hotter, Franz Grundheber is frankly showing his age. He first sang with Hamburg State Opera in 1966 and his voice has survived miraculously, but he lacks the effortless ease that he might have once brought the part. Like Chafin, he sings too loud and his vocalising is effortful with too many intrusive aspirates. But he understands the Strauss style and one can only regret that he was not caught somewhat earlier in this part.

One slight novelty in this opera is the fun that Strauss has with the quartet of nephews and the quartet of their wives. In Act I he creates some interesting effects with these resources and Act II opens with a ravishing quartet for the wives as they reproach Jupiter. This is a real return to form in the opera. Unfortunately this does not last and the scene between Jupiter and Midas goes on rather. With Danae and the real Midas in the bridal chamber, Strauss does give them some lovely music with long arching melodies. Unfortunately Uhl and Chafin both sound too strenuous in this music, failing to bring to it that ease and loveliness that it requires.

Jupiter has an arrangement with Midas whereby Jupiter uses Midas’s identity to seduce Danae in return for providing Midas with riches. The only limitation being that that Midas must not touch Danae himself. Needless to say, when Jupiter discovers at the end of Act II that Midas and Danae are in love, Jupiter erupts. The resulting confrontation with the Midas has real power, but is again too strenuous.

One of the strong points in this set is the power of the drama. It is based on staged performances and this does show as the cast give us a strong, three-dimensional reading. But I do have some doubts about the recorded balance. The orchestra are a shade recessed, giving the voices over prominence. Granted the Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra does not have the lustrous string tone of the Vienna Philharmonic, but they play most creditably and I would have preferred a more realistic balance where the voices intermingle with the orchestra. Strauss’s opera is a complex web of interwoven lines and this recording, with its over-emphasised voices, does not do justice to them.

Act III opens with a scene for Midas and Danae, now poor but in love (Jupiter having taken away Midas’s riches as punishment for him loving Danae). Strauss gives them another lovely arching melody but again, Chafin and Uhl seem to lack the technical resources to really make it soar over the orchestra. This act has two orchestral interludes and in these the orchestra gets a chance to shine, for once not relegated to the background.

Jupiter is urged by Merkur (Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin) to make another attempt at seducing Danae. Schöpflin performs creditably in the small but tricky tenor part. Given Strauss’s lack of sympathy with this voice, it is fascinating that the opera has so many tenors in it.

The core of the opera, the one place where we get an uninterrupted sequence of the old Strauss, is the closing scene; the long duet for Jupiter and Danae as he comes to realise that he can never participate in human happiness. This is a lovely scene, but neither Grundheber nor Uhl are able to relax and soar in a way that the music needs. Uhl is creditably youthful sounding and produces some lovely tone in the quieter moments but in the opera’s climaxes she lacks the refulgent tone that this opera needs.

This recording is a fine achievement for Kiel Opera, but if you really must have a modern recording of this opera, then perhaps consider sampling both this and the Garsington one before you buy. But my advice would be to go for the 1952 recording, recorded by a team of singers who were fully conversant with the Strauss style and had the sort of vocal focus and line that is necessary. It is slightly cut and in mono, but it will keep you going until someone does release that ideal studio recording.


Robert Hugill



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