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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Liebe der Danae.

Lauren Flanigan (soprano) Danae; Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone) Jupiter; Hugh Smith (tenor) Midas; William Lewis (tenor) Pollux; Lisa Saffer (soprano) Xanthe; Michael Hendrick (tenor) Merkur; Tamara Mesic (soprano) Semele; Jane Jennings (soprano) Europa; Mary Philips (mezzo) Alkmene; Elisabeth Canis (mezzo) Leda; Rodne Brown, James Archie Worley, William Berges, Richard Crist (singers) Kings;
American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein.
Recorded live in the Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre, New York City on January 16th, 2000. [DDD]
TELARC CD-80570 [three discs] [177'23]

Der Liebe der Danae is hardly standard repertory these days, so a good modern recording comes like a breath of fresh air. The opera is, in short, delightful. Even the designation given to it by the composer (‘a lively mythology in three acts’) reflects this. Despite its subject matter, its world is more fairy-tale than myth, a scenario which offers Strauss ample opportunities to reveal the defter side of his compositional persona. This comes across particularly in the orchestration, often gossamer-light and continuously shifting in its colours.

The libretto is described as 'by Joseph Gregor, after a Scenario by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Der Liebe der Danae was dedicated to Heinz Tietjen. The late 1930s were historically a dark era in Germany, and this mythical world would have provided an ideal escape. The scenario by Hofmannsthal originally dated from just after Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), but this was soon forgotten as Strauss became preoccupied with Intermezzo. It was only in 1938 that he returned to Danae: Joseph Gregor was given the task of working with Hofmannsthal’s sketch: the result may not have the greatness of Hofmannsthal's finest work, but perhaps this only steers one's attention towards Strauss’ glorious music.

The libretto works with two myths: Midas (whose touch turns everything to gold) and Jupiter's appearance to Danae as golden rain. Its message seems to centre on the supremacy of human love over all obstacles: at the end of the opera, the ‘all-powerful’ god Jupiter is left to ruminate to himself over the beauty of Danae and Midas’ love, and his own shortcomings. Along with this comes the underlying idea of the futility of materialism and its eventual subservience to human love. Just the idealistic tonic to raise Strauss’ spirits, therefore.

The cast in the present recording is not one of superstars: Peter Coleman-Wright may well be the only name familiar to listeners this side of the pond, having appeared on discs from Hyperion and Chandos, among others. Coleman-Wright actually takes on the most demanding role, that of Jupiter, and is fully equipped with a powerful voice to do so. His final acceptance of his lot, right at the close of the opera, is a fitting climax to the plot and Coleman-Wright's interpretation gives it all the requisite dramatic force. Nevertheless the overall power of this performance comes less from individual performances than from the cumulative effect of the ensemble as a whole. Initially, Lisa Saffer as Xanthe seemed stronger than Lauren Flanigan's Danae, but Flanigan seems to get better and better as the opera progresses. The Four Queens at the beginning of Act Two work beautifully together. Hugh Smith's assumption of the key role of Midas is generally persuasive (and at his best he is excellent), but he has problems with lower notes and this may become uncomfortable on repeated listenings. And repeated listening is recommended in the case of this opera, as Strauss’ complex score only delivers more and more as time goes on.

All of the subsidiary characters are taken at the very least well by the cast here. The American Symphony Orchestra plays with a combination of lyricism, playfulness and precision for Leon Botstein (it is difficult to believe, from that aspect, that this is taken from a live performance). This recording should be investigated post-haste by any self-respecting Straussian, and makes for the ideal modern partner to Clemens Kraus’ live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on Orfeo C292923D. Kraus also goes to the heart of this piece (and with a greater orchestra), and boasts Paul Schöffler as Jupiter and Anneliese Kupper in the title role.

Colin Clarke

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