There is a 22 minute bonus on this disc, both parts of which really should be watched first. It will at least reduce the sense of confusion caused by the production and allow one to enjoy a rather lovely work. The engineering of audio and video is excellent. The menu system - unfortunately backed by music as usual - silence please Arthaus, this is not a pop video! - is sensible if a little long-winded. By the time one has gone to and from the main menu to set sound, then subtitles and finally chosen the act one wishes to watch, it feels a bit like an obstacle course.
The story is, loosely speaking, as follows. King Pollux is bankrupt and being stripped of his possessions by his creditors. He really needs his daughter Danae to be married off to a rich man. A poor man, Midas, who has been granted the power to turn everything he touches to gold - for reasons too obscure to relate here -) and thus is temporarily feted by all, acts as proxy to his master Jupiter with an offer to marry her. Jupiter is simply out to add the beautiful Danae to his list of conquests. Midas is attracted to Danae and embraces her, thus turning her to gold. Jupiter insists he wants her and when he wakes her from the spell she has to choose either the god or the temporarily rich Midas. She chooses Midas. Jupiter angrily removes all Midas's powers, reduces him to poverty and wrecks Pollux's palace but is eventually forced to realise that godly powers are nothing compared to the human love of Danae and Midas. The whole is an allegory of the gradual detachment of man from his gods, as well as the cultural bankruptcy and detachment of Germany from its glorious cultural past - as experienced by Strauss during the Third Reich. This can explain the production which shows Pollux seeing all his precious possessions carried off with the sole exception of his piano. This is suspended upside-down above the stage during act one as a reminder, I assume, of what can happen to the financially incautious - very apposite for this era. It stays there until the end of the opera. This also doubles as the figurative source from which Strauss poured out his beautiful music all over this bizarre concoction. A copy of the paper score is used as a prop throughout, getting spread over the stage and variously bundled and mistreated. Yes, this is a director's konzept
, explained slightly in the aforementioned bonus items.
Fortunately there is Strauss' gorgeous, if somewhat directionless music which everyone sings and plays beautifully. Andrew Litton is a good Straussian and conducts a lovely account of the score, so the odd activities on the stage can, with difficulty, be overlooked. If there were lots of other performances to enjoy one might be able to ignore this one. But this is the least performed of Strauss' output, just 16 productions since 1944, and one has to take the opportunity to watch, and try to enjoy, a very well recorded effort.