A Daphne to die for

A Daphne to die for


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2015

The one-act opera that Richard Strauss wrote after losing his Nazi state position and his exiled librettist in 1935 is more than  a bit of a problem child. Based on classical myth and legend, it has two guys fancying a goddess who would rather be a tree. Or some such. Not much to engage heart and mind.

To make it work you need an orchestra of angels and a cast of singers with very different ranges who can soar above any line Strauss can throw at them.

It happened last night at Severance Hall. The Cleveland Orchestra, having tuned up on stage for a full hour before curtain, were into the piece like rabbits to fresh lettuce. The singers were all proteges of Franz Welser-Most from his former warren in Vienna. Regine Hangler, whom Franz picked out of a monatery oratorio line, has the power and purity of sopranos of a past generation; she made Daphne seem almost human. Norbert Ernst and Andreas Schager were the guys with the hots for her. There was not a weak link in the cast. The chorus did what they had to do. The semi-staging was no less dramatic than a full staging and Franz Welser-Most conducted as if he’d been waiting for this to happen all his life. Severance Hall delivered unmatchable transaprency.

Best of all, the Cleveland audience sat there enwarpped. Not a fidget or a cough. They soaked up the music, the story, the occasion with an intensity you rarely find in bigger cities. Daphne, for once, worked.

You can’t ask for better than that.


severance hall


  • Simon S. says:

    Hmm. I’ve seen two scenic productions of Daphne so far (and I very much hope this number will not grow), I have no reason to blame orch or singers for anything, but it’s the most boring opera I’ve ever listened to.

    Strauss really should have stopped composing opera’s after Hofmannsthal was dead.

    • BillBC says:

      Golly. Capriccio is one of my top favourites….glad he didn’t stop before that.

    • JJC says:

      I can’t agree with that at all; Capriccio, Die Schweigsame Frau, Die Liebe der Danae are exquisitely satisfying operas (along with Daphne) and are undeserving of their neglect.

  • RW2013 says:

    It worked in Berlin a few weeks ago too, also with the wonderful Regine Hangler.
    And I’m sorry for those who can’t appreciate this masterpiece for what it is.

  • NYMike says:

    Coming to Avery Fisher NY this summer.

  • J. says:

    Welser-Möst is a very underrated conductor, unfortunately. And he must have the wrong agent: it’s ridiculous that the Berlin Philharmonic invites guys like Giovanni Antonini and Krzysztof Urbański but not Welser-Möst, Osmo Vänskä and Adam Fischer.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Both Welser-Möst and Vänskä have conducted the Berlin Phil some 9 or 10 years ago (with favourable reviews). Why they haven’t been invited back, I don’t know.

      • James Alexander says:

        I agree. Seems some folks cannot get their heads around the notion that a very good number of conductors say no thanks to the Berlin Phil, or decline re-invites.
        Why such institutions like this and The Met Opera are seen as the only pinnacles of excellence is just lazy thinking. Both of these places can deliver unhappy experiences for some artists and that’s not to disparage either party. It has to be a good fit from both sides and some artists (after weighing up institutuonal attitudes to rehearsals, music making and repertoire versus their own aims and craft) just don’t want to go!

      • Mark says:

        I find FWM to be inconsistent. No matter how spectacular his conducting in Daphne, other works do not come off convincingly to me. Check out the review online of his recent Beehtoven 6th in Cleveland, which I heard earlier in the season. I suspect there’s a reason why a conductor with so much experience is not even mentioned on the short list for Berlin or even the long one. However, perhaps he’ll succeed Levine at the Met.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Andreas Schager gave his debut as Apollo in Toulouse last year. It was excellent. Norbert Ernst is one of the finest Germanic tenors around so I’m not surprised the evening was carried so well.

  • T-ARAFANBOY says:

    I can imagine how great last night must have been – your description pretty much sums up what I felt/experienced at a performance of Der Rosenkavalier at Zurich Opera, under Welser-Most some years ago, Welser-Most being a truly wonderful Strauss conductor.

    btw. I recently discovered another Strauss opera that seems to have had an even worse fate than Daphne, being rarely performed, but maybe containing some of his greatest music, and that is “Die Liebe der Danae” (in three parts) of which the first part:


  • Novagerio says:

    Richard Strauss proves that he is the master of the sublime, especially in writting Final scenes. And never more so than in Daphe and Capriccio wich are among his last stage works. Whoever is not convinced about the beauties of his “bucolic one-act tragedy” Daphne, can check it here with the wonderful Hilde Gueden and the works dedicatee Karl Böhm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GlSjsTbvBE

  • Murray Citron says:

    Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) has a somewhat more accurate and engaging description of the myth (in Metamorphoses Book I).