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.