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Richard Strauss: US revival for Die Liebe der Danae

(December 2011)

Strauss's opera Die Liebe der Danae received a welcome US revival at Bard SummerScape in July, prompting a reappraisal of the 'cheerful mythology'.

Richard Strauss’s penultimate opera, Die Liebe der Danae, is rarely staged, particularly in the USA which has not experienced the work professionally since the Sante Fe production in 1982, so the new staging at the Bard SummerScape counted as a major revival. The staging was directed by Kevin Newbury with designs by celebrated architect Rafael Vinoly and Leon Botstein conducting the American Symphony Orchestra.

The Bard production prompted a wholesale reassessment of the opera, with the New York Times refuting the received view that Danae is uneven, unstageable and uncastable and Opera Today praising the resurrecting of “an incredibly powerful 20th century work”. The staging also offered a modern take on the work’s conflict between love and wealth, with Pollux’s bankrupted court seeking the Midas touch amidst Wall Street skyscrapers.

Die Liebe der Danae came to light in the darkest days of the Second World War, when the apparatus for a new work to enter the international repertoire was effectively dismantled. Strauss only heard the opera in a private performance in 1944, and the official premiere did not take place until 1952, three years after his death. Yet the composer knew the dramatic and musical strength of his creation, noting in a letter to his biographer how Act III contained “some of the best stuff I have ever written” and how his “orchestral colours once again glowed in ancient splendour”. This ‘cheerful mythology’ clearly heralds the composer’s valedictory Indian Summer including Capriccio, Metamorphosen and the Four Last Songs.

“Richard Strauss’s forgotten gem…”
Opera Today

“With gorgeous music and a plot seemingly tailor-made for our troubled times, it is one of those operas that make you resent the stubborn smallness of the standard repertory... But an opera needs to be able to catch fire onstage, and in the SummerScape production, Danae certainly does... Exhilarating and moving, Danae has found its moment.”
New York Times

“It turns out the champions were right. The performance made a persuasive case for the opera as a piece well worth staging... From its agitated opening chords to its elegiac conclusion, the score contains long passages of gorgeous music... And the whimsical mythological plot has some surprisingly effective dramatic moments... Strauss saved the best for last. The final 30 minutes … show the composer at his most inspired.”
Associated Press

“The final half hour of the opera shows Strauss working at the top of his game as Danae embraces her true destiny and Jupiter sadly bids the mortal world farewell, all set to music of searing lyrical beauty and gorgeous orchestral colors ... Die Liebe der Danae is much too good an opera to continue a life of semi-obscurity, and we need to see it more often. With luck, Bard’s thoughtful production will inspire others to follow suit.”
Musical America

Another opera whose star is in the ascendant in the lead up to the composer’s 150th anniversary in 2014 is Die Frau ohne Schatten. Thought once to be Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s greatest extravagance, productions are proliferating with Kasper Holten choosing the Danish premiere as his last staging in Copenhagen, Christoph Loy returning the work to the Salzburg Festival after a 20 year absence, and Jonathan Kent’s production for the Mariinsky Theatre touring to the Edinburgh Festival. As The Independent noted, “the 21st century has been kind”, as “the demands for storms, water and fire which previously made the opera almost unproduceable, can be achieved using video and other technologically-driven devices” to realise “Strauss’s greatest opera”.

Photo: Die Liebe der Danae image from Bard SummerScape (Todd Norwood)

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