STRAUSS Die Liebe der Danae
Straussians might have high hopes for this DVD. It captures the homecoming last year of Strauss’s penultimate opera to the site of both its aborted and actual premieres (the first, in 1944, only got as far as a dress rehearsal; the second took place in 1952). The Salzburg Festival’s only other staging, in 2002, has never, so far as I can tell, been released in any format. But one can’t help wishing that its Danae, Deborah Voigt, might have featured on Leon Botstein’s important studio recording of 2000 (American Symphony Orchestra) – she was, after all, his Helena a few years later.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the present performance. The chief glory is probably the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic – warm, burnished and with all the sparkle Strauss’s score (presented with a handful of judicious cuts) calls for. Franz Welser-Möst’s conducting, though hardly revelatory, has an admirable seriousness and keeps the action moving along efficiently and effectively. Krassimira Stoyanova rises to the challenge of Danae tirelessly, singing with luxurious, focused tone throughout.
The bad news primarily involves Alvis Hermanis’s production, which is a ludicrous riot of exaggerated exoticisms and – in the case of a troupe of gold-clad dancers – eroticisms. Jupiter first appears wheeled in on a vast white elephant and when he finally says farewell to Danae, she is made to listen impassively while weaving a carpet; along with oversize turbans, carpets offer a visual motif throughout, dangled or projected variously on to the tiled block that forms Hermanis’s own set design.
The director lets down his cast, too, by offering only the most basic Personenregie. Stoyanova is reduced to extensive waving of hands and generalised gestures – her performance, though very well sung, is hardly involving as a result – and there’s very little done to bring the work’s dramatic dry patches to life. In other roles Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke stands out, in particular, as Pollux, while Gerhard Siegel faces up to the unreasonable demands of Midas heroically. Thomas Konieczny sings robustly as Jupiter, but you very much get the sense of this being a mortal sent to do a god’s job.
And the work itself? There are surely too many weaknesses (mainly stemming from Hans Gregor’s fussy, wordy libretto) for it to ever establish itself in the repertoire; but is there a moment more tender and beautiful, in all Strauss, than Danae’s reawakening in Act 2? Can we really manage without Jupiter’s music in Act 3?
This production communicates those moments well enough but can’t help feeling like a missed opportunity; its DVD rival from the Deutsche Oper conducted by Andrew Litton remains more compelling viewing overall, despite Manuela Uhl’s somewhat wayward Danae. For all the virtues of Botstein’s set – its very existence chief among them – we still await a fully satisfying modern audio-only account.