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Richard Strauss - Daphne

Daphne – Renée Fleming
Peneios – Kwanchul Youn
Gaea – Anna Larsson
Leukippos – Michael Schade
Apollo – Johan Botha



WDR Chorus & Symphony Orchestra of Koln

Cond Semyon Bychkov


Decca – 475 6926

Recorded February/March 2005 – 100 minutes


A new recording of this rather neglected late Strauss opera is very welcome, especially with a cast that includes Renée Fleming and Johan Botha. It's lack of popularity may stem from a Greek mythology story line with possibly limited attraction for a twentieth century audience, or from its awkward length, rather short measure on its own, but Strauss himself abandoned the original plan to stage it as a double bill with “Friedenstag ”


Musically it is full of interest with an intensely pastoral character, and it is arguably one of Strauss's most consistently lyrical scores.


Daphne is the gentle young daughter of a fisherman, delighting in the natural life and woods around her, and showing interest in neither her boyfriend Leukippos nor the pretty outfit her mother has provided for a party to be held that evening. Apollo, the sun god, makes an appearance and is immediately attracted to Diana. At first she responds to his talk of a life in permanent sunlight, but retreats in dismay when he kisses her. The festivities continue, and when Daphne dances with Leukippos, Apollo loses his temper and kills him with a thunderbolt. At once Daphne realises how much she loves and will miss him – nature will be her only consolation. Apollo repents and transforms her into a tree * during a final breathtaking orchestral passage and Daphne's final wordless song.


In the demanding title roll Renée Fleming sings with complete assurance. Both her long and difficult opening twilight song “O bleib, geliebter Tag!” and almost impossibly high farewell to mortal life “Ich komme, ich komme, Grunender Bruder” are accomplished with apparent ease.

Johan Botha has the vocal pyrotechnics for Apollo and Michael Schade's lighter tenor is fine for Leukippos. As Daphne's parents Kwanchul Youn and Anna Larsson make a strong contribution, and the WDR orchestra responds well to Bychkov's conducting.


But somehow it's all very muted and restrained. Strauss's lush orchestral and vocal scoring cries out to be played from the heart, and to be given a more passionate reading than we get here. Perhaps they will let their hair down a bit more in this work during the concert tour that is underway in the US ** .


Still, it is a useful and long overdue addition to the catalogue and will no doubt please Renée Fleming's many admirers.


Serena Fenwick



*   Not, as one might expect, Daphne laureola - although this is indigent to Mediterranean countries no one could describe it as a tree, nor the ubiquitous Prunus laurocerasus, which is officially classed as a tree, but Laurus nobilis the benevolent and edible bay laurel a shrub which, with suitable TLC, will grow into an elegant small tree.


**   Details of the concert tour are given on Renee Fleming's website www.reneefleming.com


© Peter Grahame Woolf