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Reviewed by:
  • Die Liebe der Danae by Richard Strauss
  • Roderick L. Sharpe
Richard Strauss. Die Liebe der Danae. DVD. Andrew Litton / Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Directed. Directed by Kirsten Harms. With Manuela Uhl, Matthias Klink, Mark Delavan. Halle/Saale: Arthaus Musik, 2011. 101 580. $39.99.

Strauss’s penultimate, least known, and seldom performed opera is essentially a morality play in which true love triumphs over lust for material wealth, with associated ideas representing the rejection of divine intervention by mortals. Despite its claim to present a ‘joyful mythology’ this is the most Wagnerian of the later operas. For the composer it had a deeper personal meaning or he would not have persisted with it despite constant dissatisfaction with the work of his librettist Gregor (twice removed from the original scenario proposed by von Hofmannstahl twenty years earlier).

Strauss clearly identified closely with Jupiter (Wotan?) in the disillusionment of old age, giving his soliloquies some of the best music. The work may be over long (and it seemed so watching this production), but both musically and dramatically there is sufficient first-rate Strauss to warrant an airing. Stage director Kirsten Harms introduces some arresting symbolism to elucidate this strangely complex work to emphasize and highlight her own conception, necessarily ignoring specific allusions and directions by composer and librettist. A major problem, though, so much of one’s attention is spent wondering what a particular gesture means that it draws attention away from the music. And you might feel this is justified in this instance as so much of the music, especially in the first two acts, is of that facile note-spinning at which Strauss is so adept.

Apparently, this, only the sixteenth staging of this opera, is the first production to be filmed, and one wonders how the previous fifteen productions were staged, the earlier ones almost certainly being presented more traditionally. I have to confess I found most of what was done here rather [End Page 161] annoying. A grand piano, taking the place, presumably, of the golden throne of the libretto is hoisted upside down in the first scene and hangs above the action for the rest of the work – I’m still trying to work that one out! In scene two, Danae’s recollection of a dream of being showered with gold, initiating Jupiter’s attempt to woo her, is portrayed as sheets of music drifting down which she gathers up and clutches possessively. And so on. The sound of the voices is a little recessed, which makes one more aware of the often dense orchestration and Littons’s direction, which is well-shaped. This may be the fault of microphone placement rather than heavy-handedness on the conductor’s part.

Of the singers, all act well. Klink projects both the power and disillusionment of Jupiter. As Midas, alias Chrysopher, Mark Delavan combines pleasing tone with a convincing portrayal as the reluctant servitor of Jupiter and a passionate lover of Danae. I was less happy with Manuela Uhl, no Leontyne Price, whose fine acting is marred by vocal production that is often unfocused and wobbly. The four queens (this work’s Rhinemaidens) were very convincing vocally, though their “business” (including a pillow fight), was extremely bizarre. For the most part, the camera work is sensitive and unobtrusive with a good sense of continuity. There are a few flubs as might be expected in a telecast - misguided close ups as, for example, when we see the heaving chest and blinking eyelids of Danae ostensibly turned into lifeless gold. For people accepting of this Regietheater approach this DVD may prove a stimulating and rewarding experience; traditionalists may agree with me that this was a missed opportunity to present this obscure piece in a more favorable light.

Roderick L. Sharpe
Western Illinois University


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