Harms Does No Especial Harm to Die Liebe der Danae Which Glowed

12/04/2016

Photo credit: Barbara Aumüller

Photo credit: Barbara Aumüller

Strauss Wochen (4) – Die Liebe der Danae: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin / Sebastian Weigle (conductor). Deutsche Oper, Berlin. 9.4.2016. (MB)

Strauss, Die Liebe der Danae

Cast:

Jupiter – Mark Delavan
Merkur – Thomas Blondelle
Pollux – Andrew Dickinson
Danae – Manuela Uhl
Xanthe – Adriana Ferfezka
Midas – Raymond Very
First King – Paul Kaufmann
Second King – Clemens Bieber
Third King – Thomas Lehman
Fourth King – Alexei Botnarciuc
Semele – Nicole Haslett
Europa – Martina Weischenbach
Alkmene – Rebecca Jo Loeb
Leda – Katharina Peetz

Production:

Kirsten Harms (director)
Bernd Damovsky (set designs)
Dorothea Katzer (costumes)
Manfred Voss (lighting)
Silke Sense (Spielleitung)
Andreas K.W. Meyer (dramaturgy)

Strauss’s penultimate opera has been unlucky, more a victim of circumstances than of its intrinsic qualities, although Joseph Gregor’s libretto admittedly falls somewhat short of Hofmannsthal. Its 1944 would-have-been premiere at the Salzburg Festival fell victim to ‘total war’ and closure of theatres, so the only time Strauss himself heard it was at the Generalprobe. Thereafter, despite a successful posthumous premiere in Salzburg, it has never secured itself in the repertory; so much the worse, as so often, for the repertory. A committed performance such as this will have done it no harm whatsoever, although, as with the only other performance I have attended (Salzburg again, 2002), I am not convinced that the production (then Günter Kramer, now Kirsten Harms) made the best of its opportunities. Perhaps Salzburg’s third attempt, this year, will do better.

In the meantime, there could be no doubting the work’s musical qualities. That extraordinary evocation of sadness – not tragedy, ‘just’ deep sadness – in the third-act Interlude is not the only candidate from this score for Strauss at his greatest. ‘Jupiter’s resignation’, as Strauss called it, is not the only time one cannot help but draw parallels with Wotan; indeed, such parallels suggest themselves in the libretto perhaps all too readily. At any rate, in the very capable hands of Sebastian Weigle – quite the best thing I have heard him do – Strauss’s musico-dramatic empathy spoke as eloquently as one could hope for. Throughout, Weigle’s pacing convinced, as did his balancing of the Deutsche Oper orchestra, which once again proved itself worthy of the most exalted comparisons in the music of a composer long so close to its heart.

At the risk of becoming unduly repetitive, I should like again to draw attention to the skill with which each conductor in this mini-festival (arguably not so mini- a festival!) and the orchestra have commanded and communicated Strauss’s phantasmagorical wizardry, not just with respect to orchestration, not just with respect to shifting of timbres, but perhaps most important of all, in the marriage of timbral to harmonic shifts. (I promise that I shall try to restrain, even to eliminate, my use of the word ‘phantasmagorical’ for a month or so, once these Strauss reviews are done and dusted.) This is undoubtedly an old man’s score; it sounded all the more loved for recognition of that, in a reading that was unhurried without ever losing its impetus. The aristocratic refinement of Capriccio is not Strauss’s way here. (It is certainly not Gregor’s!) However,t the Strauss of Die Frau ohne Schatten is here at times, albeit perhaps softened (I am not sure that is quite the right word), and what a joy it is to hear that Strauss one last time. Indeed, more than once I was put in mind of Strauss’s reworking of Idomeneo, the Wagnerian and Mozartian tendencies in his work performing their endlessly fascinating interaction, even battle.

Manuela Uhl proved a moving exponent of the title role, especially as the opera progressed. To make a distinction between the ‘vocal’ and ‘dramatic’ is always, or should always be, to err; here, there was no doubt of that, for the sympathy with the character as engaged by Uhl was part and parcel not only of beautiful tone but its alliance with her stage action. Raymond Very was equally impressive as Midas. Apparently he was ailing, but one would rarely have known it, so secure were his technique and his similar ability to engender sympathy. Mark Delavan’s Jupiter was occasionally a little bluff, but that is arguably in keeping with the character, or at least a perfectly respectable interpretation thereof. His sadness, as well as the orchestra’s, in the third act reminded us that the Wotan parallel would have been even stronger when the role was created by no less than Hans Hotter (at the rehearsal, that is, not the public premiere). Thomas Blondelle was quite the stage animal, and quite the vocally winged messenger, as Merkur. I had no complaint with any of the singers; the Deutsche Oper can cast from depth, and regularly does. Its chorus remains one of the finest jewels in its crown; this performance was no exception.

Harms’s production does no especial harm. It is ‘stylish’ enough, in a generalised fashion, but does not seem to me to offer any particular insights. Apart from a predictable updating – or should that be demythologising? – this is a somewhat conventional staging, but in a work unfamiliar to many, that might not always be a bad thing. I am not sure why Pollux’s auctioned-off piano is suspended in the sky during the third act. Is it to come crashing down, with catastrophic or even Zerbinetta-like, consequences (a troupe perhaps concealed within it)? No; it simply remains there, arresting in visual terms, yet seemingly contributing little beyond that, except perhaps a vague reminder of what has gone before. Transformation into gold relies upon suggestion, and is probably all the better for that. Personenregie  is generally impressive, although that will presumably long since have been delegated from the original director. In this case, however, Strauss’s score was definitely the thing. How it glowed!

Mark Berry

 

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