Starving for Gold
GIUSEPPE PENNISI gets a rare chance
to hear Richard Strauss' 'Der Liebe der Danae'
There was almost a world premiere in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus on 31
July 2016. Die Liebe der Danae
('Danae's Love') by Richard Strauss was on stage. I was among the
2,800 people in the audience. Die Liebe Der Danae
is very rarely performed. Due to conditions during World War II, The Salzburg Festival, which had commissioned the opera for Summer 1944, couldn't give the premiere,
but a dress rehearsal was performed for a limited
number of guests. Thereafter, the opera was staged in Salzburg only
twice, in 1952 and in 1980, and very seldom anywhere else in the world. Strauss, usually known to be a very
fast composer, had worked on the opera for
some fifteen years, with three different librettists: Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who
had provided the original story, Stefan Zweig (who, as a Jew, had been forced to emigrate)
and finally Joseph Gregor.
No doubt, Die
Liebe der Danae raises very difficult issues for any theatre willing to stage it: a huge,
almost Mahlerian orchestra, two Wagnerian 'heroic' tenors, a high texture lyric tenor, a soprano with the same qualities and skills as the protagonist of Der Rosenkavalier, a deep mezzo, a dozen other soloists, a chorus, corps de ballet, mimes and, in addition,
frequent set changes during the opera's three
The plot is unusual for Strauss,
always very keen in investigating women's psyche and behavior. This
time, in my view, the key figure is Jupiter, the king of the gods, getting older
and losing the power of attracting women and
imposing his will. He wants to seduce King Pollux's daughter, Danae, who is starving for
gold. Jupiter persuades a poor donkey driver to impersonate
Midas, the mythological figure with the gift of transforming everything
he touches into gold. This would open the way to Jupiter conquering the girl's heart. Well, Danae falls in true
love with Midas and follows him to his hut, when he is transformed back
to his original condition. Gods cannot give what they do not have: real human love.
The plot might seem
silly but it acquires meaning if set against the background of World War II in 1944, at
the demise of those who thought they were gods. Also, Strauss (then
seventy-five years old) was reflecting on his own ageing.
Without any attempt
to make the libretto credible, Alvis Hermanis (stage direction and sets) placed the action in an improbable Rajputstan
as can be imagined by an Indian movie director, well familiar with art nouveau and
the Austrian 'secession movement' in the
twenties. It is a very colorful and plausible way to handle the plot, but
some in the audience did not fully appreciate it.
The score is lush, as always in
Strauss' operas, and the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Franz Welser-Möst delivered the balance between comic elements, irony and nostalgia. All the voices were first class. Among them,
four were extraordinary: Tomasz Konieczny, Krassimira Stoyanova, Gerhard
Siegel and Regine Hangler.
For photos and
captions, as usual