“Daphne” is a one-act opera written by Richard Strauss during 1936 and
1937, and first performed in 1938. It is a mythological tale, replete with
gods and shepherds, basically telling the story of a young woman who
is happiest when existing with nature and communing with its inhabitants.
Her preferences are much to the dismay of potential suitors, who include
her childhood friend, Leukippos, and the god, Apollo. In a jealous rage,
Apollo kills Leukippos, but is still unable to obtain Daphne’s affections.
Recognizing his misuse of force, a contrite Apollo then asks Zeus to
allow Daphne to have her desired union with nature, and she is transformed
into a tree.
Although not as dramatically compelling as other Strauss works, “Daphne”
has a ravishing score, with Strauss at the height of his powers. It was
well known that he loved the soprano voice, and he assigned truly
beautiful music to the title character. This 2005 recording of a concert
performance is conducted by Semyon Bychkov, and stars Renee Fleming,
who is wonderful and especially impressive in the higher-lying passages.
Johan Botha’s heroic tenor in the role of Apollo was also well sung. The
remainder of this strong cast featured Michael Schade as Leukippos, and
the men of the Herren des WDR Rundfunkchors Köln provided beautiful
“Daphne” requires a large orchestra, and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
did not disappoint. The recording engineers at Decca successfully captured
this gorgeous piece of music.