“Die Liebe der Danae” was Richard Strauss’ penultimate opera.
Although it wasn’t actually performed until after the premiere of
his last opera, “Capriccio,” he composed it between 1937 and
1940. The premiere performance of “Die Liebe der Danae” was
actually a 1944 dress rehearsal, given with special dispensations
due to the Allied invasion of Europe. The first official stage
premiere didn’t occur until 1952, three years after Strauss’ death,
and there is a broadcast recording from that year under
Maestro Clemens Kraus.
Although the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929)
didn’t collaborate with Strauss on this opera, the scenario
for this opera was his. He sent it to Strauss as early as 1920,
but it was shelved, as the composer was working on
“Intermezzo” at that time. Strauss (1864-1949) remembered
it in 1936, after Hofmannsthal’s death, and with his
then-current collaborator, Joseph Gregor (1888-1960), he
developed a workable libretto from the mythological text. In fact,
it’s difficult not to feel the spirit of Hofmannsthal in this opera,
which has themes of love and fidelity in their many guises.
Similar to their 1928 collaboration “Die Ägyptische Helena,”
“Die Liebe der Danae” was billed as a “cheerful mythology in
three acts,” with the strong theme of “true love versus love
bought by riches,” whereas in “Die Ägyptische Helena,” the
story hinged on the theme of “forgiveness.” Strauss’ penchant
for love in a domestic context even extended to his instrumental
works, such as his 1903 “Sinfonia Domestica.”
From a dramatic standpoint, “Die Liebe der Danae” is difficult
to stage, but the “concert” treatment it received here worked
quite well, and apparently this was the first complete recording
of the work. It’s well worth hearing, not only as an opportunity
to listen to the work of a true master, but also as an opera with
a central baritone role. In fact, the role of “Jupiter” in this opera
may arguably be the most in-depth character that Strauss
composed for a baritone. Like “Wotan” in Richard Wagner’s
“Der Ring Des Nibelungen,” Jupiter likes to wander around,
and also has “fidelity issues.” It’s a vocally punishing role,
calling for a “heroic baritone” with great agility. Even at the
premiere, some of it had to be transposed down, but I’d say
that Peter Coleman-Wright’s performance on these discs rose
to the occasion.
In the respective lead roles of “Danae” and “Midas,” soprano
Lauren Flanagan and tenor Hugh Smith also sounded great.
Flanagan easily handled the sumptuous high tessitura
typically found in Richard Strauss’ operas. Smith had a strong,
ringing tenor voice. William Lewis as “King Pollux,” and
Lisa Saffer as “Xanthe,” Danae’s servant, were both
equally impressive. The stellar performances weren’t
limited to the leading roles, and the ensemble of the
“Four Queens,” featuring Tamara Mesic, Jane Jennings,
Mary Phillips, and Elizabeth Canis was also memorable.
Act One featured more choral writing than in most of Strauss’
other operas, and the Concert Chorale of New York sang well.
The American Symphony Orchestra gave another fine
performance under the baton of Leon Botstein, reminiscent
of their later recording of “Die Ägyptische Helena,” also for Telarc.
I would say that this isn’t one of Richard Strauss’ most
memorable operas; nevertheless, it does contain a lot of
beautiful vocal and orchestral writing. While not as inspired
as some of his other works, this complete recording of
“Die Liebe der Danae” is well worth your time.