Die Liebe der Danae, in concert, Frankfurt Opera, June 2014Posted on 20 June 2014
Richard Strauss’s last major (three-act) opera, completed in 1940 was not given a public performance until 1952, three years after his death, though a private dress rehearsal was arranged in 1944. It is little performed — but why? The music is wonderful, particularly the remarkable Act III with its sublime orchestral interlude, “Jupiter’s Resignation”. And the story is timeless. Should Danae marry the god who can give her a life of luxury, or his messenger, a mere mortal who adores her?
Walking around Frankfurt I pondered a similar question: should the British marry the Olympian oligarchy of Brussels and Frankfurt or its own demos? Phrased this way takes us to ancient Greece, the land of the demos and the origin for the myth of Danae, wooed by Zeus (Jupiter in this opera) disguised as a shower of golden rain. His messenger, Midas, whom he elevated from life as a Syrian donkey driver to the man with the Midas touch must allow Jupiter to take on his identity any time he likes, but in Act II the two compete furiously for Danae, after she has been turned into a golden statue by one kiss from Midas.
Act I starts more prosaically with creditors demanding payment from Danae’s father King Pollux, who has despatched his nephews — husbands of Jupiter’s other lovers (Semele, Europa, Alkmene, Leda) — to find a husband for Danae, wealthy enough to pay her father’s extensive debts. In the meantime, Danae falls for the shower of gold (Jupiter) in her dream and is now ready for love. Midas arrives pretending to be his own messenger, and Jupiter arrives later in Act I pretending to be Midas. Oh it’s wonderful fun, and I would dearly see a staged production. At the end of Act III (in a Syrian donkey driver’s hut) there is just Danae and Jupiter himself who, in shades of Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde, blesses her.
Jupiter was strongly sung by Swiss born baritone Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester, and Danae by that superb Strauss interpreter and wonderful Marschallin, Anne Schwanewilms. Her ringing tones of wondrous love in Act I turned to pure gold in Act III as she offers Jupiter her sole remaining treasure — the golden broach — to remember her by (Nimm denn Gold von mir, von Danae). Marco-Buhrmester’s sincerity and lyrical remembrances of Maia led into marvellously controlled orchestral climaxes under the baton of Sebastian Weigle, and his sonority contrasted with the asonority of Lance Ryan as Midas, whose hugely strong voice evinced little romantic emotion, particularly in Act I.
Part of the problem is that apart from Anne Schwanewilms, every cast member was singing his or her role for the first time, and the facial expressions of Jupiter and Midas were not always appropriate. In the powerful Act II conflict between Jupiter and Midas, where the god metaphorically wags his finger at the King saying, watch out Midas or you’ll be back to the role of a donkey driver, Marco-Buhrmester looked straight ahead and Ryan showed boredom. Pity.
Yet Britta Stallmeister, Barbara Zechmeister, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, and young contralto Katharina Magiera sang with vivacity and lyricism as the four queens, Semele, Europa, Alkmene and Leda. Ms Stallmeister and Ms Magiera were particularly notable, as was Karen Vuong as Danae’s servant Xanthe.
Altogether, well worth a trip to Frankfurt!