Photo: SF Monika Forster
In 1944, after the general rehearsal, Richard Strauss addressed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra by saying “Gentlemen, I hope, we will see each other in the better world!”. Full of resignation and Escapism, this great composer would never get a chance to see his opera on stage: on July 29, 1944, after the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler, RM. Dr. Goebbels announced the total warfare and complete ban on public life. Only in 1954 did “Danae” finally receive its world premiere in Salzburg, followed by the second festival´s production in 2002.
This final oeuvre by Strauss presents an attempt of the aging composer to escape the reality into the world of Mystics by basing his new opera on two ancient myths: Jupiter’s golden rain seduction of Danae and the story of King Midas with his magic golden touch. Pursuing composer’s intention to write a joyful, Milesian tale style opera, the stage director, and designer, Alvis Hermanis, refused to “abuse the piece as a political message” and concentrated his attention on the antique love triangle between Danae, Jupiter, and Midas.
Purely visualizing the music, he created a broad, uniform stage with a big staircase in the middle, a frame-like opening in the wall on the back and furnished it with lots of gold and red colors. Oriental rugs, a mixture of Jugend Still and eastern influenced ornamented video projections (Ineta Sipunova), colorful, opulent costumes (Juozas Statkevičius) and joyful Bollywood like action seemed to underline composer´s initial intentions.
Herman's musical partner on that evening was the State Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Somehow appearing to be distant from what was happening on the stage, especially evident before the break, he pulled out an opulent, dynamically cumbersome and dominant, symphonic sound. This might have been to some extent suitable for Strauss’s music, but often proved to be unjust towards singers since they were often covered by the orchestra. The situation has improved dramatically after the break and we experienced almost impressionistic, thoughtful sound, reminiscing Strauss’s early compositions and Wagner’s Leitmotivs.
The singers’ ensemble, built together out of young but internationally well-established musicians, deserves praise for making this complicated score sound light and easy.
Krassimira Stoyanova as Danae dominated the stage physically and vocally from beginning on. We experience an elegant, sensual woman with dance-like movements, full, elegiac and beautiful sound topped by mesmerizing Pianis. At the beginning she sacrificed her German diction for the sound and only after the break, and particularly in the final scene, achieved better text understanding, thus enhancing this ideal performance.
In the role of Jupiter Tomasz Konieczny gave a memorable performance by presenting a powerful bass-baritone and perfect diction. Entering the stage on a giant, papier-mâché white Elephant he gave a convincing portrayal of an aging Macho-God and mastered this extremely high part with easiness and flexibility. His final solo scene marked a musical culmination of the evening, both by the singer and the orchestra.
The third member of love triangle King Midas was sung by Gerhard Siegel. His firm, Helden Tenor, possessed a warm middle voice and strained high notes. At some rare moment, when he achieved to open up, we experienced incredibly beautiful timbre and big, easy sound.
The four Kings sung by Pavel Kolgatin, Andi Früh, Ryan Speedo Green, Jongmin Park as well as four goddesses of Maria Celeng, Olga Besmertna, Michel Selinger and Jenifer Johnston, as well as Norbert Ernst´s Mercury and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke´s Pollux, gave a joyful crowd of good singing and acting characters. Regine Hangler as Xanthe sung with edgy soprano and excellent diction. Thirteen female dancers served as mute moving antic Choir of the Greek tragedy by slipping into different roles and costumes hence commenting the story. The smart looking, white donkey Erna shortly stole the show and, suddenly, reminded us of an actual story of Midas as the poor Syrian donkey-driver.
Written during the darkest years of the European history, this opera presents the musical and ideological testimony of Strauss. His wish for the best world has come true, and we can only hope that no other new theater creation ever should experience being isolated or forbidden for political or any other reasons.