Unjustly neglected: Die Liebe der Danae at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

Strauss – Die Liebe der Danae

Jupiter – Mark Delavan
Merkur – Thomas Blondelle
Pollux – Andrew Dickinson
Danae – Manuela Uhl
Xanthe – Adriana Ferfezka
Midas – Raymond Very
Vier Könige – Paul Kaufmann, Clemens Bieber, Thomas Lehman, Alexei Botnarciuc
Semele – Nicole Haslett
Europa – Martina Welschenbach
Alkmene – Rebecca Jo Loeb
Leda – Katharina Peetz

Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin / Sebastian Weigle.
Stage director – Kirsten Harms.

Deutsche Oper, Berlin, Germany.  Saturday, April 9th, 2016.

Another rarity this evening and a revival of Kirsten Harms’ 2011 staging of Die Liebe der Danae.  Tonight confirmed that Danae really has been criminally neglected by theatres.  It is indeed a glorious work, full of the big sweeping orchestral melodies that Strauss is famous for; combined with vocal lines that are both soaring and challenging to sing.  Perhaps Danae’s fortunes are turning.  There is a new upcoming production at the Salzburg Festival this summer and one can only hope that together with this production in Berlin, more theatres will be encouraged to tackle the work.

Harms’ staging is a solid piece of storytelling and illuminates the plot effectively.  The first two acts are set in a museum where the artworks are being taken away to sell to raise money for Pollux.  A piano is turned on its back, hoisted into the air and remains there for the rest of the show even when in the third act, the scene changes to a combination of Midas’ hut and the ‘einsamer straße’ described in the libretto.  I don’t quite get why the piano was there and in Act 3, Danae produces a piano stool to sit on, which made me wonder whether it would descend back to earth and she would play on it.  It didn’t incidentally.  While the staging certainly laid the plot out logically for the audience, I’m not too sure that the characters were as sharply drawn as they could have been until the final act.  In Act 3, there was real tenderness in the relationship between Danae and Jupiter and the humanity inherent in the music was nicely brought out on stage.  What also impressed was the lighting (Manfred Voss) which was used most effectively to demonstrate how everything Midas touched turned to gold, including Danae.  Indeed, perhaps one of the biggest difficulties in staging this piece is being able to physically manifest such events as someone turning to gold and this is something that Harms and her team really succeeded in achieving.  The journey that Danae takes to discovering true love was very well brought out both in the Personenregie and in the vocal performances.

Manuela Uhl is proabably the most experienced exponent of the role of Danae around, having already recorded it in concert a few years ago.  Her Danae was very well received by the Berlin public who gave her a generous ovation.  Her pearly soprano does have its attractions but there were some deep-rooted technical issues that mitigated the positive impressions.  Support seemed to be lacking so that she was frequently under the note in those high floating lines and attack was often inaccurate in that she wouldn’t always directly land on the note she was aiming for.  The tone was thin and lacking in bloom and yet she certainly had the notes even if they weren’t quite hit head on.  She has the measure of the role without a doubt, her diction is clear and she is a highly engaging actress.

An announcement was made at the start of the evening for Raymond Very’s Midas but frankly it was not necessary.  Other than a little tightness at the very top of his range, he sounded more than fine.  His is a weighty lyric tenor that is exceptionally well placed with a bright, forward sound that carries well and an especially impressive navigation of the passaggio.  He has a good line and is also an engaging actor.  The technique is clearly extremely solid which allowed him to sing with complete confidence even while nursing the flu.  Extremely impressive.  The role of Jupiter is one that requires a heldenbariton with a top of steel and Mark Delavan gave it his all.  The middle of the voice has an appealing gruffness and is a good match for the character of the god.  The top however became constricted and pushed with quite a few aspirates entering the line.  That said, it’s a very big sing but he certainly brought the audience in through his ability to incarnate the role.

The remainder of the cast was, as always at this address, very satisfying.  I have seen Flemish tenor Thomas Blondelle in a number of roles at the house and tonight I had the extremely positive impression of seeing a singer having grown into his technique and produce something really quite special.  His is a very handsome sound with an easy line and an excellent ability to navigate the awkward tessitura.  Andrew Dickinson likewise brought an attractive light, lyric tenor to the role of Pollux and Adriana Ferfezka’s Xanthe, sung in a nicely dusky soprano with a radiant top, also showed much promise.  The remaining roles were well cast and blended well with one another.

The chorus started out a little unfocused but rallied to produce singing of impressive amplitude, blend and ensemble.  Indeed, if William Spaulding can obtain similar results when he moves to the London, England Royal Opera, then that will make a significant difference to the quality of that house.  The orchestral playing was absolutely magnificent, truly alive to the multitude of colours in the score.  Indeed, the string, harp and celesta-led sound world was absolutely ravishing with some impressive depth of string tone.  Strauss also creates some beguilingly mellifluous and languid woodwind writing and the playing of the principal clarinet in particular was something very special.  The brass was splendid, ringing out and really making those reaching climaxes soar.  The Act 3 interlude is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things Strauss ever wrote and tonight it was so beautifully played that one could not fail to be moved.  None of this would have had the impact it had had if it wasn’t for the outstanding conducting of Sebastian Weigle who was a highly persuasive advocate for the piece.  He really had a genuine sense of how to pace the work, never wallowing but always keeping it moving yet giving those purple passages, such as that aforementioned interlude, the space they needed to work their magic.

Tonight might have been variably sung but what it confirmed was what a magnificent work Danae is.  It’s a piece that challenges its performers and requires singers with solid techniques, an orchestra capable of a palette of unlimited tone colours and a conductor who knows how to pace the work bringing out its beauty yet never allowing it to wallow.  In so many of those respects tonight’s performance delivered just what was needed.  It was given in a staging that laid the story out in a clear and logical way and allowed the music the space it needed to bloom.  The score itself has so much glorious music – that Act 3 interlude, the Act 3 duet between Midas and Danae, Jupiter’s farewell to Danae, the sheer inventiveness of the orchestration.  The Deutsche Oper deserves the gratitude of Straussians everywhere for bringing this opera to life and at such a high level.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin © Leo Seidel
The Deutsche Oper Berlin
© Leo Seidel

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