Daphne

SEMYON BYCHKOV, 2005
Renée Fleming (Daphne), Anna Larsson (Gaea), Michael Schade (Leukippos), Johann Botha (Apollo), Kwangchul Youn (Peneios), WDR Sinfonieorchester und Chor Köln, Semyon Bychkov

Although René Fleming is not always the most stylish among Straussian singers, she will surprise even her most fervent detractors in her best recording in this repertoire. Here she sings cleanly, elegantly and expressively in her rich, creamy and ductile soprano. Some exposed high notes tax her, but rest assured that no ugly sound is produced here. Only in the closing off-stage melisme does she indulge in her usual sliding, bringing unwelcome “personality” for a voice that represents her character’s final depersonalization. Her melancholic approach fits the conductor’s languid and richly expressive style, with chamber-like textures from his orchestra. Although the first impression is of poetic beauty, after a while one wishes for a bit more forward-movement and richness of sound. Johann Botha is a powerful, bright-toned Apollo, generally comfortable with the difficult writing, and Michael Schade is in excellent voice as Leukippos, singing with great spontaneity. Both Kwangchul Youn and Anna Larsson offer exemplary performances as Peneios and Gaea, and all the minor roles are cast from strength.

STEFAN ANTON RECK, 2005
June Anderson (Daphne), Birgit Remmert (Gaea),  Roberto Saccà (Leukippos), Scott MacAllister (Apollo), Daniel Lewis Williams (Peneios), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Stefan Anton Reck

Daphne’s only official video available for purchase comes from Venice. Paul Curran’s production is supposed to tell the story as written, but takes some strange liberties with the plot: here it is Daphne who kisses Apollo (and fondles his chest for a while…) and the latter’s indignation over Daphne’s role in the rituals has nothing to do with Leukippos, making the transition for the last part of the opera a bit awkward. Although Kevin Knight’s costumes have more than a splash of kitsch, the stylized sets are interesting and the absence of transformation in the last scene is finally preferable to the usual lackadaisical solutions. Stefan Anton Reck is a seasoned Straussian who produces a Tristanesque “love scene” for Daphne and Apollo, but his orchestra is not fully at ease with this music. As a result, although the atmosphere is aptly developed, the orchestral playing lack a sharper focus and a more exquisite sound. As June Anderson’s tone lacks some roundness and warmth, her Daphne lacks some affection, but her crystalline sound and especially the ease with the murderously high tessitura are praiseworthy. Birgit Remmert has never sung better as here, offering truly rich low notes as Gaea. Roberto Saccà is a heroic Leukippos, one of his best roles, and Scott MacAllister is impressively confident and firm-toned in the impossible role of Apollo. Daniel Lewis Williams is, on the other hand, a bit rusty as Peneios. The edition here adopted follows the customary cuts in Daphne’s and Apollo’s two final monologues.

BERNARD HAITINK, 1982
Lucia Popp (Daphne), Ortrun Wenkel (Gaea), Peter Schreier (Leukippos), Reiner Goldberg (Apollo), Kurt Moll (Peneios), Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Bernard Haitink

In EMI ideally spacious recorded sound, Bernard Haitink offers a clean, expressive performance that turns around the beauty of this score, with exquisite playing from the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Even Karl Böhm’s kaleidoscopic and theatrical performances hardly resist the competition of the persuasive combination of well-judged engineering, a stylish orchestra and sophisticated conducting. Reiner Goldberg is only efficient as Appolo, but Peter Schreier is unfortunately in particularly poor voice as Leukippos. On the other hand,  Kurt Moll and Ortrun Wenkel are extremely well cast as Gaea and Peneios. Lucia Popp, at her most golden-tonedm, is the most touching Daphne in the discography.

JOSEF KEILBERTH, 1964
Stefania Woytowicz (Daphne), Hertha Töpper (Gaea), Fritz Wunderlich (Leukippos), James King (Apollo), Gottlob Frick (Peneios), Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Josef Keilberth

KARL BÖHM, 1964
Hilde Güden (Daphne), Vera Little (Gaea), Fritz Wunderlich (Leukippos), James King (Apollo), Paul Schöffler (Peneios), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Symphoniker, Karl Böhm

Karl Böhm’s second entry in the discography was recorded live at the Theater an der Wien. The conducting is consistent with his first recording, if a bit less energetic, but the recorded sound is rather boxy and does not allow the orchestra really rich sounds. Hilde Güden is an engaged and capable Daphne, but  she has her sour and unstable moments and is rarely truly lovely in sound. James King and Fritz Wunderlich are dream casting in their roles and Vera Little and Paul Schöffler are also characterful. In order to spare singers in the most exposed passages, small cuts were made by Maestro Böhm himself..

KARL BÖHM, 1944
Maria Reining (Daphne), Melanie Frutschnigg (Gaea), Anton Dermota (Leukippos), Karl Friedrich (Apollo), Herbert Alsen (Peneios), Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Karl Böhm

Böhm’s performance from the 40’s is astonishing in its clarity and intelligence and is the best in this discography. However, the recorded sound, at least in Preiser, has its problems. Although it is astonishingly clear and immediate, it has wavery pitch sometimes and distorts soprano voices, which makes repeated listenings more difficult. But it is certainly worth while the experience. Maria Reining is a model of Straussian singing and is in creamy voice throughout. Towards the end of the opera, she – understandably – shows signs of fatigue and misses a couple of notes. The tenors here are simply superb. Karl Friedrich is one of the best heroic tenors I have ever heard in the German repertoire and sings with untiring grace. Anton Dermonta is elegance in the the form of a tenor and sings with ardour and intelligence. The rest of the cast is also outstanding. Here too Karl Böhm uses his stage edition. The Preiser issue has the advantage of offering excerpts of the opera with the original cast – Margarethe Teschemacher and Torsten Ralf – in excellent recorded sound. These items are precious and contain music making of the highest order.