The season, day by dayback to calendar
Pastoral tragedy in one act
Libretto by Joseph Gregor
World premiere: October 15 1938, Semperoper Dresden
1st performance of this production March 28 2010
Sung in German with German and English surtitles. ca. 1hr 45mins, with no interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
The sun is setting on the day men celebrate the Feast of the Vine. Daphne stands alone, away from the hustle and bustle. She finds the sounds of nature mystical, the murmur of the spring, the blossoming of the protecting trees sublime, „my brothers“. Her childhood friend, Leukippos, interrupts her contemplations. He intends to win Daphne for himself, and love her. She refuses him. Servants bring her a robe and jewellery – she rejects them; she finds the annual feast, dedicated to Dionysos, sinister and alien to her nature. At her mother Gaea’s behest, she enters the room. Apollo appears, in disguise, feeling powerfully drawn to her. She feels as if vague longings within her are being fulfilled and listens, deeply moved, to his words of love. But when he, calling her sister, takes her into his arms and kisses her, she is filled with fear. The feast commences; the disguised men led by Peneios; the women escorted by Gaea. Leukippos, who at the servants’ suggestion has disguised himself as a girl, uses the opportunity to get close to Daphne. Apollo steps forward in fury, saying that the feast has been desecrated and the god dishonoured by such an ignominious trick. Thunder is heard. All flee. Apollo takes his young rival, who has now shed his female attire, to task. Daphne realises that she has been cruly tricked, twice, and demands the truth. The Sun God reveals his true identity and asks Daphne to go with him. She refuses. When Leukippos calls him a liar the furious god raises his weapon and kills him. Daphne, distraught, throws herself over the body her old friend; Apollo begs the gods for forgiveness and asks that he might win Daphne back, not in human form, but transformed into an eternally green laurel tree. Daphne, trying to hurry away, suddenly stands motionless, as if spellbound. In the shimmering rays of the moon, her transformation begins.
Richard Strauss lets the poet Olivier in Capriccio muse on the ancient myth of Daphne as a suitable subject for an opera: »an enticing story, but very difficulut to stage: Daphne's transformation into an eternal tree of Apollo...«. Flamand, the composer, replies: »the magic of music could do it!«. And that is exactly what Strauss achieved in his third from last opera, first performed in 1938. Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneios and earth goddess Gaea, is clumsily wooed by the shepherd Leukippos. She evades her childhood friend just as bruskly as she is fascinated by the god Apollo's attempts to know her better, disguised as a mysterious stranger. Daphne escapes from Apollo's pursuit by transforming herself into a laurel tree. Strauss found truly »magical sounds« to portray this. He interpretated the story in Ovid's Metamorphoses in a subtle way with a penetrating psychological look. Claus Guth, who won the 20210 FAUST Theater prize (production of the year) for this production, worked closely with the music to find the reason why Daphne is so desperate to avoid the attentions of men, revealing the shattering story behind the story: the gripping study of a traumatised woman.