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Richard Strauss 1864–1949

Bucolic tragedy in one act
Libretto by Joseph Gregor
First performed October 15 1938, Semper Oper, Dresden

This production first seen: March 28 2010

Sung in German with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before curtain up

The sun's setting on the day men celebrate the Feast of the Vine. Daphne's alone. She finds the sounds of nature mystical, the murmur of the spring, the blossoming, sheltering trees sublime, my brothers. Her childhood friend, Leukippos, interrupts her contemplations. He wants to win her heart and love her. She refuses him. Maids bring her a robe and jewellery – she rejects them; she finds the 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's filled with fear. The feast commences; disguised men led by Peneios; the women, by Gaea. Leukippos, who followed the maids advice and disguised himself as a girl, uses the opportunity to close in on 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 the young rival, who has now shed his female attire, to task. Daphne, realising she's been cruly tricked, twice, 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 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.

Apollo, feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself, begs Zeus to turn Daphne into one of her favourite things, a laurel tree, to serve him on Olympus forever, in recognition of her innocence and goodness after things go horribly wrong when she spurns his amorous advances and she loses the will to live after he kills her childhood friend Leukippos. Could anyone compose an opera about this Greek myth? Maybe that was the challenge which inspired Richard Strauss for his third last opera.

In his 2010 FAUST Theatre Prize winning production Claus Guth gives us the story behind the story, transforming the magical sound world of this late work into tangible, poetic scenes. We witness the fate of a deeply traumatised woman who, many years later, returns to the family home where she relives the horrors that took place when she was young.