Lincoln Center Festival
The Cleveland Orchestra
Music Director and Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Opera in Concert
Concert Chorale of New York
At Avery Fisher Hall
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 18, 2015
R. Strauss (1864-1949): Daphne, Opera in Concert, Bucolic Tragedy in One Act, Op. 82 (1935-37), Libretto by Joseph Gregor (1888-1960).
Daphne: Regine Hangler
Leukippos, a shepherd: Norbert Ernst
Apollo, the sun god: Andreas Schager
Peneios, Daphne’s father, a fisherman: Ain Anger
Gaea, wife to Peneios: Nancy Maultsby
Shepherds: Christopher Feigum, Matthew Plenk, Ryan Speedo Green, Nikola Budimir
Maids: Lauren Snouffer, Anya Matanovic
Concert Chorale of New York
Tonight was the third and final program offered by The Cleveland Orchestra in the Lincoln Center Festival run, and, again, Conductor and Music Director, Franz Welser-Möst chose a rare, esoteric piece, the one-act opera, Daphne. Fortunately, English supertitles were shown on an above stage screen in Fisher Hall. Richard Strauss was the composer, with Joseph Gregor the opera’s librettist. The Concert Chorale, in very fine form, has, as its Music Director, James Bassi, who deserves kudos for the Chorale’s rapturous vocal strength and tonal warmth. The casting for Daphne is listed above. Leading opera soloists were offstage, when not in the spotlight, while the secondary cast remained stage left, until the cues called for a showcased turn. The storyline, translated from German to English, can be flowery, and I noticed from my 1st Tier perch that most in the audience followed the stage music and supertitles closely. Click here to read the opera’s history and full plot.
The soloists sing with the Vienne State Opera and other international opera companies. Daphne (Regine Hangler) is the daughter of fisherman, Peneios (Ain Anger) and Gaea (Nancy Maultsby). Her friend, Leukippos (Norbert Ernst) is a shepherd, and the sun god, who falls in love with her, is Apollo (Andreas Schager). Shepherds and maids propel the story. This was an opera in concert, described as a “Bucolic Tragedy in One Act”, as both Leukippos and Apollo compete for Daphne, and, in the process, Leukippos is shot with an arrow and Daphne is transformed into a laurel tree. An annual feast for Dionysus turns tragic, in the face of mistaken identity, jealousy, and remorse. The most gorgeous musicality occurs during Daphne’s metamorphosis, with her ethereal voice transforming into whispering leaves. Unfortunately, Ms. Hangler, a soprano, as Daphne, although able to reach the vocal challenges, was shrill and lacked magnetism and charisma. She seemed suited for a more mature role, not the role of the youthful object of desire. As Apollo, Mr. Schager, a tenor, sang with tremendous strength. But, even onstage, there should be an ounce of chemistry between the leads in a romantic tragedy, and here there was none. They stood and sang as strangers. Mr. Schager has a powerful range, but he, too, did not command magnetism.
Mr. Ernst, a tenor, as Leukippos, was warmer in tone and exuded natural ardor. Ain Anger, a bass, as Peneios, drew immediate audience approval. He hails from Estonia and shone brightly in his briefer spotlight. Nancy Maultsby, a mezzo-soprano, as Gaea, sang with lovely, earthy musicality. The two maids, Lauren Snouffer and Anya Matanovic are both artists to watch. They sat on the left, rear bench, when not called on to sing, then stood mostly in place. Their vocal power, with tonal poignancy, was mellifluous and astounding, in solos and duets. Each would have been compelling in a larger role. The four male shepherds, as well, projected from the rear bench area with profound vocal quality. The Concert Chorale, spread across the rear stage wall, brought memorable moments to bear in their highly professional, tightly tuned collaboration. Franz Welser-Möst led the Cleveland Orchestra with acute attention to detail, pointing his baton to strings, percussion, woodwinds, brass, for emphasis, by orchestral sections or solo musicians. On the previous two nights I had the pleasure to hear the orchestra on its own, without guest artists. So, tonight, it was fine for them to share the stage for this mythological, mysterious opera.