Consequently, organizations such Bard Summerstage, which have these
tenets incorporated into their mission, serve an invaluable purpose.
The opera portion of this year’s festival, saw the U.S. premier of Richard
Strauss’s forgotten gem Die Liebe der Danae. At first glance,
Bard’s decision to present this opera may seem a bit strange. After all,
Strauss is a very well-represented late Romantic composer. Yet, on closer
inspection, one realizes that Strauss, like Jean Sibelius, who co-shares the
spotlight of this festival, fell out of favor with the 20th century public, who
viewed his unabashed tonality as antique. To be sure, there are moments in
Strauss’s music that are atonal, but as far as operas go, people were more
interested in the shock value of Salome than in the lyricism of
Die Liebe der Danae.
Despite occasional blemishes, the cast and
production team managed to present the opera in such a way that made a
compelling case for Strauss’s unapologetic melodies, as well as the
composer’s penchant for utilizing even the most omnipresent of mythic
Under the direction of Leon Botstein, the American Symphony Orchestra
exhibited both the lyricism and the humor of the score. While it is wonderful
to see a new side of a revered composer, it is also enjoyable to revel in what
he is already known for. In this case, I would have liked to see more of a
balance between the humor and lyricism in Act I, but Botstein improved in that
regard as the opera progressed.
The cast was headed by Meagan Miller, who has previously won the National
Council Auditions of the Metropolitan Opera. Her voice was powerful, yet also
extremely lyrical. For those used to other sopranos such as Lauren Flanigan,
the deep timbre of her voice may, at first, be disconcerting, but there were
times throughout the performance, when during a lyrical passage, the audience
was simply spellbound. As Midas, Roger Honeywell was stunning. Especially
noteworthy was his Act I entrance, which put the difficulty of the role on par
with Verdi’s Otello. There were times when he seemed to lose stamina, but
those moments were few, and he quickly recovered. Of mention were Jud Perry,
who played Mercury, and Aurora Sein Perry, Camille Zamora, Jamie Van Eyck, and
Rebecca Ringle, who played Semele, Europa, Alcmene, and Leda, respectively.
They brought a comic element to the opera which was much appreciated. Although
the four women required time to warm up as an ensemble, they managed to create
spotless psychological portrayals on the individual level, and by the end, they
worked as a cohesive group.
It must be said that, as Jupiter, Carsten Wittmoser was a bit lackluster.
However, he too improved by the last act. Still, it has been said that Jupiter
was a complex character, on par with Der Rosenkavalier’s Maria
Theresa, and Wittmoser missed many opportunities to demonstrate the
complexities of this most-human king of the gods.
Overall the production was impeccable and visually compelling. The chorus
sang strongly and portrayed the greedy inhabitants of Eos in a way that
strengthened Kevin Newbury’s modern adaptation, which set the story in
post-recession America. The physical aspects of the production were stirring.
The stage pictures Newbury created demonstrated both the appeal and severity of
wealth, a point so crucial to the story. Additionally, there were moments that
were both comic, yet touching. Such was the case when, in Act III, Danae put
her suitcases in the beat up jalopy that would her car in the decidedly
unwealthy life she chose with her beloved Midas.
Bard Summerstage deserves credit for a job well done for successfully
resurrecting an incredibly powerful 20th century work. Die Liebe der
Danae is proof positive. While Strauss’s music may be lyrical, it is
richly enduring. Tastes may change, but the humanity of Strauss’s music
image_description=Danae by Jan Mabuse (aka Jan Gossaert)
product_title=Richard Strauss: Die Liebe der Danae
product_by=Danae: Meagan Miller; Jupiter: Carsten Wittmoser; Midas: Roger Honeywell; Xanthe: Sarah Jane McMahon; Pollux: Dennis Petersen; Merkur: Jud Perry; Semele: Aurora Sein Perry; Europa: Camille Zamora; Alcmene: Jamie Van Eyck; Leda: Rebecca Ringle. American Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director. Directed by Kevin Newbury. Set Design by Rafael ViÒoly and Mimi Lien. Costumes by Jessica Jahn. Lighting by D. M. Wood.
product_id=Above: Danae by Jan Mabuse (aka Jan Gossaert)