Thursday, 9 January 2014

Richard Strauss: 1864 ... 2014

If anything was going to inspire me to revive my blog, then it would be the Strauss anniversary that looms in various ways as 2014 gradually drags itself off the sofa, tries to work off the excess weight of seasonal over-eating and looks bleary eyed at its agenda.

But I'm not sure I'm as excited as I should be. Arguably there was rather too much Britten in 2013, but there's been no arguing about the opportunities the year offered to explore his works beyond the pieces that hold a place in the repertoire anyway. Things were different with Wagner and Verdi. The absence of a Verdi opera at the no-rumty-tums-here-thank-you Proms was regrettable, but Daniel Barenboim's Ring there was probably my highlight of the whole year, and certainly better than the occasionally thought-provoking but overwhelmingly disappointing Frank Castorf Ring at Bayreuth. Elsewhere the programming, in London at least, was of pretty standard-rep fare, with the exception of Les Vêpres siciliennes. And any hopes of last-minute Erlösung from the Royal Opera's Parsifal were ill-founded.

Similarly, the Strauss year--in the opera house at least--seems primarily to involve more performances of the works that are in the repertoire anyway: Elektra has become a sort of staple (and not surprisingly, given the relative glut of fine performers of the title role there currently is), and Die Frau ohne Schatten is apparently the go-to 'special event'. I'm not complaining in either case, and it's especially welcome that Die Frau is returning to London after over a decade--although it does mean I'm facing the tricky task of providing a concise account of its gestation for the Royal Opera House's programme.

There's also the Richard Jones Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier to look forward to (Octavian as a '50s boy scout, perhaps?), and a CBSO concert of the same piece. And the opportunity to see Ariadne auf Naxos in London again is not to be missed; having listened to/watched two dozen recordings of it for an upcoming Gramophone collection, I've fully realised quite what a glorious thing it is.

But what about the rarities? Watching the Deutsche Oper Berlin's production of Die Liebe der Danae on Blu-ray last year made me realise what stunning music that score has in it (especially once past the wordy first act, and the first scene of Act 2, hampered by Herr Professor Hans Gregor's pernickety libretto). Searching around on Youtube, I've discovered that there was a Dutch Radio performance, starring Anne Schwanewilms, in September, which some lovely person has uploaded. It's a shame, though, that in what is possibly my favourite passage (from 38'00) the soprano sounds like she's singing from the cloakroom. I can't seem to embed the clip, but this link will take you there.

The final scene, following a gorgeous Zwischenspiel, is pretty glorious, too. From 31'40 in this clip, which I can embed. Obviously.

Schwanewilms is singing Danae in Frankfurt--alas only in concert--later in the year, with a cast that is also going down the road to perform the piece in Garmisch. But no staging seems to be on the cards in the 2013-14 season. Perhaps 2014-15 will provide...

Those with time to go to Palermo will have a chance this month to see Feuersnot, which is also being performed in Dresden in May, but not in the Semperoper, where it was premiered, which really is a shame. Here's the Love Scene, in its orchestral guise, which it would be great to hear in concert at least.

Dresden's also doing Guntram in concert. There are a few other interesting performances of the rarer works around and about (a new Daphne in Toulouse's intimate Théâtre du Capitole is already in my sights); but for London-based Straussians in search of something a bit unusual, it could be an expensive year. Or maybe the Proms has something special up its sleeve, and let's not forget that Manchester's Strauss's Voice festival kicks off today. I suppose we should be grateful for what we have, though: Strauss would certainly be the first to decry the almost total neglect of his fellow anniversarian, Gluck.


  1. Indeed - you'd have thought Chelsea Opera might have tackled Guntram, Feuersnot or Friedenstag (which I remember well from a Camden Festival concert performance probably before you were born). I'm looking forward to the Dresden Feuersnot, and will try to get to hear Schwanewilms in Danae if dates coincide. I've always thought it was a terrible shame that the C Alden Garsington production, which was superb, couldn't have been adapted for the Coli. WHEN do we get a proper London staging of that superb and very moving late work? In the old days a big CD company would have pushed the boat out - one was planned for EMI with Sawallisch. Now we could have one with Schwanewilms and Bryn, were he prepared to take on the role of Jupiter which I think would suit him.

    I've also never seen Daphne staged, though we've not been short of concert performances.

    Meanwhile the Britten juggernaut trundles on, which is fine by me (we're free to pick and choose, after all).

    Best for 2014, and glad you've decided to take this up again. Keep it going!

  2. Thanks David. You're so right about Danae: if the right singers with the right sort of of 'box-office' could be persuaded to take it on, I think a new recording would do well. I understand a new Strauss edition is being put together (with a grant with over 20 years left to run), which I can imagine will be pretty superfluous; that money would have been much better spent supporting new recordings and performances--news editions are of little use if, well, no-one uses them! (Speaking of recordings, I notice the cpo one with Uhl and Grundheber has been reduced in price, so am going to give that a shot). I'm very sorry, too, that I never got to see the piece at Garsington -- when was that? A bit before my Straussian passion had fully kicked in, I think. And speaking of ENO, I can't help thinking that the company could also have done an excellent Schweigsame Frau: it's a nice English subject, and Sir Morosus would have been a absolute gift to a John Tomlinson in his prime.

    I've never seen Daphne staged either, even though a new production opened at the Staatsoper at the end of my time in Vienna. I'd had my fill of negotiating the Stehlplätze by then, and had been put off by much of the special pleading for the unknown Strauss. I still think there *is* a bit too much special pleading, and many are simply blind to the faults in some of the composer's weaker works, but I have since realised how good some of the lesser known ones are. Arguably Strauss did himself few favours: the means he employs for Schweigsame Frau, for example, really are somewhat out of proportion with the ends (the orchestral score is not much shorter than that for Götterdämmerung!).

  3. Grundheber's great on that recording, Uhl less so (she's also on the only DVD). The Krauss '52 is, I think, still available in Germany; probably not anywhere now the Telarc one with Lauren Flanigan on surprisingly good form and gorgeous sound. Garsington '99 was issued on CD - Orla Boylan was a star, but sounds less well. The great coup was to have the delicious routines for the four queens and their partners done to ballroom routines. And Jupiter left down a motorway into the rose garden.

    I can of course...(guess the rest; email if you'd like).

    Agreed about John Tom as Morosus (btw I first saw him as Fifth Jew in Salome at the Royal Opera!) Even I'm too young to have seen the Glyndebourne Schweigsame Frau. They were going to do Daphne with FLott but then there was the interval problem solved not at all to the estate's liking in Capriccio.

    Intermezzo's probably my personal favourite, though I'm aware of the shortcomings and know it's not the best. Much as I helplessly adore the Symphonia Domestica among the tone poems.

    1. Correction: now that you've got me fishing my Danaes off the shelves, I find that Garsington production was by David Fielding, not Christopher Alden (I get my Alden/Fieldings so mixed up). He did a far too mocking Intermezzo the following season, which was disappointing in so many ways - action during the great fireside interlude! - but for this may he be forever thanked.

      And I completely forgot to mention THE Danae recording, the BBC studio recording conducted by Mackerras with Norman Bailey predictably godlike. I had it on cassettes recorded off a very interference-prone radio, but then it popped up on a DIY label called Gala.