Richard Strauss, Die Liebe der Danae (The Love of Danae)
Salzburg, Grosses Festspielhaus, 31 July 2016
Danae in the Seraglio
After his impressive Die Soldaten of four years ago at the Felsenreitschule, Alvis Hermanis has returned to Salzburg to stage this penultimate work of Richard Strauss, now at the Grosses Festspielhaus. As he did with his intolerable Jenůfa, the director has relied too much on the richness and profusion of costumes, here in a dazzling gold accent.
Under Hermanis’ direction the mythological story turns into a fairy tale and the Greek island of Eos a parody of Middle East, complete with oversized turbans, flowing robes, women in burqas, oriental carpets – all set for The Abduction from the Seraglio. The Latvian director recently came out with some racist statements about the refugees, in line with Donald Trump’s raving utterances, or with the xenophobic assertions of some political parties in this part of Europe, and his political ideas are beginning to collide with his ideas of directing, with worrying results. His exoticism removes the text of every possible psychological, social, political or cultural implication. Even the subtle irony inherent in Danae‘s music is totally absent in this tedious and vacuous mise en scène. No significant inter-relationship affects the characters: this love story – in which a woman chooses a humble donkey driver over a god (much to the latter’s chagrin) – becomes a sterile display of glittering tableaux vivants. One almost longs for the Günter Krämer production, presented here in 2002.
After having exhausted all the budget on the costumes (of Juozas Statkevicius), the scenery is left conversely drab and only Gleb Filshtinsky’s clever use of lights make the pyramid of aseptic white tiles acceptable, but even they can do nothing to improve the look of the ugly plaster elephant on wheels – and the albino donkey that at some point appears on stage only helps somewhat. The golden rain is entrusted to Ineta Sipuniva’s videographics while Anna Sigalova’s choreographic movements, with twelve golden dancers in attendance, are monotonous beyond belief (the same happened in Jenůfa), halfway between a TV play and a Las Vegas show.
Fortunately, positive notes come from the singers. The Bulgarian Krassimira Stoyanova confirms her excellent vocal skills and good stage presence, although here she is forced into the trite gesticulations imposed by Hermanis’ vacuous direction. Tomasz Konieczny, as the charming Jupiter, is a blue eyed Wotan with a sumptuous sound quality and his looks make it particularly difficult to swallow how Danae could prefer the heavy and poorly tuned Midas of Gerhard Siegel instead. The scene of Jupiter’s yielding is enhanced by neither the director nor the orchestral conducting. There is a moment when one would like to wipe out the ubiquitous dancers who are waving white handkerchiefs to bid farewell to the god… The remaining cast is not bad. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Polux is to remember, together with the first-rate Vienna State Opera Choir.
The usually starched Franz Welser-Möst is particularly rushed here and he seldom succeeds in singling out the extraordinary harmonies and tonal colors of the score, which is a shame, given the dream orchestra of the Wiener Philharmoniker at hand.
(Many thanks to Gail Clarke for the revision)