on 11 May 2012
Glad to see this beautiful opera set widely available again (even if I did have to pay four times as much for my set last year)!
But this recording is worth whatever I had to pay as it stands above any other recording of Daphne that's out there. The main reason is the exquisite singing of Lucia Popp. Her performance is unsurpassed by any other recorded Daphne -- Renee Fleming and all. The sheer beauty and agility of Popp's lyric soprano voice is reason enough to buy this recording, but the deeply felt emotion and acting skill that this lovely woman possessed enhances her interpretation of this great Strauss role even further. Just listen to her closing scene qnd imagine how Richard Strauss would feel if he had been able to hear such a voice sing his wonderful music. This set is brilliantly conducted by Haitink who also gets great performances out of his orchestra and the other singers.
"Daphne" is a product of Strauss's last creative phase, in which he eschewed the lush excesses of earlier operas and sought a sparer, more chamber-like orchestral texture with a simpler, more classical theme. I have always favoured the recording of the live 1964 Salzburg performance under Karl Böhm, especially for the transparency of the playing, the brilliance of Austrian soprano Hilde Güden's Daphne and the presence of two superb tenors in James King and Fritz Wunderlich - but the sound is hardly pleasing by modern standards and we needed a new recording. That should have been forthcoming in Semyon Bychkov's recording for Decca but that proved rather dull and too obviously a vehicle for a star soprano in a role which somehow did not really suit her enormous gifts; this 1982 EMI set was far more promising.
It has three great advantages: first, the complete aptness of Lucia Popp's silvery voice to the lead role; despite the occasional "squeezing" effect in her vocal production, she is otherwise ideal. The great Transformation Scene is a tour de force of word-painting and exquisite vocalism. Secondly, the contribution of the Bayerischen Rundfunks under Haitink; the delicacy and subtlety of the score suit his temperament and the gentle beauty of the pastoral introduction sets the tone for the whole account. He is also, however, able to give the right weight to dramatic moments such as Leukippos's death without over-doing it. He treats the whole opera as one, extended symphonic tone poem, always sustaining the requisite lyricism. Thirdly, the sound, despite being early digital, is warm, detailed and spacious.
Additional advantages are in the supporting cast: a noble-voiced First Shepherd and the excellent Ortrun Wenkel and Kurt Moll as the elders.
Less recommendable are the Leukippos and the Apollo. Peter Schreier always sounds the same and his rather strained, piercing tenor is not especially apt for portraying the ardent young suitor as Wunderlich so winningly depicts him. Nor are Reiner Goldberg's slightly pinched tones very heroic - or indeed godlike - but he is adequate as Apollo.
Hence, despite my admiration for Popp and Haitink, I deduct one star - if the Amazon rating system allowed it, it would be a half - to indicate my reservations concerning the two tenor leads. Otherwise, this is the modern recording to buy.
I am so glad this set has been reissued. Some reviewers find fault with the male singers and the occasional intonation from the wonderful Lucia Popp but this is, without doubt, by a mile the best version of this opera on CD. The conducting is sensitive yet commanding, the playing excellent and, over it all, float Popp's wonderful silvery tones.
This is not one of my favourite operas. I got the Renee Fleming recording when it first appeared as I had loved the Popp/Haitink recoding when I owned it on vinyl. The Fleming version did not rekindle the wonderful memories I had of the Popp/Haitink set. I did wonder whether the reason I hadn't liked the Fleming version was that my taste had changed. It hadn't. The Fleming set just didn't possess the magic of Popp and Haitink.
It is amazing that this lovely recording has been out of the catalogue for so long (as has Popp's recording of Massenet's "La Navarraise" - Sony, please take note and reissue this; it's far superior to the Horne/Lewis one that you did reissue). If you like Richard Strauss and want to hear a magical performance of one of his less familiar operas, don't hesitate. Snap up this recording before it disappears again.