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4.9 out of 5 stars
R Strauss: Daphne
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on 9 August 2013
Why has this 90 minutes of magnificence been hidden from me? I decided to investigate Daphne after I read opera critic Charles Osborne describe it as "uneven", static, and "it's melodies lack freshness and inspiration". Hogwash. This is a beautiful opera. Gloriously scored with beautiful arias and solemn choruses. And at times, if I dare say it, the music for Peneios is almost up there with the music Wagner wrote for Gurnemanz. As far as I can see, this is Strauss's greatest opera. Most serious, pastoral and solemn. It helps that it begins with a wonderful prelude for a small group of wind instruments that starts the opera majestically.

As far as this recording is concerned; excellent. As soon as I saw "Karl Bohm" I looked no further. It is a live recording, but there is very little background noises at all. James King soars away as Apollo, but I wouldn't expect any less. Great conducting, unbeatable performances all round, good libretto. What more could I say. Over look this at your peril. Buy it.
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on 3 January 2013
Excellent interpretation and a rare find. Well worth the money and time. It was a reaI pleasure to find and hear this seldom played opera by Strauss that only gets better each time played. I would recommend this piece to anyone who loves the subtile melodies of Ricard Strauss' music.
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on 23 January 2010
This is a recording of a live performance and as always this means there are plus points and negative ones. The first obvious plus point is the sheer excitement that the public must have experienced. One of the rarer late operas by Strauss performed in almost ideal circumstances with a cast that simply could not be bettered in any generation. Conducting of thrilling punch and wonderful lyrical flow. Karl Boehm makes the best possible case for this opera which I have always regarded as one of the composers greatest musical achievements. I have seen it staged a few times and have to agree with the other review that Heldentenors and Greek Shepherd's costumes are best kept apart. However musically, apart from a woozy - and fortunately fairly quickly interrupted - Dionysian Orgy, the music not only rarely puts a finger wrong (no mean feat for Strauss) but it explores a harmonic world unique in the composer's oeuvre. In particular the music associated with the kiss that Apollo gives Daphne is quite literally breathtaking.
Gregor's text has its rough moments and awkwardness but it gives Strauss a series of arias and duets that culminate in the final scene with two for Dahpne, and one each for Leukippos and Apollo. Each takes the musical drama further to its conclusion, the final wordless melismas as Daphne, changed into a tree feels the wind in her branches and leaves. This is all paced superbly by Boehm who clearly loved the score.
The negative points are twofold. Firstly, there are unavoidable (but minuscule) errors made by singers and orchestra driven to their utmost by a conductor obsessed. Easy to live with. Secondly there is the sound itself. When I first purchased this on LP - when it first came out - I remember following the full-score and being so upset at not being able to hear all the notes. Strauss's score is immense, not in length but in depth. There are musical details whizzing around the voices all the time of such complexity that the microphones clearly just gave up. Much more of the score can be heard in the theatre, as I remember from a production under Sawallisch at the Bayerische Staatsoper, but alas not on this cd. It seems to me that the sound has been tamed from the old LP (but i havent heard that for a long time) but it has not exposed more detail. The only advantage that I can see to the recent recording with Renee Fleming is that the recording of the orchestra is absolutely superb, the hero of that recording is the recording engineer.
That quibble past, it is time to gloat over the cast, James King at the top of his ability, Fritz Wunderlich one of the greatest voices of the 20th century, and even Hilda Gueden. I used to think she was just a bit Austrian, a bit schlagobers for the role. Listening to Renee Fleming has made me realise how wrong I was. Every note tells, every word is coloured and is meaningful. It isnt always totally beautiful, as Miss Fleming unfailingly is, but it is something more important, it is thrilling. None of the other recordings get anywhere near the heart of this score like this one does. Buy it, it wont break the bank...
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 December 2010
Several reviewers have already done a very good and thorough job in comparing the two available recordings of this opera, so I'll try not to go too much over already well-trodden ground.

As a Fleming fan, it pains me to note that the newer, 2005 Bychkov recording is far too obviously merely a vehicle for her to do her shtick. As a theatrical experience her version is totally studio bound and very undramatic, especially if you listen side-by-side with the thrilling Böhm live recording from 1964. Fleming herself simply has the wrong vocal lay-out for the chaste, virginal Daphne; her sound is luscious and sensual, whereas Hilde Gueden has exactly the silvery, childlike shimmer in her voice that the part requires. Furthermore, Fleming's co-singers are very competent and dutiful, but are not vocal characters who live their parts in the way Wunderlich, Vera Little and James King do on stage. As a clincher, Bychkov's direction is desperately plodding and mundane; although his tempi are often virtually identical to those of Böhm, the latter sounds inspired and driven in his direction - the lyrical sections sing and the grander passages lift off.

Trying to ensure a degree of fairness and objectivity, I also compared the closing pages of the score from Bychkov's set with the Transfiguration Scene from Fleming's 1995 recital with Solti conducting the LSO. Even though Solti is a minute and half slower, superior phrasing and more nuanced playing from the LSO maintain the pulse and momentum of that gorgeous music, while Bychkov simply falters and stalls. Similarly, if you compare Ben Heppner's stirring account of Apollo's last aria in his 1994 recital conducted by Andrew Davis, or James King's impassioned delivery for Böhm with Johan Botha's serviceable but unimaginative singing for Bychkov, you will straight away hear a difference.

Böhm's drive and passion certainly engender a few negligible mistakes and imperfections from both the singers and the orchestra, but the immediacy and atmosphere of a live performance are ample compensations. The sound is really very good for its era and provenance, and you have the opportunity to hear the cream of Strauss festival performers in the 1960's, whereas for Bychkov those assembled around Fleming were also the best available but are simply not as good. Both Schade and Botha have rather white, bleaty voices - and Botha's vibrato can blare - compared with the peerless Wunderlich and King (on what was evidently a very good day for him, vocally).

Unless you simply must have modern digital sound, as an operatic experience Bychkov comes a very distant second to this Böhm performance.
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on 11 November 2000
When works are rarely performed, we may fall into the trap of supposing the neglect is deserved : "if nobody plays it, it's probably no good." Daphne will, if that's the case, come as a surprise to admirers of Strauss song. This relatively compact one-act work, about 100 minutes long, is perhaps the most gloriously vocal of all Strauss's operas (and was, we are told, his wife's favorite).
There are reasons, of course, why performances are rare. Casting and staging may both prove hard. Like Händel and Rossini, Strauss was in a position to write to for great voices; to succeed, Daphne requires, at the least, a strong but lyrical soprano with some agility and a fair range, two outstanding near-Wagnerian tenors, a good bass and a real contralto. The orchestral part was once described (by an exasperated 'cellist) as "needlessly difficult." So much for casting. As to staging, well, bucolic scenes on the slopes of Olympus are hard to bring off: shepherds and flocks, maidens bearing fruit and flowers, heldentenors in Greek mini-tunics... Daphne's transformation into a laurel tree at the end must be the least of the producer's worries. The fact that Strauss's music is more tyrolean than olympic (he calls, for example, for an alphorn) adds to the credibility problem - at least for the more critically inclined.
But those who are fond of Strauss may be more indulgent. This CD set is for them. Staging is, of course, irrelevant (although photos in the libretto prove my point about tenors as Greek shepherds). Casting of this live performance is of a kind that presumably was only possible in Vienna in the fifties and sixties. When "First Maiden" is Rita Streich, you know you're in a lost world. The cast includes Hilde Güden as Daphne, Paul Schöffler, Fritz Wunderlich, James King and - real contralto indeed - Vera Little.
As the work is short, there's no time to lose in stage business (how many of us doze through Act 3 of Rosenkavalier - "wake me for the trio"?). After five minutes of scene-setting, the singing begins, a series of set-pieces (arias, duets, choruses, etc) as clearly-delineated as in Elektra, closer in style to Arabella. By the time Apollo sets eyes on Daphne, less than half way through, we have hit full Straussian rhapsodic mode and the magic is sustained by Böhm. The voices soar above a ferociously difficult orchestral and choral score, Böhm pushing the Vienna Symphony to the brink of chaos (horns understandably stretched, a strangled high note from the principal clarinet, as if he'd sucked instead of blowed and swallowed his reed) until the sublime calm of the (Liebestod-like?) final scene.
The sound is occasionally edgy, Böhm's demands on the orchestra mean there are some wrong notes, Hilde Güden, opting for high notes avoided, 20 years earlier, by Maria Reining, reaches her limits, but this is one of those lives where the excitement carries all. What en evening for those lukcy enough to be there! And it's cheap. If you like Strauss, buy it.
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on 28 December 2016
Wonderful and inspirational. Warmly recommended.
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on 16 June 2014
This is just a miraculous LIVE performance of a rarely heard but wonderful Strauss opera. I was lucky enough to sing Peneios in a concert performance with Chelsea Opera Group in the QEH some 20 years ago, with a fabulous cast, but this recording gives us a chance to hear some of the greatest voices of the 20th Century singing one of Strauss' masterpieces. Wunderlich and King are simply unbeatable in the roles of Leukippos and Apollo, and Hilde Gueden sings Daphne as if her very life depended on it. Boehm, to whom the opera was dedicated, plays it to the hilt, and my only caveat is that the great Paul Schoeffler was well past his best when he recorded Peneios.
Buy this and give yourself a treat. You will never hear two tenors as good again, ever!
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on 15 September 2011
Just a few words: This recording is unapproachable. Everything is perfect, singers, conductor, sound. Towering over all her collegues is Hilde Güden, making what possibly is the performance of her lifetime.
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on 30 October 2014
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