The story is a parable of love being more important than riches in three acts. Danae has a desire for gold and has heard of King Midas and sends her fathers four nephews to act as emissaries. Midas turns up in disguise to appraise the lady and duly falls for her. Meanwhile Jupiter, whose hobby has always been seducing earthly beautiful ladies, arrives on the scene disguised as Midas. It is also revealed that it is he who given Midas, a lowly donkey driver, the power to turn anything to gold. That is enough of plot, it all work out in the end to all except Jupiter's advantage. The set is basically simple a seven tiered dais in white tiles, against a white tiled stage backdrop, but with changes of lighting, moving backdrop projections and a high level walkway revealed from time to time, it is rather interesting to say the least. There are also a variety of props to add to the interest level. The costumes are fantastic, highly coloured and larger than life, including the turbans! The dancers are elegant and particularly lovely in gold, they strike poses rather than anything brilliant,do not bother to ask why they appear on a lot of the scenes other than for decoration. The artistes are all, without exception fully up to the job. Krassimira Stoyanova a rich voiced Danae elegantly sings and moves her way through the machinations of the plot. Tomasz Konieczny is Jupiter and is a good looking baritone, sensual and very easy on the ear, Midas is sung by Gerhard Siegal, a fine tenor with a somewhat homely appearnce. There are eleven other named roles, suffice it to say that they are without exception very good, the four ladies, wives of the four nephews have some really great music, they always appear together and when in quartet prove that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Strauss is as good as usual, strong and passionate music with strong melodic arias and full use of the orchestras capabilities. Just keep in mind that this a fairy tale story with fairy tale costumes and settings you will enjoy. If you prefer more realistic stagings them perhaps it is not for you. The booklet lists arias etc in German, with timings, and there is a reasonable act by act synopsis in English as well as a few other titles, and subtitles are also in English.
"All that glisters is not gold", Shakespeare tells us in 'The Merchant of Venice', and the distinction is a relevant one in the case of Strauss's treatment of the King Midas myth in his late opera Die Liebe der Danae. Even though the opera was developed from an idea by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and is scored to some of Richard Strauss's most gorgeous and extravagant musical arrangements, the resulting work lacks the depth of their earlier collaborations, lacks an edge and does feel a little out of touch with the realities of the changing times in which it was composed. And yet, like the similarly compromised Arabella, it is not without merit, particularly if an imaginative director is able to bring something to it.
There is plenty of glitz and glister in Alvis Hermanis's production of the work for Salzburg, but not much that really taps into a seam of gold. It's all decorative, aiming for a generic fairy-tale look and feel with little care about whether it makes sense, and certainly not caring to look any deeper into the work for social commentary or contemporary relevance. Whether there is much to be gleaned on those levels from Josef Gregor's libretto is doubtful, but at least the Deutsche Oper production from 2011 attempted to relate the curse of Midas's gift to that of the "golden touch" of the composer, and also see the aging Strauss in terms of Jupiter's failing powers and influence in the new world. This however just feels like empty spectacle.
That in itself could be seen as a valid reaction to the piece as Der Liebe der Danae is certainly all glittery show, its lush post-Wagnerian Romantic melodic sweep as easy on the ear as the set designs are on the eye in this Salzburg production. It's bold and colourful with golden-red glows and exotic dancers that contribute to this effect, but it's all a very random and free-associative play on Arabian Nights fairy stories. If there are any contemporary allusions - something Hermanis would be well advised to avoid considering the controversy he created over comments about refugees while in residence in Hamburg - they are broad caricatures of middle-eastern men in over-sized turbans and women with exaggerated breasts grasping for riches, and there is considerable emphasis placed on Midas's past as a donkey driver in Syria. None of it appears to have any consistency or purpose, and the production is more often merely static and decorative.
As with much Strauss, particularly those that are more Wagnerian in scope (and there are many correspondences here with the mythology in the Ring operas), the voices and the ability to meet the singing challenges count for a lot here. The individual members of the principal cast in the Salzburg production are all exceptionally good, but there is some terrific ensemble work from the other character roles of the four kings and Jupiter's old flames Semele, Europa, Alkmene and Leda. Krassimira Stoyanova yet again demonstrates for me that she is one of most impressive singers of Strauss around today. Her interpretation and acting aren't particularly exciting - not that she is given much character to work with here - but her range, technique and the timbre of her voice are all just wonderful. The all-important closing scenes between her Danae and Tomasz Konieczny's Jupiter are vividly expressed. With a good cast elsewhere and Franz Welser-Möst conducting an unrestrained (a little too unrestrained?) account of Strauss's extravagant arrangements and melodies, it's disappointing that Alvis Hermanis's production is unable to rise to the heights that Strauss was aspiring to, but of course never quite reaching himself.