Bucolic tragedy in one act (1938)
»Daphne« is one of Richard Strauss’ last operas. The story is based on a tale from ancient mythology and was passed down by Ovid and Plutarch, among others. It has frequently appeared as a theme in art, music and literature. In Richard Strauss’ »Daphne«, symphonic music and lyrical passages in the style of chamber music are combined to create an impressive musical drama. Today, »Daphne« is one of the composer’s rarely performed works. This new staging is directed by Romeo Castellucci, whose works are marked by a powerful visual language in which music, light and visual arts blend.
The shepherds gather for the feast of Dionysius. Daphne sings a hymn of praise to nature in contrast to humanity’s baseness. She feels a strong attachment to the natural world; the ways of humanity are foreign to her. The shepherd Leukippos, a childhood friend, wants to show her his affection, but she rejects him, bewildered. She is also disinclined to attend the upcoming fertility rite despite the encouragement of her mother Gaea. She refuses to wear the gowns prepared for her especially and flees from the situation. Her maids encourage Leukippos to don the dresses instead and pretend to be a maidservant in order to be close to Daphne at the feast.
Apollo joins in the festivities in the form of a cow herd. He feels attracted to Daphne. She too is fascinated by the mysterious stranger and allows him to kiss her, but then flees from the god as he gets pushy. The festivities commence and the procession of masked shepherds appears, led by Daphne’s parents Peneios and Gaea. At the feast, Leukippos offers the clueless Daphne a goblet of wine and asks her to dance with him. Jealous, Apollo says the feast has been defiled by the doings of Leukippos, lets a storm brew and disperses the festive gathering. Apollo, Leukippos, and Daphne are left behind.
Leukippos reveals his identity, but demands the same of Apollo and swears his love for Daphne. Apollo, however, kills Leukippos. Daphne takes the blame for the tragedy. When Apollo sees Daphne mourning for her friend and
rejected lover, he acknowledges his own guilt. He asks the other gods to accept Leukippos to Mount Olympus. Daphne herself is transformed into a tree, allowing her to become one with nature.