Daphne is not one of Strauss' best operas. The music is wonderful, well it is Strauss after all, but I always have considered the libretto somewhat ponderous. This production is wonderful, as much as I did enjoy the Teatro La Fenice production(it was the best of the 2004-4 La Fenice performances released in a box set together), I do consider this the better performance. Visually, the production is very evocative. The settings and lighting are fitting with the atmosphere, and the costumes at least do flatter the singers. The staging is very realistic, making the story more interesting than it actually is, and the transformation is far more convincing than the Teatro La Fenice production. Musically, it is outstanding, with the orchestral playing haunting and soaring and the conducting commanding and nuanced. The performances are just as effective. Ricarda Merbeth I saw only once before as Eva, and I didn't like her in the role. However as Daphne she is much better, her singing is strong and sturdy instead of wobbly and it is more musical also and her acting is intense and moving, overall a gripping performance with nowhere near as much gurning as with her Eva. Johan Botha is not the most commanding of actors, in fact he has always struck me as very stand-and-sing, but as Apollo I cannot deny that vocally he is perfect, the voice is huge and ringing but used subtly also(subtlety was something that Scott McAllister of the Teatro La Fenice performance did lack). Michael Schade is splendid, he is resplendent in voice and very involved, his death scene is violent and quite poignant. Walter Fink is a sympathetic Peneios, and while Marjana Lipovsek is past her best her singing is firm and she blends very well with Merbeth. She is an excellent actress as well. All in all, a realistic, brilliantly sung and altogether wonderful performance. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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