Opera review: Scottish Opera: Daphne, St Mary’s Church, Haddington
Scottish Opera: Daphne, St Mary’s Church, Haddington ****
Scottish Opera’s recent record in bringing lost souls of the operatic canon back to life through “concert stagings” is both exemplary and judicious. How else might they justify giving us Richard Strauss’ late opera Daphne, a practically and theatrically awkward single-acter from 1938 that has barely seen the light of day, yet contains music as emotive as any of his breathtakingly sumptuous scores?
The second of two performances this week – the opera’s Scottish premieres – was also the main opening day event at this year’s Lammermuir Festival. Amazingly, too, the resonant ecclesiastical acoustics and configuration of this Haddington church favoured the dynamics of this presentation – a raised stage out front giving the singers visual prominence over a vast rearguard orchestra that stretched way into the distance.
The unpretentious staging by Emma Jenkins was viable if ultimately inconsequential, transferring the action from the bucolic mythological world of Ovid and Euripides, on whose writings the storyline is based, to the seediness of Weimar Germany and the anti-Nazi White Rose resistance movement. As such, Dionysian revelry turns sinister.
It did its job, animating the presentation without deflecting from the real stars of the show: Strauss’ music, a generally thrilling cast, and a Scottish Opera Orchestra playing a blinder under music director Stuart Stratford, its omnipresence – from pastoral opening to wave upon wave of uber-Wagnerian surges – a permanent consciousness illuminating every thought and deed. Its magnitude sometimes overpowered the singers, but in a way that invariably thrilled.
Hye-Youn Lee was utterly magnificent as Daphne, a fervent blend of soulfulness and virtuosic precision, against which the two dynamic tenor roles – Shengzhi Ren’s emotionally confused Leukippos and Brad Cooper’s swaggering, pistol-bearing Apollo – sparred excitingly. Dingle Yandell offered a thunderingly powerful Peneois to Claire Barnett-Jones’ occasionally undernourished Gaea. The supporting cast were solid.