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'Daphne' in the Desert

KAREN HAID was in Santa Fe
for the Richard Strauss one-act opera


While the high desert landscape of New Mexico may not have been the setting Richard Strauss had in mind as he composed his one-act opera Daphne, Santa Fe Opera's strategic position in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains provides a spectacular backdrop for this bucolic work. Furnishing all the comforts of an indoor venue including cushioned seating and good site lines, this outdoor theater is completely covered by a sweeping, eco-friendly acoustical roof that doubles as a rainwater collector. In the midst of the summer monsoon season, the audience in attendance on 18 July 2007 was spared the wind and rain, but was graced with a beautiful display of lightning throughout the evening. The turquoise-adorned patrons were thus drawn into the opera's atmosphere with the pastoral interplay of the orchestra's woodwinds.

This chamber-like orchestral introduction sets the scene for the opera, one that clearly relies on the music to illustrate and enhance a somewhat basic mythological story. Daphne, the heroine, has a great interest in nature and seemingly no interest in men. She's pursued by a mortal, the shepherd Leukippos, and the god Apollo, who disguises himself as a herdsman. Incidentally, Leukippos in true opera style also dresses up, but as a woman, which in this performance did not lend any significant comic effect. At the feast of Dionysus, Apollo kills Leukippos. Regretting his action, he asks Zeus to give him Daphne in immortal form. Consequently, she is transformed into a tree, making her one with the nature she loves so much.

Against the New Mexican night sky, the tree holds center stage throughout this production, and unfortunately not much more of interest can be said of the overall staging or choreography. A Dionysian feast should be memorable, but this one was not.

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Copyright © 30 July 2007 Karen Haid, Las Vegas, USA


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