Arts: Opera - Strauss in an English garden

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The Independent Culture
IF ANY English opera venue has revealed a golden touch with Strauss, it is Garsington. Daphne, Die Aegyptische Helena, Ariadne auf Naxos, Capriccio - and now David Fielding's first British production of Die Liebe der Danae.

True, the elegant, niched statuary around Leonard Ingrams' adjoining Jacobean manor house remained resolutely stony, the yews insistently verdant, with no hint of gold leaf. But myth fares well at Garsington, even with its three-arched loggia cloaked by the vivid geometric, astral, surreal set against which Fielding arranges his endlessly inventive, unflagging production.

The Love of Danae, to a text by Strauss's later collaborator Joseph Gregor, was heavily reworked from an original draft by Hofmannsthal. Even Robert Graves might have boggled at this elaboration of the myths of Midas (he of the golden touch) and Danae (she of the golden rain), creating a love rivalry between earthly and heavenly suitors in which the heroine plumps for poverty and human security rather than all the ambrosia of Olympus. Strauss reserves some of the loveliest music for the final encounter, where Jupiter, chastened, bows out and confers his blessing on the happy couple.

The music throughout is crepuscular Strauss at his most captivating. The flow of orchestral ideas is endless and seamless, with especially striking use of nasal dark woodwind, hectic brass, Wagnerisms (genuine or pastiche), a magical opening to the tender Midas-Danae exchange in Act III, and a melting string passage at Danae's touching farewell gesture to Jupiter. From almost every bar an enlarged Garsington orchestra under Elgar Howarth prises endless magic.

Danae, unlike the rustic, idyllic Daphne, alternates extended set pieces with bustling action from the very opening. The transition to Midas's arrival, as from three unearthly bell-boy acolytes wielding gold parasols Fielding unravelled a believable vision of a ship arriving, was a visual master-stroke (Jupiter's emergence, less so). The choreographing of the princesses - a kind of mini-chorus of Jupiter's former female lovers - was deft and witty. The Act III set, by projecting into the Garsington gardens, aptly anticipated the story of Maia near the close.

The longer confrontations put tremendous demands upon the three principals. Though none was a convincing mover, Adrian Thompson (Midas) brought a particular pathos to the Act III opening, whose mood almost suggests Janacek. As Danae Orla Boylan, scrumptious in her Act I duet with Xanthe (Lynda Russell), brought notable power and vocal presence to her (curiously staged) transformation, and an almost tangible physicality to the final scene. Peter Coleman-Wright's magisterial sustaining of Jupiter would have delighted the role's creator, Hans Hotter.

Further performances 29 June, 1, 4 and 8 July (01865 361 636)