Scottish Opera: Daphne – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Daphne, Richard Strauss’ rarely staged, one-act, bucolic opera, has been described as having “concise and sublime beauty”. Seldom seen, it is said because of the difficulty of the music for both orchestra and singers, and for the difficulty in staging a story based on the myth of Daphne from Ovid’s Metamophoses 

Here in its Scottish Opera debut, it is presented in concert form by Emma Jenkins. Originally set at the Feast of Dionysus, revels that Daphne (Hye Youn Lee) neither approves of nor wants to be part of. Our heroine is pursued by would-be suitor Leukippos (Shengzhi Ren), a mere mortal and the god Apollo (Brad Cooper), Daphne, would however, rather be at one with nature than any man. 

Emma Jenkins staging removes the bucolic and relocates the action to the Weimar Republic in the years before the opera was composed. While the parallels are appropriate, visually there is little to suggest time and place save a jack-booted Apollo and some appropriately attired maids. Thankfully, the sublime singing more than makes up for any lack of visual stimulation.

As Scottish Opera general director Alex Reedijk shared before the performance there were a lot of nervous singers and musicians waiting to share these “many, many notes” and what beautiful notes they turned out to be.  

The music from start to end is utterly delightful, an absolute treat for the ear, completely belying its complexity. The orchestra of Scottish Opera have never sounded finer. 

South Korean soprano Lee is a beautifully toned and powered Daphne and the always fine-voiced Dingle Yandell is powerful as her father Peneios. Against such a strong sounding orchestra and some world-class voices, a few principal cast members are a little underpowered and take some time to come to full voice. That said, the overall quality of the experience isn’t impeded.

It is almost unbelievable that such a beautiful work has taken so long to stage in any form in Scotland, that said, it has been well worth the wait.

Reviewed on 5 September 2023, touring to the Lammermuir Festival and the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

Images: Sally Jubb

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