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"I'm coming, I'm coming, the sweet sap of the earth flows through me"

Even opera lovers shake their heads in front of such a particularly otherworldly music theater thing as Richard Strauss's "Daphne", composed in 1937.

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"I'm coming, I'm coming, the sweet sap of the earth flows through me"

Even opera lovers shake their heads in front of such a particularly otherworldly music theater thing as Richard Strauss's "Daphne", composed in 1937. While Germany was gearing up for something completely different, Strauss and his dry, professorial lyricist Joseph Gregor fled to a paper-rustling Greece that lived second-hand musically. Conductors may praise the sought-after, refined harmonies, the art of instrumentation, the chiton of Daphne, who, fleeing from Apollo's intrusiveness, is transformed into a laurel tree, folds in plaster.

And yet, not only psychological and political founders such as Peter Konwitschny, Claus Guth or Christof Loy have proven in recent years that this horribly attractive late work can still have its dazzling scenic facets. You couldn't really love "Daphne" with them either, but you understood her far better as a contemporary work of art. However, when the Berlin State Opera engages the trendy, hip causality refuser Romeo Castellucci for the dull one-act play, it is actually clear that at most it is enough for an enigmatic installation.

But his first music theater work on the Spree, as always with his own equipment and lighting, isn't even that. It's just a musty routine non-action that shows at most one thing: Miss Daphne's feeling for snow.

Because even if the bucolic woodwinds in the prelude announce the upcoming "Festival of the Flowering Vine", we only see: Arcadia can be very cold. Shocked by climate change, it snows almost non-stop here, the northern lights glow black or golden over a grove on the flattened horizon. And when the philologically trickling dance orgy between the conflicting principles of the Apollonian and Dionysian is stepped here, then the five dancers in their snow clothes seem to be walking towards the ski bunny ball.

The problematic pastoral as a total refusal between marble relief rubble and singers lined up on the ramp, who trudge through the artificial flakes to complete their performances. Only Daphne, the unfortunately overwhelmed noble soubrette Vera-Lotte Boecker, who, after a girlishly shimmering beginning, lacks the enduring drama and the glaring soprano brightness of this flat artificial figure, still seems much too hot for her.

She threw off her clothes, romped in lingerie around the scrawny laurel tree skeleton, which ended up hanging sadly in the air as the appendage of the gigantic title page of Eliot's "The Waste Land" disappearing into the stage sky, while she dug herself encrusted with mud in the apparently not permafrost ground has. And the pillar on the left, on which a canister with fake blood is enthroned, has turned from "HE" to "SHE". That too is just a stupid Castellucci picture puzzle.

If you can't muster an Apollo, probably the nastiest of all nasty Strauss tenor parts, then it's better to leave the "Daphne" alone. The reputable intermediate tenor Pavel Cernoch lacks any heroic radiance, most of the time he can hardly be heard anyway. Dangerously avoiding the excessive demands, the young Magnus Dietrich also spirals out of the opera studio into the heights of the vocally no less mean Daphne friend Leucippus. As characters, they can hardly be made out in the dim light anyway. The sung René Pape and the dull-sounding Anna Kissjudit as stuffy parents Peneios and Gaea also leave little impression.

After various stand-ins, the highly hyped, over-busy Kapellmeister and designated Frankfurt General Music Director Thomas Guggeis conducts his first regular Berlin house premiere with "Daphne". And if this brittle late work could be saved, it would be with shimmering strings, nuanced, sparkling wind instruments, and a conclusion that is as delicate as it is filigree, magically exalting the floral metamorphosis into an apotheosis.

Of course, Guggeis once again proves to be a control freak, a surveillance freak who can't let go of the willing Staatskapelle. He doesn't build up the arcs of tension, he forces them together. The score, which is largely uninspired, seems even stiffer, more tired, dull, and rhythmically washed out in places.

There is no finely tuned "bucolic tragedy" in terms of motif, the consistency and ordering substance of which one follows either in a structured way or in a romanticized way, but only an old-fashioned Strauss counting rhyme. One is most entertained when, after the frozen "Festival of Pairing", Daphne, who has mutated into a tree, is allowed to sing: "I'm coming, I'm coming, the earth's sap flows sweetly through me".

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