Renée Fleming / Semyon Bychkov

Strauss: Daphne

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With Kim Novak's smile, Grace Kelly's style, and Ingrid Bergman's sensuality, Renée Fleming's recording of Richard Strauss' Daphne is a Hitchcock heroine made into music. His final hymn to love and death and transformation, Strauss' Daphne is another in a long line of radiantly virginal female leads who come to a bad end, in this case, being transformed into a singing tree by a jealous god. And, like Novak in Vertigo, Kelly in Rear Window, or Bergman in Notorious, Fleming is a stunning female lead, albeit one who does all her acting with her voice. But Fleming's is quite a voice: polished, passionate, and powerful, her acting is unbearably persuasive, and, through the combination, Fleming makes Daphne sound less like a pastoral maiden or a heavenly goddess than a full-bodied, hot-blooded woman and makes her story sound less like a silly Greek myth than like a love story gone tragically wrong. The remainder of the cast is more than serviceable, especially Johan Botha as the godly but foolish Apollo. The conducting by Semyon Bychkov is suitably dramatic and appropriately supportive, and the playing of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is colorful enough and strong enough, but perhaps for some, not lush enough. While older listeners might still prefer the aged Deutsche Grammophon recording with Hilde Gueden heading a stronger cast and Karl Böhm leading a lusher orchestra, listeners of any age will be captivated by Fleming's compelling performance. Decca's sound is as fine as the best it has ever given to an opera: bright, deep, rich, and warm.

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