Music: Strauss's Last Premiere

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Visitors to the Salzburg Festival expect to hear the best of classical music; last week they got something even better: a Historic Occasion. At curtain time the old Festival Hall was filled with well-fed but expectant listeners, come to hear the world premiere of The Love of Danae, the only unperformed opera by Richard Strauss—a composer only slightly less sacred to Salzburg than Mozart himself.

Danaë had special significance for Salzburgers. Eight years ago, after the Allies had landed in Normandy and Hitler's Reich was girding for its last stand, all theaters were ordered closed and the Salzburg performances canceled. But as a concession to Strauss's great prestige, Goebbels authorized a single "dress rehearsal for technicians," of the composer's new opera. Next day, several members of the cast were handed rifles and drafted into the last-ditch Volkssturm army.

Epoch's End. Answering the thunderous ovation that followed that wartime performance, Strauss himself appeared, choked back his tears and spoke: "With this opera ends an epoch in the European theater of our time. My life is over." He said he hoped Danae would next be produced long after the war, "when people are in the mood again to see an opera about gods and goddesses."

Strauss died in 1949, five years after the war's end. Perhaps last week's performance came too soon: the audience seemed only mildly impressed, the applause was almost perfunctory. True, the music had its passages of Strauss lyricism, and Conductor Clemens Krauss made the most of them. But the score bore little resemblance to the lilting Rosenkavalier or the passionate Salome: it was closer to the allegorical Frau ohne Schatten or Die Aegyptische Helena of the composer's later years, and it sometimes made unreasonable vocal and emotional demands on the singers. Its story, a retelling of how Jupiter wooed the nymph Danae, was a hodgepodge of myth and fiction.

Summing Up. With its suspenseless and irrelevant plot, Danae probably has little chance of repertory performance outside Germany or Austria. But the production, with its gilt-encrusted costumes and scenery, and its overflow audience, neatly summed up the Salzburg of 1952.

Other festival cities this year, notably Bayreuth and Munich, bid high for top-notch soloists. Salzburg, apparently confident that the Vienna Opera was the world's best, simply transplanted it for the festival season, and booked only two big outside stars: the Metropolitan Opera's Baritone George London (a commanding Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro) and Tenor Ramon Vinay (in Otello). Salzburg's musical stalwarts of other years (Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini) were absent. But the hall was fuller than ever and Salzburg had its most profitable season since the war.