Strauss lavished some of his most heavenly music on the mythic tale of Daphne, the comely shepherd-girl who escapes Apollo’s clutches through a transfiguration of amazing theatricality.
Apollo insulted Cupid by mocking his skill as an archer. In revenge, Cupid fired two arrows, one sharp and tipped with gold, the other blunt and tipped with lead. The golden arrow had the power to create insatiable lust in whomever it struck, which turned out to be Apollo. The leaden arrow caused a hatred of all things romantic, and it struck Daphne. Soon afterwards, Apollo sees Daphne…
The Story of the Opera
Four shepherds are discussing the upcoming feast of Dionysus, traditionally the time for the mating of young couples. Daphne describes her immense love of nature, identifying herself with the trees and the flowers around her. The prospect of the festival gives her no pleasure. Leukippos wishes to accompany her to the celebration and tries to embrace her. She refuses, characterizing her affection to him as sisterly. Her mother, Gaea, overhears part of the conversation and warns Daphne that she will eventually learn to love. Daphne refuses to wear the dress that Gaea has brought her. Two maidens, determined to help Leukippos win Daphne’s love, dress him in the clothes that she rejected, so he can secretly join the group of women at the feast.
Daphne’s father Peneios prophesies that the day will come when the gods will return and dwell among men. In spite of the protests from the shepherds, he affirms his belief that Apollo will appear to them. A stranger appears, dressed as a herdsman. Gaea and the shepherds mock Peneios for this mundane realization of his prophecy. The mysterious herdsman is amazed by Daphne’s beauty. When she asks who he is, he explains that he saw her from his chariot and repeats phrases from her opening monologue. She rejoices in his promise that she will never again be parted from the sun, but tears herself free when his advances become passionate.
A procession approaches, led by Peneios and Gaea. Daphne joins the women and the herdsman joins the men. The feast begins and the disguised Leukippos invites Daphne to join in the dancing. Suddenly the stranger cries out that Peneios and his daughter are the victims of deception—Leukippos is really a suitor for Daphne’s hand. The herdsman then reveals himself as Apollo and in the dispute that follows mortally wounds Leukippos.
Daphne blames herself for the death of the young man. Apollo asks Dionysus to forgive him for having caused the death of one of his followers. He begs Zeus to be given Daphne, not in mortal form, but as one of the trees she loves so much. In the future, men will cut the wreaths reserved for the bravest from her branches. As Daphne is gradually transformed into a laurel tree, her voice is heard celebrating her immortal form.
- Adrast - William Metcalf
- Kleontes - David Sundquist
- Klitos - David Hatfield
- Fourth Shepherd - Michael Devlin
- Daphne - Sylvia Stahlman
- Leukippos - Glade Peterson
- Gaea - Lillian Garabedian
- First Maiden - Catherine Christensen
- Second Maiden - Martha Randall
- Peneios - Donald Gramm
- Apollo - George Shirley
- Conductor - John Crosby
- Director - Vera Zorina
- Scenic Designer - Henry Heymann
- Costume Designer - Henry Heymann
- Lighting Designer - Georg Schreiber
- Choreographer - Vera Zorina
- Chorus Master - John Moriarty