Strauss in Space
by Alex Ross
April 9, 2007:
“Die Agyptische Helena”; Strauss, Richard; The Metropolitan Opera; Operas; Fielding, David; Voigt, Deborah; Outerspace Rarities are often rare for a reason. “Die Ägyptische Helena,” one of the most obscure of Richard Strauss’s fifteen operas, is playing now at the Metropolitan Opera, and even Straussophiles are struggling to love it. The libretto, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is a goofy mythological grab bag about Helen of Troy’s trip to an island near Egypt. The music promises to be lush, but sags. The production, by David Fielding, mixes tacky surrealism with an outer-space aesthetic that one Internet wag dubbed “Topeka Planetarium.” Fortunately, there’s Deborah Voigt in the title role, showing off her newly Helenic physique and her newly tensile, emotionally pointed soprano. Opposite her is Diana Damrau, balancing upper-register brilliance with chesty lyric warmth. Fabio Luisi gets red-blooded sounds from the orchestra. But why waste time on weak Strauss when so many other major works have never had their day at the Met? Start with Franz Schreker’s bewitching “Der Ferne Klang,” which the American Symphony performs on April 15.
Illustration: JACQUES DE LOUSTAL