The Transformation Scene from Strauss’ “Daphne”: Renée Fleming, Live

Richard Strauss’ 1937 one act opera, Daphne, (subtitled “a bucolic tragedy”) is based on the mythological figure from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to the legend, the chaste Daphne sings praises to warm sunlight and the trees and flowers of the natural world. She is so rooted in nature that she has no interest in human love, rejecting her childhood friend, the shepherd Leukippos, as well as a mysterious herdsman. At the festival of Dionysus, Daphne dances with Leukippos, who has disguised himself as a woman. The jealous herdsman interrupts the dance with a thunderclap and tells Daphne that she has been deceived. She replies that he, too, has been dishonest. The herdsman reveals himself to be Apollo. When Daphne rejects both, Apollo draws his bow and arrow and shoots Leukippos through the heart. As Daphne mourns the death of Leukippos, Apollo is filled with regret and asks Zeus to give Daphne a new life. In a joyful reunion with nature, she is transformed into a majestic laurel tree, amid shimmering moonlight.

In the months before his death, Strauss is said to have played this final, transformational scene from Daphne repeatedly at the piano. Unfolding in a series of unending modulations, this is music which is constantly searching, harmonically. At fleeting moments, it seems to be in danger of losing its tonal center altogether and there are occasional hints of the pared-down chamber sounds of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. At the end of the scene, Joseph Gregor’s libretto melts into a serene, wordless vocalise. Something really interesting happens when we reach the final chord. It begins high in the flutes and violins- the same bright, glistening sounds we hear in Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin. Then, in a kaleidoscope of tonal color, other groups of instruments enter in gradual succession, forming a complete tapestry of orchestral sound.

Here is a recent live London performance featuring Renée Fleming:


  • Strauss: Daphne, Op. 82, Renée Fleming, Semyon Bychkov, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln iTunes
  • Fleming’s 1997 recording of the final scene with Sir Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchetra

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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