The University Musical Society will welcome Maestro Semyon Bychkov and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne to the Hill Auditorium on Thursday. Under Bychkov’s direction, the orchestra and performers will bring Richard Strauss’s opera “Daphne” to life. Renee Fleming, whose exquisite soprano vocals and performances have won her worldwide fame, is cast in the lead role as Daphne.
Ann Arbor is the first city in the United States to host the performance of “Daphne” as part of Bychkov’s second nationwide tour. The UMS, under the direction of Program Director Michael Kondziolka, collaborated with Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to bring this rarely heard, but phenomenal opera to the campus.
Kondziolka said Hill is viewed as a great place to perform and said that “according to the New York Times, it is the Carnegie Hall of the Midwest.” He added that he “wanted to start off the year with a bang, giving a performance people would remember.” The opera not only showcases Strauss’s exceptional classical music, but also the impeccable talent of Fleming, who Kondziolka said is “the absolute darling of opera.”
Fleming’s accolades place her among several accomplished artists. With two Grammy Awards and eight total nominations, her talents have propelled her to stardom.
The evening also marks Bychkov’s conducting debut at Hill. As principle conductor for the German-based WDR Symphony Orchestra, critics have praised Bychkov for his adaptations of Strauss’s operas. Unlike many operas, “Daphne” will not rely on extensive sets, costumes or staging. This Greek myth of ill-fated love and conflicts between gods and mortals looks to the talent of the many soloists under Bychkov’s direction. Throughout the opera, they illustrate the story and convey the mythical Greek scenery through their music.
The opera also gives the audience a look at Daphne’s inner emotions. She is a secluded and detached character who cannot find love among mortals or gods. In the dramatic and emotionally stirring final scene of the opera, Fleming will use her commanding stage presence and impressive vocals to portray Daphne’s climactic transformation from human to tree.
In writing “Daphne,” Strauss’s main goal was to create a modern opera out of an ancient story. He treats the audience members to the challenging and impressive high-tenor vocals of the characters Apollo and Leukippos, as well as the creatively mastered and complex duets between Daphne and Leukippos in what promises to be a one-of-a-kind opera experience.