New York — Richard Strauss wrote his own epitaph for his essentially failed first opera, ``Guntram:'' ``Here rests the honorable and virtuous youth Guntram, a singer of love songs who, by the symphonic orchestra of his own father, was cruelly striken down. Rest in Peace!'' Those are the words he placed on a memorial plaque in the backyard of his villa in Garmisch. The opera had been performed so few times since its premi`ere in 1894 that Strauss declared it dead.
``Guntram'' has enjoyed precious few revivals over the years. The success of its premi`ere (concert) performance in the United States by Eve Queler and her Opera Orchestra of New York led to this Hungarian recording released by CBS Masterworks (I2M 39737, digital, two LPs). Anyone interested in Strauss's creations will be happy to know that the performance moves assuredly under Miss Queler's baton and that they are all more or less adequate. In the title role, Reiner Goldberg tends to push his voice in the upper register, causing a certain fraying of timbre. In the remarkably challenging role of Freihild, Ilona Tokody must stretch her lyric soprano beyond its limits to fill out the demanding vocal line.
Musically, it hints both at where Strauss would eventually be heading and who his major musical influences were. (The debt to Wagner is almost too obvious.)
How far Strauss journeyed from the barbaric, decadent world of ``Salome'' and ``Elektra'' (his third and fourth operas) to the elegant, thoughtful world of his later mythological works can be heard in ``Daphne'' (his 13th).
This is a work of rich but subtle textures, of impassioned scenes and confrontations, culminating in a transformation scene that is one of Strauss's great moments. In an ideal performance, this can stir one deeply, such as in the now deleted Deutsche Grammophon recording with Hilde Gueden.
This does not quite happen on the new EMI/Angel performance (DSBX-3941, digital, two LPs), though Bernard Haitink's conducting comes very close. The problem is Lucia Popp, who sings sweetly, but a bit coolly with some mannerisms that have become intrusive on her more recent recordings.
She is partnered by Reiner Goldberg (Apollo), who tends to whine, and by Peter Schreier, whose artistry brings the role of Leukippos affectingly to life. Kurt Moll's Peneios is a bit of lavish casting. The sound is particularly impressive.