Daphne Synopsis

The Story of Strauss' One-Act Opera, Daphne

Richard Strauss's One-Act Opera, Daphne, premiered on October 15, 1938, in Dresden, Germany. Subtitled "Bucolic Tragedy in One Act," the opera is loosely based on Daphne, a figure from Greek mythology. Below is a synopsis of the opera.

Daphne, ACT 1

Daphne's parents, Peneios and Gaea, have instructed the shepherds to prepare for the upcoming feast celebrating the goddess, Dionysus. As preparations are made, Daphne longingly praises the natural world, giving thanks to the warm sunlight, and loving it as the trees and flowers do. In fact, she loves this natural way of life so much, she has no interest in human love at all. This does not bode well for Leukippos, a shepherd and Daphne's childhood friend, who tries to embrace her. She rejects his love and refuses to wear the dress made especially for the festival. After she runs away, her maidens insist and persuade Leukippos to don the special dress instead.

Peneios has a feeling that the gods will return to the earth during the party, so he decides to make extra preparations for Apollo. After he is finished, he notices an unknown guest - a herdsman that no one recognizes. Peneios orders Daphne to see to this newcomer to help him with whatever he needs. When the two meet, Apollo tells her he has been watching her from his chariot from high above. Ever since her song praising the sunlight, he has been captivated by her. He promises her that she'll never be apart from the warmth of the sun and they embrace. But when he confesses his love to her she immediately withdraws from him and runs away.

Leukippos has worn the special dress to the festival and dances among the attendees. He finds Daphne and asks her to dance. Believing him to be a woman, Daphne sees no harm to accepting the invite and happily dances with Leukippos. Apollo sees Daphne dancing with the imposter and becomes insanely jealous. He causes a frightening explosion of thunder and halts the entire feast. He calls out Daphne and the disguised Leukippos. After telling her she has been deceived, she replies that he, too, has been dishonest. Apollo reveals his true identity to everyone. Daphne, again, rejects the offers of both men. In a fit of rage, Apollo draws his bow and arrows and shoots an arrow straight through Leukippos heart.

Overcome with emotion, Daphne falls to Leukippos' side and mourns his death. Finally, she accepts responsibility for causing this tragedy. Apollo, filled with remorse and regret, asks Zeus to give Daphne a new life. After he asks Daphne for forgiveness, he vanishes into the heavens. Daphne tries to chase after him but is suddenly transformed into a beautiful and majestic tree. As her metamorphosis transpires, Daphne shouts of joy and happiness that she can finally be with nature itself.

Other Popular Opera Synopses

Strauss' Elektra

 Mozart's The Magic Flute

 Verdi's Rigoletto

Puccini's Madama Butterfly