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The stage setting is a drawing room „à la grec“. In the gloomy half-light, a young woman lies dreaming on a couch in the middle of the room. The drawing room is dominated by two large antique statues: at the feet of Apollo, sitting in a chair, one can just make out a dark figure. The young woman stirs uneasily in her sleep. Is she dreaming? The man is watching her – is it perhaps her husband? The sound of a solitary oboe is heard. The figures in the wall paintings appear to come alive. The statue of Dionysus, whose gaze is directed at the sleeping woman, lights up in the darkness. The sound of voices penetrates the walls, reaching the young woman’s ears. She sits up, the painted trees exerting a magical attraction on her, and wistfully laments: „O stay, beloved day.“ She is afraid of the night, particularly the one now falling.
The walls become transparent. A young man lying amidst the foliage suddenly gets up and approaches the woman as she sings. The veil between them falls, and from now on their two worlds become one. The woman becomes Daphne, the young man is Leukippos, the mother becomes Gaea, the father Peneios, and the husband is transformed into Apollo. When Leukippos starts making improper advances, Daphne flees from the reality of the drawing room. Leukippos grumbles to the maid who enters the room. She advises him to put on Daphne’s clothes in order to get closer to her.
Peneios arrives with his herdsmen and sings the praises of Olympus. This idyllic scene is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. It is Apollo in disguise.Startled, they all flee. Left alone for a moment, Apollo is filled with misgivings about having humiliated himself. Daphne rises from her couch. By the enchanted light of the moon, the sight of her reminds Apollo of his sister Artemis, and he is seized by a great affection for her. Daphne, however, regards the man with suspicion. The stranger confesses that he knows her very well, repeating some of the words that she addressed to the daylight on her first appearance. Believing she has found a kindred soul in Apollo, Daphne rests her head against his chest. When he kisses her passionately, however, she tries to flee.
The celebrations in honour of the god Dionysus are about to begin. A huge mask comes into view. Fauns and nymphs jump out of its mouth, a large wine fountain is produced, and everyone drinks freely from it. Amongst them is Leukippos in disguise, who sidles up to Daphne. She is attracted to this „girl“ by a great affection. They start to dance. When Daphne tries to remove the stranger’s mask, Leukippos becomes violent, throwing Daphne to the groundin order to rape her. At this moment Apollo sees through Leukippos’s disguise,and lets out a cry of rage. He conjures up a storm, and everyone flees: only Daphne, Apollo and Leukippos remain behind. Leukippos demands that Apollo reveal his identity. When Daphne does the same, he tells them who he is: „I am Apollo, god of the sun and the daylight.“ Leukippos curses the god, who immediately kills him. Daphne mourns over the corpse of her erstwhile companion, realising that she belongs to him. Bitterly she rejects Apollo’s advances. Deeply moved, he implores the gods to forgive him for deceiving these mortals. He begs his father Zeus to turn Daphne into a laurel tree. Her branches will be adorn the brows of the finest of men, and she will love Apollo like a sister. As Daphne’s transformation begins, her voice can still be heard for a time. The wall closes up again. The man is still sitting in the dark room, but the couch is now empty.