Some say that Die Frau ohne Schatten (or "The Woman without
a Shadow") is Richard Strauss' greatest opera. If you saw
Los Angeles Opera's magnificent revival of its 1993 production, carried
out to near vocal, orchestral, and visual perfection under Kent Nagano's
masterful baton and in the magical environment of David Hockney's* stage
sets, chances are you went home after the show at least half convinced
that it is so. Especially if you're not a first timer to opera and can
sit absorbed for hours (4 in the cut LA version; 5 in others) in Strauss'
hauntingly beautiful music while working out in your mind the sometimes
opaque, sometimes amusing, symbolism of the fairy tale being played out
Yes! but as presaged by the ominous opening bars of the score, of a completely
different order than say, Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, or
its lyrical parallel - Mozart's Die Zauberflöte - from which
the librettist Hugo Hoffmansthal admittedly drew some inspiration for
this, his and Strauss' uncommonly elaborate paean to the progenitive consequences
of conjugal bliss and the joys of motherhood. This is an opera about two
couples whose relationships are marred by the absence of children (one
because the woman, being half-spirit, is infertile or "without shadow;"
the other for a more readily understable reason) who, following the earth-shattering
resolution of individual internal conflicts (yes, there is an earthquake
that swallows the Dyer and his wife), are in the end able to celebrate
the prospect of woman's ultimate fulfillment - bearing many children (which was indeed the epitome of womanly fulfillment in the early 1900s when the opera was written). And as fairy
tales go, they live happily ever after!
tale's characters exist on three planes - spiritual, earthly, and
in-between. Keikobad, ruler of the spirit world, is never seen, but
it is his grim edict around which the story unfolds. It is delivered
on the night of the twelfth moon by a Spirit-Messenger (baritone)
in radiant blue armor, to the Nurse (Doris Soffel,
mezzo-soprano) whose ward is the Empress (Inga Nielsen,
soprano), Keikobad's daughter by a human and now the still childless
wife of the Emperor (Robert Dean Smith, tenor). The
Empress is his greatest hunting prize: a gazelle, struck by a red
falcon, had turned into a woman in his arms.
HOCKNEY is perhaps the most famous of English contemporary painters. An
eclectic and prolific artist who first made his mark in Pop Art, he has
produced numerous works in almost every medium. His innovative set designs
for the stage of the world's major opera houses are the subject of the recently
released and acclaimed documentary film "The Colors of Music"
by MARYTE KAVALIAUSKAS and SETH SCHNEIDMAN. He is also a distinguished author
whose recent book on the use of optical devices by the old masters of Western
art caused quite a stir among art historians.
Excerpt is from an award-winning recording of Die Frau
# 36243 /1992) with Sir
Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Dyer's Wife
Behrens; Emperor -
Placido Domingo; Nurse - Reinhild Runkel; Empress - Julia Varady).
AWARDS: 1992 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording; 1992 Gramophone Award
for Best Opera Recording; 1992 Shortlisted for Gramophone Award for Record
of the Year; Awarded the Coveted Penguin Guide Rosette; The Most Expensive
Record Ever Made when it was undertaken in 1989/90/91; Stella Award - Brimingham.
Windows Media Player required to hear the music clip.