Die Frau ohne Schatten

  • Music
  • Classical opera
Critics' choice
1/10
© Clive Barda
2/10
© Clive Barda

EMILY MAGEE as Empress

3/10
© Clive Barda

EMILY MAGEE (Empress)

4/10
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JEREMY WHITE as One-Armed Brother; ADRIAN CLARKE as One-Eyed Brother; HUBERT FRANCIS as Hunchback Br

5/10
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EMILY MAGEE as Empress (rt); MICHAELA SCHUSTER as Nurse (in black); ELENA PANKRATOVA as Barak's Wife

6/10
© Clive Barda

EMILY MAGEE as Empress (rt); MICHAELA SCHUSTER as Nurse; ELENA PANKRATOVA as Barak's Wife (rt); SEMYON BYCHKOV - C

7/10
DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN by Richard Strauss; Piano dress rehearsal Acts 2 & 3; Royal Opera House; Covent Garden; London, UK; 11 March 2014; EMILY MAGEE as Empress; ELENA PANKRATOVA as Barak's Wife (centre); JOHAN REUTER as Barak; SEMYON BYCHKOV - Conducto
8/10
© Clive Barda
9/10
© Clive Barda

EMILY MAGEE as Empress; JOHAN REUTER as Barak

10/10
© Clive Barda

EMILY MAGEE as Empress (right); ELENA PANKRATOVA as Barak's Wife

Richard Strauss’s late operas are curious affairs. And the most curious of them all is ‘The Woman Without a Shadow’. A deeply symbolic and densely mythological tale, it becomes on this outing at the hands of director Claus Guth, more curious still.

In a production full of surreal video projections and figures with horned animal heads, the confusion begins at curtain up, when the title character, sitting in bed and lit from the side, casts a really big shadow on the wall behind her! Given the title, it is a rather ambiguous set-up for an increasingly complex drama, which even the lengthy synopsis does little to illuminate.

Essentially, a woman from the spirit world (soprano Emily Magee), who was shot and injured by a mortal emperor (tenor Johan Botha) must acquire a human shadow or she will have to return from whence she came and her husband will be turned to stone.

This is to be accomplished through the malign activities of her nurse (superbly sung and acted by mezzo Michaela Schuster) who has identified the wife (soprano Elena Pankrotova) of a poor but good-hearted dyer called Barak (baritone Johan Reuter) as a suitable shadow provider.

But what that shadow actually is is never revealed in this Jungian psychodrama dressed up as fairytale. Presumably it is her fertility, as her unborn children later appear as a very cute junior chorus.

What redeems the evening is, of course, Strauss’s glorious music, which renders the peculiarities of the plot somewhat redundant. It’s an immense orchestral score for large band and incorporating extra percussion in the form of all sorts of exciting paraphernalia designed to conjure the supernatural: a wind machine, thunder sheets and a glass harmonica.

The cast is first rate, all five principals heavyweight dramatic singers with no trouble projecting over the behemoth of a orchestra under Semyon Bychkov, who demonstrated masterly control over such vast forces. The stand-out voice belongs to heldentenor Botha who copes comfortably with the punishingly high tessitura. It is Reuter, however, who steals the show. Humble, gracious, and blessedly not too curious the Danish baritone is the only recognisably human character on the stage.

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