My personal favourite of the four Die Frau Ohne Schatten's I've seen
Die Frau Ohne Schatten is one of Strauss' best operas, the subject matter mayn't be for all tastes but I for one find it compellingly bewitching and the music is typical Strauss, amazing. Including this one, I've seen four productions of the opera. The other three were the Solti-conducted production, the Sawallisch-conducted production and the one from Semperoper Dresden with Anna Schwanewilms as the Empress. Of those three, I loved Solti's and Sawallisch's, giving the marginal edge to Sawallisch's, and was both interested and frustrated by the Dresden one. Of the four, this one from Paris is my personal favourite.
Of course the video lighting is rather dark. However, the sound is remarkably good. And visually, I was completely captivated, there is such a fantasy quality to the costumes and sets that is both dream-like and somewhat nightmarish. The staging had me gripped throughout, the final scene on the bridge has always been one of my favourite parts and the production did nothing to change that. Musically, I cannot fault it either. The orchestra play the soaring melodies with lushness, attentive ears for the more dissonant parts of the score and very controlled legato. Christoph Von Dohnanyi's leadership as conductor is impeccable, I have rarely heard or seen him conduct Strauss better than he does here.
The performances are superb, you can't ask for better. I in particular want to credit Hildegard Behrens, her Empress is just magic. As well as being regal and poignant dramatically she has an ethereal quality to her voice and has beautiful high notes here. If there is a production that has seen Behrens sing more beautifully than she does here, I've not seen it. Rene Kollo is the Emperor, while taxing the role is not the most interesting one of the opera, the Empress and the Nurse are joint in this regard. He does command the stage very well, and sings powerfully with little of the reediness that we'd hear later on, making us forget that Strauss was never that kind to his tenors, the tessituras are so tortuously high yet the roles are often thankless.
Gwyneth Jones sings Dyer's Wife with her usual emotional and dramatic commitment, giving such pathos and humanity to the role, of which for me she is one of the best. Her singing is wonderful too, often huge and thrilling yet with enough subtlety as well. Walter Berry is also one of the finest Baraks I know of, his vocals are of great sonority and he sings with authority. Mignon Dunn is a superb Nurse, maybe not quite erasing memories of Marjana Lipovsek for Solti and Sawallisch, but still bringing forth to the table a rich mezzo voice that more than does justice to Strauss' unforgiving vocal writing and a menacing but never too obvious presence.
All in all, a really outstanding production with a dream-cast that also manage to be spot on. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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