Die Frau ohne Schatten - Richard Strauss - Christoph von Dohnányi
Royal Opera House - Covent Garden
I was at the ROH to
see Richard Strauss' opera Die Frau
ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a
Shadow). The opera was composed in
1914-17. The libretto was by Hugo
van Hofmannsthal. Christoph von Dohnanyi
was the conductor; he projected the
power of the score with such brute
force that the climaxes rocked the
theatre to its foundation!
And the story goes: The God Keiksbad
had a daughter by a human to whom
he gave a talisman, which enabled
her to transform herself into a bird
or animal. In the form of a gazelle,
she was hunted down by the Emperor
of the South-Eastern Islands. She
turned back into a woman and the Emperor
fell in love with her. He drove his
falcon away for attacking the gazelle
and the bird flew off with the talisman.
A year after their marriage, she is
no loner part of the spirit world
nor the human world, which leaves
her without a shadow and childless.
She must find her shadow (the symbol
of fertility) to prevent her husband
from being turned into stone. In the
end she earns her shadow through the
unselfishness of her actions.
The other couple in the opera concerns
the unfortunate, long-suffering dyer
Barak and his wife, who is forever
quarrelling with him about being childless.
Her Nurse (a really malignant battle-axe
in Cruella de Ville war paint) tries
to convince her to sell her shadow
for untold luxury.
So the story is basically about two
couple trying to gain martial fulfilment
through having children. One of the
critics remarked, with respect, that
the two ladies (partly to due to their
costumes) looked very heavily pregnant!
! Barak's wife (the wife from hell!
) was loosely based on Strauss' own
nagging wife, although, in fact, they
had a long lasting marriage. In a
way, Strauss' opera is a hymn to lasting
love (to quote the '60s film "A
kind of loving"). It is in some
ways a strange opera with touches
of supernatural - a voice from above,
apparition, spirits and voices of
unborn children. Strauss thought his
fairytale opera to be the 20th Century
equivalent to The Magic Flute.
The costumes were by Ian Falconer
and the set(s) by David Hockney. Hockey's
decor had a "workshop" look
about it with a skeletal hunting lodge
crash - landing on stage at one point.
Gauze and canvas drop cloths looked
tawdry and the lighting was poor.
The Emperor was performed by Glenn
Winslade and the Empress seeking her
shadow by Deborah Voigt. The voice
of the Falcon was Gail Pearson; the
Spirit Messenger was played by Christopher
Booth-Jones. Alan Titus played the
role of Barak; Gabriele Schnaut played
Barak's wife and the Nurse by Jane
Gabriele Schnaut's portrayal of Barak's
wife is infinitely touching. She is
a simple woman who is unhappy, but
does not truly know why.