Superb Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Staatsoper Berlin

07/10/2018

Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten: Staatsopernchor, Staatskapelle Berlin / Simone Young (conductor), Unter den Linden, Berlin, 5.10.2018. (JMI)

Die Frau Ohne Schatten © H. J. Michel

Cast included:

Empress – Camilla Nylund
Barak’s Wife – Elena Pankratova
Nurse – Michaela Schuster
Barak – Michael Volle
Emperor – Simon O’Neill
Keikobad Messenger – Boaz Daniel
Voice of the Falcon – Slávka Zámecniková

Production:

Direction – Claus Guth
Sets and Costumes – Christian Schmidt
Lighting – Olaf Winter
Videos – Andi A. Müller

This was an outstanding evening: first-rate musical direction, a notable vocal cast and a magnificent stage production. I first saw this staging in Berlin last year when it was done at the Schiller Theater; the opera company was performing there while Unter den Linden was being renovated. It works even better here than in the smaller Schiller Theater and, in addition, the acoustics are better in the company’s traditional house.

This co-production of La Scala and Covent Garden had its premiere six years ago in Milan and was done two years later in London. It was an unequivocal triumph in both cities. Indeed, Claus Guth and his team have created a superb staging, and the singers were beautifully directed: he is definitely one of the greatest stage directors today.

Guth conceives this strange opera as a dream (or rather a nightmare) of the Empress, the character who gives title to the opera. The stage consists of curved wooden side walls, while the center is occupied by a rotating stage (of which Claus Guth is fond); this allows for quick changes of scene, which are numerous in the opera. The sets are well suited and attractive, as are the costumes, the lighting work is remarkable, and there are impressive video projections.

All the fantastic elements of the plot are part of the protagonist’s dream vision. As noted above, Guth’s expert stage direction makes this a truly exceptional work. In particular, I would cite the performance of the Empress, who is always on stage, and the initial scenes in Barak’s house. In short, it’s a magnificent production from start to finish.

Conductor Simone Young’s reading deserves to be highlighted. When I saw the production last year, the conductor was Zubin Mehta, and I prefer Ms. Young’s interpretation. She was very careful and had some truly inspired moments which made one really appreciate Richard Strauss’s marvelous music. Staatskapelle Berlin, one of the world’s best orchestras, was remarkable, and both the Staatsopernchor and the Kinderchor did a fine job.

The Empress or Kaiserin is ‘the Woman without a Shadow’, which symbolizes that she has no possibility of getting pregnant. The part was sung by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund, who also filled the role at the premiere of the production in Berlin. As then, her performance was fully convincing; it was one of the best performances that I remember from this singer.

Barak’s Wife was interpreted by Russian soprano Elena Pankratova, whom I had previously heard in the part. I have found her much improved and more convincing than in the past: her voice is working perfectly, and she is able to convey emotion, which is not at all easy.

The Nurse was once again played by mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster, an authentic specialist in the character. Her stage performance was irreproachable, and vocally she is well suited to the part, although her voice has lost some freshness and she is a bit tight at the top of the range.

Michael Volle’s Barak was impressive from beginning to end. He has a spectacular voice and his singing was both noble and expressive. I cannot think of a better Barak, and he made this character the center of attention in the house.

I am not revealing any secret by saying that Richard Strauss seems to have hated tenors: what he writes for them to sing could have been composed by their enemies. A perfect example of that is the character of the Emperor, who has a devilish, if not impossible, tessitura. Simon O’Neill exhibited a certain tightness in the impossibly high part of the score.

In the secondary characters, baritone Boaz Daniel was good as the Keikobad Messenger, and soprano Evelin Novak was a correct interpreter of the Guardian of the Temple. Slávka Zámecniková did well in the Voice of the Falcon. Tenor Jun-Sang Han was adequate but somewhat tight as the Apparition of a Young Man. Barak’s brothers were covered well by Karl-Michael Ebner, Adam Kutny and Bartolomeo Stasch, as was the Voice from Above sung by Natalia Skrycka.

The audience gave an enthusiastic reception to the artists, with shouts of enthusiasm for all, and for Michael Volle in particular.

José M. Irurzun

Comments

Comments

  1. Ken Rowland says:

    Again….Bravo!

    KR

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! YOUNG RUSSIAN PIANIST ALEXANDRA DOVGAN TALKS TO GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month