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Strauss: Die Frau Ohne Schatten / Stemme, Gould, Thielemann, Vienna State Opera

Release Date: 04/17/2020 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 991203  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Bongiwe NakaniMonika BohinecVirginie VerrezMariam Battistelli,   ... 
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna State Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Not many masterpieces have premiered at the Vienna State Opera. Die Frau ohne Schatten – the fourth collaboration between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal – make one of the few exceptions. On the evening of 25 May 2019 – the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Vienna State Opera – a star-studded festival première of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten took place at Vienna State Opera. Together with his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss, at the time director of the opera house, developed a fairytale, complex and psychologically discriminating work that received its world première a hundred years ago, on 10 October 1919 at the opera house on the Ring. Since then, Die Frau ohne Schatten has enjoyed a rich Read more performance history and is regarded as a special highlight of Viennese and international music theatre.



This performance, though impressively sung/acted, probably will be most lauded for its conducting and the ravishingly beautiful playing of the Vienna forces under the absolute control of Christian Thielemann. Aficionados may balk at Thielemann’s approach from the beginning of the opera. The three opening chords are invariably played as a punch to the gut; Thielemann lets us clearly hear the nasty, threatening snarl they produce–low-pitched instruments piled one atop the other. This is a hint of the menace to come, not the menace itself. But lest you feel that Thielemann is going to conduct this opera’s subtext and not its ferocity, when it actually comes time to release the hounds, he offers a maelstrom: the voyage from the Royal Realm down to earth is rambunctious and raucous, and the cataclysm when the Nurse is punished is unforgettable. As Strauss’ only sustained, thoroughly atonal moment, it had better pack a wallop and it does.

After the Nurse loses to Keikobad, we find ourselves back in the heavenly realm, where we first met the Emperor, with glissandos from the violins and a palpable sheen. The gorgeous tune on the cello with violin and celesta in Scene 1 remains in the memory, and the falcon’s cry from the woodwind, so often ugly and nagging, is filled with longing and sadness. And if the ravishing orchestral interlude as Barak and his wife can’t find the words they want doesn’t melt you, well, it’s neither Strauss’ nor Thielemann’s fault. This is delicate music making, and when the three or four perorations the opera has to offer come, they blow the listener’s head off.

Say what you will about the three sopranos and their recorded counterparts, but Camilla Nylund, Evelyn Herlitzius, and Nina Stemme actually sound like the characters they’re portraying. Yes, each has some sore patches above the staff, but come on, just listen to those roles, performed complete, in a live performance!

But Nylund’s Empress has it all. From her graceful, girlish entrance–high staccato D and all–we follow her through the “why not take someone else’s shadow” journey to an unspoiled, empathetic woman of the final pages. She moves from brittle to valiant through a series of overheard moments that change her outlook, and we follow each stage with fascination. Her terrifying confusion before “Ich…will…nicht” is as alarming as the music right after it is welcoming and forgiving. No, she will not make you forget Rysanek, but her arc, and particularly the vocalism in Act 3, is breathtaking.

Herlitzius clearly has not escaped the damage that can be wrought after many, many Elektras, but her total commitment, bright, nasty sound, and way with the text–an audible snarl is a very special tool–more than makes up for a few shrill high notes. Strauss wanted a mezzo, and Herlitzius is not a mezzo; some darkness in mid and bottom voice is missing. But boy is she hateful, an ideal contrast to the Empress’ essential goodness.

The Dyer’s wife may be the heaviest role of all and it is often filled by Wagnerian sopranos–Birgit Nilsson’s laser voice comes to mind. Nina Stemme is more than up to the part. She has been much lauded for her other roles; I have always found her vocally fine but detached at times. Here she is terrific, bringing out not only the Wife’s horrifying lifetime disappointments, but drawing up the warmth and understanding for her reconciliation with the splendid Wolfgang Koch’s Dyer. Their third-act duet makes you realize what happens when honest love has been momentarily poisoned but is, happily, restored. And again, it helps to have Thielemann’s warm understanding of the score’s humanity.

Stephen Gould’s tenor is problematic, but then again so is the role of the Emperor. He has three static scenes and he sings them well enough–not eclipsing James King or Torsten Ralf on any level–but he lacks the royal dignity of the best, and one realizes that all the notes are not quite enough. Sebastian Holecek’s Messenger is scary and finely focused. Others– the falcon, the young man, etc.– are cast from strength.

– ClassicsToday (Robert Levine)

The clearly best performance comes from Nina Stemme in the role of the Dyer. Camilla Nylund sings with a genuinely beautiful and colourful voice and gives the Empress a strong character. In the role of the Emperor, Stephen Gould impresses with a slender, mostly confident tenor voice. Wolfgang Koch’s Barak shows himself to be a perfect Strauss singer, both dramatically and vocally. Christian Thielemann’s conducting is phenomenal, and under his direction the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera blossoms into a top Strauss orchestra.

– Pizzicato Read less

Works on This Recording

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Op. 65 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Bongiwe Nakani (Mezzo Soprano), Monika Bohinec (Voice), Virginie Verrez (Mezzo-soprano),
Mariam Battistelli (Soprano), Samuel Hasselhorn (Baritone), Ileana Tonca (Soprano),
Sebastian Holecek (Baritone), Stephen Gould (Tenor), Evelyn Herlitzius (Soprano),
Maria Nazarova (Soprano), Camilla Nylund (Soprano), Wolfgang Koch (Baritone),
Ryan Speedo Green (Bass Baritone), Nina Stemme (Soprano), Thomas Ebenstein (Tenor),
Benjamin Bruns (Tenor), Szilvia Voros (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1914-1918; Germany 

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