Notes and Editorial Reviews
Richard Strauss - Die Frau ohne Schatten
Der Kaiser - Peter Seiffert
Die Kaiserin - Luana DeVol
Die Amme - Marjana Lipovek
Barak, der Färber - Alan Titus
Sein Weib -Janis Martin
and other singers
Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor
Ennosuke Ichikawa, stage director
Recorded at the Aichi Prefectural Art Theater, Nagoya, Japan, 8 and 11 November 1992
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 (full screen)
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (All Region)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Booklet language: English,
Running time: 183 mins
No. of DVDs: 2
I'm not certain why it took almost 15 years from its date of performance (November, 1992) for this to be released (it was taped in Nagoya, Japan during a visit of the Bavarian State Opera)--but it was worth the wait. The production's Japanese director and designers take Hofmannsthal (almost) at his word, placing the opera "somewhere in the South Pacific", at least for the exotic characters: Empress, Emperor, Nurse, and Messenger. They are in Kabuki outfits and make-up and move in a stylized fashion, although far more naturally, say, than in any of Robert Wilson's "Oriental" shows. The earthly characters--the Dyer, his wife, and brothers--are dressed as Bedouins of some sort and are well planted in terra firma.
Ennosuke Ichikawa, the director, is a Kabuki actor, and his ability to distance mankind from the supernatural characters "above" makes the composer's and librettist's points clear. The costumes and minimal sets, alternately phantasmagoric and mundane, are by Tomio Mohri and Setsu Asakura, respectively. We get plenty of magic--a sword appears from nowhere (as marked in the libretto), fish fly, a blood-red falcon twitches. The lighting by Sumio Yoshii adds to the overall effect, though at times it's a bit too murky. The cataclysm at the close of Act 2 is stunning; the penultimate scene, with the stage floor and walls bathed in billowing, gold drapery is simply staggering, and the finale will take your breath away. This opera is a designer's dream and this production realizes it handsomely; physically and emotionally this is a knock-out.
Happily it is musically almost as good. Wolfgang Sawallisch clearly loves this score and must particularly admire its transparency: the textures are clear and Strauss' remarkably colorful orchestration rarely has been so well presented. By contrast, Georg Solti's reading (Decca DVD) from Salzburg the same year goes for one huge musical effect after another; it isn't incorrect, but I prefer Sawallisch's approach. Solti presents the score complete while Sawallisch takes about 20 minutes of cuts, which is a pity. The Nagoya performance is riveting enough to handle the whole score, and the extended finale to the third act (10 minutes is cut) is sorely missed. Sawallisch also goes for marginally quicker tempos throughout. The Bavarian forces play exquisitely, although the Vienna Philharmonic is equally, if not more spectacular.
The singing here is mighty impressive. While again, Solti's cast went for power, Sawallisch's appears to approach the music as lyrically as possible. Despite the huge orchestral forces and ferocious effects, the story is a gentle, intimate one, and when called for, Sawallisch's cast sings accordingly.
Luana De Vol's powerful soprano has somewhat of a pronounced beat (less prominent than in more recent performances, but still apparent), but she is an alert, intelligent singer who finds all the nuances in the Empress' character and has no trouble with the viciously high tessitura. Janis Martin's darker tone is right for the Dyer's wife, and her humanity shines through. Alan Titus sings Barak with a smooth baritone, never resorting to shouting, stressing the man's sensitivity. Peter Seiffert sings the ungrateful role of the Emperor with ease and golden tone--the finest in my memory.
Marjana Lipovsek's Nurse also is the best I've heard; she "sings" every note of the angular vocal line and is truly terrifying. Jan-Hendrik Rootering's Messenger is a bit wobbly but authoritative, and the smaller roles--falcon, three brothers, various voices--are all respectably taken. In short, the singing is better than on the Solti DVD.
Sound (Surround, 5.1, and LPCM stereo) and picture are top-notch, and the subtitles, in all European languages, are idiomatic and clear. This performance serves the opera superbly; you hardly miss the excised 20 minutes--but I still wish cuts had been avoided.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Reviewing original release
Works on This Recording
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Op. 65 by Richard Strauss
Luana DeVol (Soprano),
Peter Seiffert (Tenor),
Marjana Lipovsek (Mezzo Soprano),
Alan Titus (Baritone),
Janis Martin (Soprano)
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra,
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Written: 1914-1918; Germany
Date of Recording: 11/1992
Venue: Nagoya, Japan
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