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13.10.06

Femme sans ombre

Janice BairdI recently reviewed the only DVD recording of Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, an opera I have never had the chance to see staged. Right now, the Théâtre du Capitole is mounting the opera for the first time in Toulouse through October 18, something I would really like to be able to attend but cannot. Marie-Aude Roux reviewed it (A Toulouse, un conte fantastique de Richard Strauss, October 10) for Le Monde (my translation):

The opening of an opera season often has the allure of a romantic date. But when it also features the entry of a work into the repertoire, it becomes as fragile and thrilling as a lovers' tryst. It was that way with this Frau ohne Schatten, by Richard Strauss, given for the first time on the stage of the Capitole in Toulouse. [...]

The stagings of Nicolas Joël are often well behaved. They serve the music without putting on airs and do not proceed by conceptual smoke signals. Die Frau ohne Schatten -- the first of the five productions under the aegis of the Capitole's director out of nine operas this season -- is just that. Kitschy sets, costumes in lamé like Lakmé, uncreative lighting, and traditional acting direction did not lessen the power of this production, whose strong point is the music.
Other Reviews:

Michel Parouty, L'impératrice et la teinturière de Strauss (Les Échos, October 11)

Jean-Charles Hoffelé, La Femme sans ombre, la quadrature du cercle? (Concertclassic.com, October 8)
The singing, the conducting, and the playing were all superb, according to Mme. Roux. Another critic, Jean-Louis Validire, wrote a review (Une leçon d'humanisme, October 9) for Le Figaro (my translation):
The American baritone Andrew Schroeder, already noted last year in Toulouse in the role of Mandryka, a character very close in the Straussian universe, sang Barak. An ample voice that marries the evolution of the character from steely kindess to amorous passion. Janice Baird is a marvelous actress following through a soaring singing line all the meanderings of the psychological evolution of the dyer's wife. The nurse, mezzo Doris Soffel, completes this trio in a high-quality casting. The orchestra of the Capitole, under Pinchas Steinberg's baton, excels at rendering the modulations of a score that evolves between neo-Romantic expressivity and foggy weightiness.
The other reviewers were basically of the same opinion. The opera is not familiar in France, as all three reviews included a paragraph explaining the plot. (Die Frau ohne Schatten was not premiered in Paris until the 1970s.) All of them acknowledge the risk that the Capitole took in producing the opera at all, because of the demands on the singers. It sounds like the risky bet paid off.

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