We caught Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met on Wednesday night. Expectations were high. It’s Strauss, and rare Strauss at that. It was our first time at the Met. The on-line opera world was abuzz with Christine Goerke’s performance as the Dyer’s Wife. By and large we weren’t disappointed.
This probably is exactly the right sort of opera to go to the Met for. It needs a huge orchestra. It needs five soloists of the first rank among the small tribe who sing very loud German operas. It needs spectacle. Making all these things happen is beyond the resources of many but not the Met. (I’ll write up my thoughts about the “Met experience” in another post).
Herbert Wernicke originated all aspects of this production; direction, sets, costumes and lighting. It’s gorgeous. The Spirit World is a series of reflecting planes, mostly lit in changing jewel colours, and the costumes are equally exotic. The human world is drab; dull blues and browns. The set is constructed with the human world below the Spirit World so that by raising or lowering things either or both can be visible. There’s a spiral gantry/staircase connecting the two. And it’s huge. It fills the full width and height of the stage and at times is retracted to create even more depth. The revival is directed by J. Knighten Smit and it’s well done. There is character development and the interactions make sense. In particular, the parallel spiritual/psychological journeys of the two wives are well articulated.
The singing is really good. Primed for Christine Goerke, I was impressed with her big sound though even her voice sometimes seems a little light in that huge space. The star for me though was Anne Schwanewilms as the Empress. This part may not demand (quite) as much raw power as the Dyer’s Wife but it’s quite technical. Schwanewilms was radiant with accuracy, power and beauty; one of the best performances I have seen. The guys were no less impressive. Torsten Kerl was a very sympathetic Emperor with plenty of power and quite a beautiful voice and Johan Reuter was a very human and sympathetic Barak. The part of the Nurse is pretty key too and it was handled very competently by Ildikó Komlósi. Vladimir Jurowski managed to be both expansive and detailed and the orchestra sounded magnificent. Some of the music really is absolutely gorgeous.
It’s not as long as I thought either. There’s only about three hours of music but split into three acts with Met length intervals it still makes for a longish evening. So, a most enjoyable evening of a kind one can probably only have in a “big” house.
And, as a postscript, I thought it odd that this piece didn’t feature in this years MetHD line up. Having seen it I’m totally baffled. It would be a terrific showcase for all that the Met does best and I bet DVD/Blu-ray sales would be astronomical. Silly, silly Mr. Gelb.