Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Staatsoper Berlin im Schillertheater, Festtage 2017

Premiere performance 9th April

Last weekend I had another trip to Berlin for one of the greatest operas ever written. Strauss' and Hofmannsthal's Die Frau ohne Schatten is definitely a gem of music history and an incredibly interesting piece of music (and theatre). I am absolutely fascinated by the sheer complexity of the opera and also wrote my Masterthesis about the highly philosophical plot. I know every single note and I simply could not resist to make the trip to Berlin in order to see it. One thing is for sure: it was absolutely worth it.
The production by Claus Guth is a cooperation with the Teatro alla Scala Milano and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London and now it finally came to Berlin. It shows some great ideas and really features some interesting thoughts. Some of them might be daring, but alltogether I thought that he served the work very well with a reasonable view on the complex plot. Not only the interaction of the characters also the ravishing precious stage (Christian Schmidt) and also the elegant costumes (also Schmidt) were not only beautiful but also very supportive to the whole performance. Every single detail helped to support and solve the complexity of the story. Of course not everybody liked Guth's ideas, but I thought that he did a great job and it was definitely the best production of FroSch I ever saw.
Musically it was a rather ambivalent evening with some exceptional performances and some rather unsatisfying ones. Zubin Mehta clearly is not a suitable conductor for this kind of repertoire and conducted a pretty dull and unbalanced performance. Not only his choice of tempi, also the sloppy confusion of the complex score did not really make a good impression. There is so much going on in this score that you need to have absolute control about anything to keep the dramatic flow of the music on a certain level. Mehta did not really succeed in that and the Staatskapelle Berlin seemed a bit lost at certain moments. However the orchestra showed great professionalism and still managed to prove that they are a top orchestra which is able to perform the score without any problems. If only they had an appropriate leader.
Nevertheless, the singing was on a very high level with a few exceptions. The many small ensembles (servants, guards, voices, Barak's brothers etc.) gave solid performances on a quite pleasing level. Narine Yeghiyan sang the red falcon with a nice lyrical voice that could have had a bit more brightness in her timbre. Jun-Sang Han was a wonderful youngling with a beautiful youthful and clear tenor voice. As keeper of the treshold, Evelin Novak gave a solid performance with her warm and flexible soprano.
Roman Trekel, usually a very reliable performer, seemed a bit uncomfortable with the role of the spirit messenger. With the lower parts of the role he did not really convince me, while the top was steady and strong. Probably it simply is not really his role.
In the role of the nurse we heard Michael Schuster who gave an exciting and highly expressive performance. She did not care about some notes that sounded harsh and almost ugly, but she put everything into her impeccable interpretation. I thought she was brilliant even though the voice sounds edgy at some point. However, she did a great job in this rather demanding role.
Wolfgang Koch sang the role of Barak, which he already performed with great success in Munich. He also is one of the best candidates for this role at the moment and gave an experienced and balanced performance with his warm and versatile baritone voice. He also convinced with his acting skills and simply did a great job.
The role of the Emperor was sung by Burkhard Fritz who also is an experienced singer for this role. He knows about the tricky parts and also gave a very refined performance. He had no fear and convinced with great power, seemingly easy high notes and great musicality throughout the performance.
Making her debut as dyer's wife, Iréne Theorin gave one of the evening's best performances. Her voice is like a laserbeam and can cut through the thickest orchestrations without any problems. She is not afraid of any high notes and her diction and interpretation showed that she is one of the leading dramatic sopranos of our days. I think there has not been a singer so capable of this role since Christa Ludwig and Theorin is definitely one of the best singers of her repertoire.
Another debut was made by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund who sang the role of the Empress which is another highly complex and demanding role. Nylund however, gave a performance with such ease and lightness that one would think that Strauss wrote the role just for her. She sang everything with such nobility and grace (including a ringing high d) that it was simply marvelous to hear her. But not only vocally, also acting-wise she gave a performance that is close to perfection! Nylund also will definitely be the Kaiserin of a generation with her flawless technique and the sheer beauty of her voice.
Alltogether this performance was breathtaking with great vocal performances and a production that showed great understanding of the work and its complexity. I think that the Schillertheater is too small for such an immense piece, but I hope that they will revive the production one day in the new old building (hopefully with a more suitable conductor), because this cast could help to show the greatness of this magnificent opera. Therefor, 9 stars for an exceptional evening.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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