Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten - Oper Leipzig

Performance 18th June

As final part of my marathon (day 5 and opera 6) I revisited a production of my all time favorite opera and probably the most glorious pieve ever written: Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten. Being the subject of my Master thesis I simply could not resist to get back to see the Leipzig production which I already saw quite exactly three years ago when it premiered. So it is quite a matter of destiny that after more than 3 1/2 years of regular visits and reviews from Leipzig I would end my final trip as a reviewer here with my favorite opera.
The production by Balasz Kovalik is quite interesting even though it tends to be irrepressibly cheesy with its Sissi aesthetics. The idea itself seems to be not to bad if you know the piece well enough, but sometimes Kovalik's direction simply ends up being too theatrical. On the other hand I have to give him credit for some moments that really created some intense atmosphere and filled the story with life. Especially because of the flamboyant stage and costumes by Heike Scheele which were really impressive and absolutely marvelous to watch.
Musically it was definitely the most pleasing one of the three evenings. Maestro Ulf Schirmer and the Gewandhausorchester played wonderfully with intense passion and captivating power. Thanks to the fact that this score is already so thick that loudness is definitely not a problem most of the time Schirmer's tendency for loud performances was not a problem this time. Also the powerful voices of most of the protagonists prevented the covering by the orchestra. Due to the difficulty of the score I can imagine that Schirmer and the orchestra saved their energy for this performance to make it a really exciting treat.
The many different smaller roles were solidly cast and supported the story very well. I definitely want to mention Patrick Vogel as the voice of the younling with a beautiful youthful tenor voice and Magdalena Hinterdobler as ravishing guard of the treshold. Tuomas Pursio seemed more comfortable with the role of the spirit messenger than as Jochanaan the night before. I still am not really a fan of his raw top register, but he gave a solid performance.
Karin Lovelius really surprised me in the role of the Nurse, Her voice might not be perfect for the role, but she managed it rather well. She smartly avoided difficulties with a very intelligent and highly expressive interpretation. The range of the role definitely took her to her limits, but she did a good job delivering the character.
Franz Grundheber as Barak also was a positive surprise. It is really incredible in what good shape his voice still is (being almost 80). He managed the part without any issues and also showed a very smart interpretation. I really have to say that he can still sing the role better than most other baritones who are much younger. Grundheber was able to convince with his singing which reflected great experience in this repertoire.
Burkhard Fritz, as usual, was a very reliable Emperor with easy high notes and a tenor voice that carries easily through the auditorium. He is probably the leading singer for this role at the moment and probably also the only one who can convince in it as a whole. Especially his scene during act is simply exciting and impressive.
Due to the fact that Jennifer Wilson was sick we had the pleasure to witness a jump-in of a very interesting sort. While someone from the production was acting on stage we had Elena Pankratova singing the role of the Dyer's Wife from the side of the stage. She also is one of the leading performers in that role and convinces with the sheer power and evenness of her timbre. She can through out the demanding top notes of that nagging role without any problems and definitely impressed the audience with her performance.
Nevertheless, the most impressive part of the evening was Simone Schneider as Empress. I have to say that I have never heard anyone sing this role on such a high level. Schneider's voice is absolutely unique and combines unbelievably even transitions with power and sheer beauty of tone. From almost mezzo-like registers to gleaming top notes (including the feared high d) that convince with that silvery Straussian tone she knows how to deliver the drama of the character through her singing. Her performance was undoubtedly the most amazin Strauss singing I have heard for a long time and I cannot imagine this role being sung better by anyone at the moment. BRAVA!!!!
Alltogether it was a glorious end of the Strauss weekend and I can definitely give 9 stars to this amazing Frau ohne Schatten performance.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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