Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Decco
ALBUM TITLE: Strauss
WORKS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
PERFORMER: Thomas Moser, Cheryl Studer, Marjana Lipovsek, Robert Hale, Eva Marlon; Vienna State Opera Chorus,Vienna PO/Georg Solti; dir. Gotz Friedrich (Salzburg Festival, 1992)
CATALOGUE NO: 071 425-9
Die Frau ohne Schatten is the most visually suggestive of Strauss’s operas and would seem to be made for today’s audio-visual technology. Luckily, this 1992 Salzburg Festival production by Gotz Friedrich, designed by Rolf and Marianne Glittenberg, is as impressive to watch as it is to listen to. Friedrich uses the full width of the Grosse Festspielhaus’s vast stage (the widescreen picture format comes into its own here), lending spaciousness to the opera’s planes of existence, spiritual and earthly, while Brian Large’s slick camerawork brings the personal interactions of the drama into close focus. The Salzburg production coincided with the launch of Solti’s famously expensive Decca sound recording, made three years earlier, but there’s no overlap between casts. Here, he assembled a representative mixture of Straussian/Wagnerian singers of the time. Thomas Moser makes light of the Emperor’s Heldentenor demands and there’s a warmly sung Empress from Cheryl Studer. The mere earthlings are a little less satisfactory: Robert Hale is a rather bland Barak, outsung in baritonal richness by the young Bryn Terfel in an early stage appearance as the Spirit Messenger, and Eva Marton as the Dyer’s Wife gives one of her squallier performances. Best of all, though, is Marjana Lipovsek’s Nurse — a louring, squirming, malevolent reading, both physically and vocally, that just stays on the right side of over-acting. Solti drives Strauss’s phantasmagorical music with his characteristic energy (he becomes the visual focus during the interludes), though there are times when even the marvellous Vienna Philharmonic sounds pushed.

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No extras on this DVD, but the sound and picture are so good it barely matters. Be warned that you need DTS capability for the surround-sound track and, like all DVDs from Universal, it is in NTSC picture format only.