Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
PERFORMER: Deborah Voigt, Ben Heppner, Sabine Hass, Franz Grundheber; Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-13156-2
No faulting the presentation: this is a very attractive Frau, nicely kitted out in a pretty South Sea Islands-style floral pattern (reproduced – if that’s not too indelicate a term for this pioneering piece of operatic family planning – on each of the CDs inside) and a smartly designed booklet, neatly interspersing the text with Alfred Roller’s original costume designs and relevant extracts from the Strauss-Hofmannsthal letters. Sure, there are cuts, but I can’t complain at the odd abbreviation of what is undeniably one of Little Richard’s most prolix as well as most profusely inventive scores. And, when it comes to revealing the teeming detail of Strauss’s abundantly fertile orchestration, Sinopoli’s conducting proves every bit as translucent as the Empress’s own glass-like form. He’s good, too, at capturing the burgeoning emotions in the piece, the slow growth of mutual understanding between the two differently dysfunctional couples, human and divine. And the orchestral playing is superb. No, the problem, and it’s a major one, is the cast: Ben Heppner’s ringingly pure and clear, Björling-like ‘Helden’-Kaiser apart, they’re a drab lot: Voigt’s Empress is colourless as the see-through Kaiserin herself, Grundheber’s dry stick of a Barak incapable of kindling anyone into warmth, let alone Hass’s gutsy shrew of a hausfrau. Sadly, this Frau is quite overshadowed by Solti’s great Decca recording, totally complete and with a superb cast of true singing actors. Mark Pappenheim