Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
PERFORMER: Jess Thomas, Ingrid Bjoner, Martha Mödl, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Inge Borkh, Hans Hotter, Gerda Sommerschuh; Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth
CATALOGUE NO: 449 584-2 ADD Reissue
This reissue has a certain historical value in that it documents the gala performance marking the postwar reopening of Munich’s National Theatre in November 1963. It also captures some of the best Strauss singers of the age at the height of their powers: Borkh’s Dyer’s Wife and Bjoner’s Empress are gloriously sung, while Fischer-Dieskau’s Barak is one of his most moving and involving dramatic portrayals on disc. There’s also a fine Emperor from Thomas – for once a singer unfazed by the high-lying Heldentenor role – and there’s the luxury of Hans Hotter as the Spirit Messenger and one Brigitte Fassbaender among the supernumerary Unborn Children and servants.

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Many of these advantages, though, are outweighed by other factors: the opera is brutally cut; Mödl’s Nurse becomes more exasperating and vocally histrionic as the performance progresses; and the orchestral impact is lessened by a recorded sound that is very much biased towards stage rather than pit. There are other problems with the sound, too: intermittent tape hiss and sudden changes of stereo perspective (voices lurch from one side to the other) suggest takes have been spliced in from other performances (something not admitted to in the booklet).

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Keilberth’s reading is committed, but there are better all-round performances available on CD, such as those of Solti and Sawallisch. Matthew Rye