COMPOSERS: Richard Strauss
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss
WORKS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
PERFORMER: Tamara Wilson, Terje Stensvold, Sabine Hogrefe, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Burkhard Fritz; Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester, Chor der Oper Frankfurt/Sebastian Weigle
CATALOGUE NO: Oehms OC 964
Under the wheat and chaff, as Mahler put it, of Strauss’s most outlandish operas a volcano is always active, and few live recordings I’ve heard have captured that better than this unexpected gem in Frankfurt Opera’s series. The revelation is music director Sebastian Weigle’s unstintingly well paced conducting and the fabulously precise, emotionally generous orchestral playing reflected in truthful sound that serves the abysses as well as the magnesium flares. Kudos to Weigle for giving us the score absolutely complete – a rarity in the theatre.
Outstanding, hair-raising in fact, is what Strauss and Hofmannsthal regarded as the crux of the opera, in which the fairy Empress without a shadow decides she can’t take what was only tentatively offered by the all too fallible Dyer’s Wife. Lyric-dramatic soprano Tamara Wilson burns here, and it’s a great operatic journey from the best-played of all violin solos to horror and resolution. It’s also the first time I’ve shed any tears in the denouement. The earthly pair, sung by Terje Stensvold in what was unbelievably his stage farewell and useful if inevitably sometimes squally Sabine Hogrefe, may not be quite in the world-class league of Georg Solti’s team on Decca or Christian Thielemann’s top Strauss line-up on DVD, while Tanja Ariane Baumgartner has the drama but ideally full top notes as the Mephistophelian Nurse and it’s the other way round with Burkhard Fritz’s Emperor. But with Weigle keeping the magic carpet beneath them very much up in the air, the whole is giddying and always alive.