[Met Performance] CID:208070
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Die Frau ohne Schatten {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/2/1966.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debuts: Walter Berry, Karan Armstrong, Nancy Williams, Patricia Welting
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 2, 1966
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN {1}
R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal

Empress.................Leonie Rysanek
Emperor.................James King
Dyer's Wife.............Christa Ludwig
Barak...................Walter Berry [Debut]
Nurse...................Irene Dalis
Messenger...............William Dooley
Falcon..................Carlotta Ordassy
Hunchback...............Paul Franke
One-Eyed................Clifford Harvuot
One-Armed...............Lorenzo Alvary
Servant.................Loretta Di Franco
Servant.................Karan Armstrong [Debut]
Servant.................Nancy Williams [Debut]
Apparition..............Robert Nagy
Unborn..................Patricia Welting [Debut]
Unborn..................Margaret Kalil
Unborn..................Marcia Baldwin
Unborn..................Joann Grillo
Unborn..................Shirley Love
Unborn..................Lilian Sukis
Watchman................Charles Anthony
Watchman................Robert Goodloe
Watchman................Russell Christopher
Voice...................BelÚn Amparan
Guardian................Mary Ellen Pracht

Conductor...............Karl B÷hm

Production..............Nathaniel Merrill
Designer................Robert O'Hearn
Choreographer...........William Burdick

Die Frau ohne Schatten received nine performances this season.

Production a gift of an anonymous donor in recognition of the interest
of the late Mrs. Isaak Walton Killam

Alternate title: The Woman without a Shadow.

Review of Miles Kastendieck in the New York Journal-American

A SUMPTUOUS EVENING WITH A STRAUSS OPERA

Almost half a century after its Vienna premiere Strauss' "Die Frau ohne Schatten' had its first performance at the Metropolitan last night. To receive such lavish treatment, it could have been produced only in the new opera house anyhow. The evening became one of the most sumptuous in the history of the Met.

This was a magical occasion not only pictorially but musically. A truly fantastic production by the American team of Robert O'Hearn and Nathaniel Merrill created as much fantasy as the fairytale opera itself. Beautiful music surged through the house as Strauss poured out the wealth of warmth and humanity in his score.

The audience sat engrossed. Not only did the music catch it, but the production and the performance fascinated it. Cheers broke out after each act. There was no doubt that this opera was a masterpiece and the evening a great occasion.

While a case might be made that "Die Frau ohne Schatten" is the most pretentious opera in history, especially when so extravagantly mounted, that approach would violate the essence of Strauss. Given the fantasy by Hofmannsthal, he reached out to clothe it with penetrating understanding.

The urgency of fundamental emotion that underlines the story - the theme of thwarted fatherhood symbolized by the woman without a shadow (fertility) - inspired him to a summation of his genius. This opera represents the full flowering of the composer of "Salome" and of "Rosenkavalier," both of which are much more obvious and accessible.

As a 20th Century "Magic Flute" it has startling analogies. Both are fantasies, the evil characters function similarly (the Nurse looked as though costumed for the Queen of the Night), and the trials of the couples resolve themselves beneficently. Whereas Mozart had purification for motivation, Strauss had humanizing. Because he revels the core of humanity in the midst of fantasy, the music is almost engulfing.

Still even after a half century people may not be ready for the epitome of symphonic opera. The work can also easily mystify with its three planes of action, each imbedded in symbolism. With all the hocus-pocus of the story underlined by moving scenery up and down, in and out, and otherwise, then all set imaginatively in the South Eastern Isles, those who escape into fantasy will hardly mind being mystified.

Realities may well be lost. Unless they dig into the philosophical aspect of the work they will not appreciate the detail with which Strauss translated into music the emotions lying behind the Empress' attaining humanity through sacrificing for others. His spinning the fabric from many motifs is quite ingenious.

As there is so much to grasp, there is almost much to note; three women - the Empress, the Dyer's Wife, and the Nurse - just as one detail. Contrasts of scenes on earth, in the spirit world, and in-between - such as the full orchestra for the earth-dwellers, and a chamber orchestra for the spirit world - make a performance a rich experience.

Strauss grasped the human situation created by infertility. It remains for a cast to convey the emotions engendered. Though the Empress may be the pivotal figure, it was the Dyer's Wife, sung by Christa Ludwig, who dominated this performance. She was the one who sold her shadow, yielding to the temptation of riches. Miss Ludwig emerged as an outstanding singing-actress for her dramatic portrayal of the role and some superb singing.

As the Nurse Irene Dalis struck the bargain impressively and manipulated the plot advantageously. As the Empress Leonie Rysanek attained some splendid top notes and screamed convincingly in the culminating moment of the third act, but her variability in pitch and some hollow tomes blighted the effectiveness of her performance.

Making his Metropolitan debut as Barak, the Dyer, to whom Strauss gave some of his loveliest music, Walter Berry disclosed a baritone of strong, resonant quality and acting of solid attainments. He made a forceful charter and sang his music movingly. He is most welcome at the Met.

Among the others James King contributed some good singing as the Emperor though he performed somewhat woodenly. Among the large cast Patricia Welting, Karan Armstrong, and Nancy Williams were making debuts in small ways.

Sharing the honors of the evening with Miss Ludwig was Karl B÷hm who conducted the score knowingly. Welcomed most warmly by the audience, he won increased admiration after each act. Still, the score can glow more than he made it last night, however, expert his procedure through it.

At the end when the curtain calls began, there were some unsung heroes deserving recognition; the stage crew who had played a notable performance backstage. They caught the spotlight deservedly, for what opera calls for as much scene shifting as this?

That the Met has finally scored with "Die Frau ohne Schatten" is good news indeed. It has served a great opera handsomely.



Unsigned review from the London (UK) Times

Met Goes All Out With Strauss Opera

FROM OUR NEW YORK MUSIC CRITIC

If the complexities of Strauss's "Die Frau ohne Schatten" are all but insurmountable even for so prodigiously endowed an opera company as the Met, the rewards of this inexhaustibly inventive, colorful and moving work make it well work all the efforts. And it is a pleasure indeed to report that the Met's production (the first staging of this opera in New York City) is basically a splendid achievement. The producer Nathaniel Merrill and the designer Robert O'Hearn have fortunately preferred not to italicize the opera's already heavy symbolic content, but rather to concentrate on conjuring up the exotic fairytale atmosphere, and this approach brought excellent results.

The production puts the Met's new scenic facilities through all its paces: sets appeared from above, from below, from left and right; they receded, moved forward, dissipated into nothing, reassembled themselves - in fact, the visual side of the opera was in a constant state of motion. Mr. O'Hearn was not merely showing off, however, for in most instances his ideas genuinely enhanced and complimented the fantastic plot: the Emperor and Empress moved through a brilliantly imaginative series of fluid stage pictures whose cool blue-green, almost oceanographic dÚcor contrasted beautifully with the sun-baked drab reality of Barak's hut. All in all, a stunning piece of work.

Mr. Merrill directed the principals amid these complex designs sensibly and smoothly. Here and there he does seem to have missed the point - such miscalculations as actually bringing three mysterious watchmen on stage at the end of Act I and not allowing us to see the Empress's new-found shadow were a bit upsetting - but on the whole he presented the opera as coherently as possible, sacrificing little of its other-worldly magic and dramatic flow. The crescendo of events in Act II, leading up to the destruction of Barak's home, was quite overwhelming.

Top vocal honours were taken by Christa Ludwig as the dyer's wife. Miss Ludwig captured every volatile mood of this tortured creature to perfection, while producing a stream of consistently glorious sound - a magnificent performance. Leonie Rysanek has lost some of the radiance from her upper register and much of her singing alternated between gorgeous pianissimo work and hysterical note-grabbing. Still she is such a sincere and communicative artist that the Empress ultimately emerged as the dominant figure Strauss and Hofmannsthal intended. As the nurse, Irene Dalis tended to over-sing and over-act. The role is somewhat of a problem since Strauss did not seem to respond to the rather abstract malevolence of this character and the peculiar vocal writing reflects his dilemma. Nevertheless, the composer's prosody is so superb and the dramatic accents so flawlessly placed that Miss Dalis's wholesale distortions of the line were entirely unnecessary.

The men were first-class. Walter Berry's mellow bass-baritone perfectly characterized the long-suffering Barak, and James King sang the mellifluous if static role of the Emperor with plenty of ringing tone and shapely musical phrases. Karl Bohm has the full measure of this score - his reading is definitive and the Met orchestra has rarely played better.



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