[Met Performance] CID:208300
Die Frau ohne Schatten {5} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/25/1966.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 25, 1966


DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN {5}

Empress.................Ingrid Bjoner
Emperor.................James King
Dyer's Wife.............Christa Ludwig
Barak...................Walter Berry
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
Servant.................Nancy Williams
Apparition..............Robert Nagy
Unborn..................Patricia Welting
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

Review of Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune


On The Aisle

Strauss' Fabulous "Frau" in the Magnificent New Met - Worker's Dream, Budgeter's Nightmare

NEW YORK - If opera is the last refuge of the romantic, and I sometimes think it may be, no need to leap off the nearest cliff in a gust of rage at the steady encroachment of opera's worst enemy, the complacent commonplace. Just watch for the newest, most magnificently equipped opera house shooting the works with Richard Strauss' "Die Frau ohne Schatten." True, the combination is not available every day in the week. In a lifetime pursuit of lyric theater I have heard it exactly twice. But I am batting a thousand.

My first performance was Herbert von Karajan's in the summer of 1964, simultaneously celebrating the 100th anniversary of Strauss' birth and the backstage splendors of the restored Vienna Opera house. Gunther Schneider-Siemssen and Ronny Reiter designed it in fairy tale pavilions hung in a "Sleeping Beauty" forest, the cast was headed by Leonie Rysanek and Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry and Jess Thomas, and the voice of a young man was that of Fritz Wunderlich, whose recent accidental death was so sharp a loss to music.

The second, of course, is the new Metropolitan's where Robert O'Hearn's fairy tale pavilions hang gold and turquoise in Klingsor's magic garden, conjured in the leafy glimmering blur of fantasy created for Bayreuth's "Parsifal" by Wieland Wagner, whose death at 49 is a shocking curtain to adventurous work in progress.

James King is here the doomed young emperor haunted by the cry of the jealous falcon. Karl B÷hm and orchestra are magnificent. The new stage is a marvel, the auditorium comfortable, the sight lines admirable, the Straussian acoustics superb. Being twice blessed, I am almost reconciled to missing Vienna's 1919 premiere with Lotte Lehmann as the Dyer's wife, along with Maria Jeritza and Richard Mayr. Almost, but not quite. What a centerpiece for a triptych.

"Die Frau ohne Schatten" is totally unreasonable or, perhaps, just wise. It demands your heart's blood, and I have never understood why you give less to your work, unless you happen to hate it. Of course, some people hate it. "The Woman Without a Shadow." It has its dull moments. Hugo von Hofmannstahl's libretto is a complicated paean to motherhood - the lack of a shadow being the inability to bear children - a jungle of spirit world symbols entangles a labyrinthine story, and its technical demands are all but insurmountable.

The fact remains that much of it is as magnificent as it is merciless, that at best it is a work of vast imaginative scope, that the very demand for the ultimate resource can evoke miracles, and - best of all - that it releases the floodtide of Strauss' soaring gift for ecstatic song. It makes me feel richer leaving the theater than when I went in. Why else do you go?

The three protagonists who moved from Karajan to B÷hm have deepened in performance. Rysanek looks a fairy tale empress, and her special radiance in fantastically high tessitura is one of the marvels of opera. Berry has even richer depths as Barak - Wotan moves closer. Ludwig as the tempted, almost wanton, wife is at her zenith. She is often as rebelliously beautiful as that outflung opulence of creating tone. Nathaniel Merrill' staging moves serenely in the aura of the fabulous, and if hydraulics turn stubborn now and then, it was Katherine Cornell who comforted, "Even an electric toaster needs breaking in." Meanwhile, peering thru the enthrallments of "Die Frau" is something valid even if not precisely new: What you take from another deprives him without enriching you. Completion lies in yourself.

The new Met struck me as a worker's dream and a budgeter's nightmare. Walk past the spurting fountain into the soaring arches with the Chagalls and even the Dufys, if you stand in the right spot, and into oceans of red carpet. The auditorium reds and bronze golds are harsh to my eyes, but the comfort is blissful, and those marvelous Austrian chandeliers explode in your eyes like snowflakes glittering in the sun. There are restaurants galore [Mrs. John McCormack was lunching in ours], luxurious hideaways, closed circuit television, a lounge, workroom and lockers for critics - and there is backstage.

Francis Robinson gave us the grand tour, and I was reminded of the time Giorgio Polacco introduced us to Milan and La Scala. A hovering Englishman finally broke down and begged, Could I possibly share your guide? He seems so much better informed than the others."

To tour with Francis ["the Met's Family Robinson,"] is to have the keys to the city, with no locked Bluebeard doors. What a marvelous workshop for craftsmen, light, airy, roomy, superbly equipped. I had not known until we reached the ballet rooms, then filled with little Degas girls, that Alicia Markova had been the season's first casualty, badly injured in a headlong fall.

Francis finds time for lecture tours - how I cannot imagine - so get him to tell you about the Met's backstage marvels, which he shares. Meanwhile, let me steal just one story. Not long before our junket he had given Jascha Heifetz the guided tour. Heifetz, he says, is like a surgeon who puts his finger right on the pus. Investigating the musician's working conditions, which look superior to me, he tried out a chair in the orchestra pit. It squeaked. Forty-six million dollars, and Heifetz sat on a squeak.



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