Review Die Frau ohne Schatten, San Francisco Opera, Online stream by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s a joy to watch these live streams all the way from California. San Francisco Opera are celebrating their 100th birthday in a big way. New opera from John Adams and a return to old productions have seen this celebration brought anew.

Not seen for 30 years, their take on Richard Strauss’ Die frau ohne Schatten or The Woman Without A Shadow has still got it. There are still some problematic aspects that are baked into the opera, some might say it was an anti-abortion piece and seeing white people clump about in middle eastern costumes (quite possibly Turkey and further into India) does not fare well in todays climate. Having said this, Roy Rallo as director has taken this strange, exquisite opera and made it work very well. David Hockney’s staging is vivid, over the top and immensely colourful. The costumes of Ian Falconer evoke vintage productions and also have an outrageous quality about them.

This fairly tale opera is hefty, the libretto of Hugo von Hofmannsthal harks back to old German stories and Goethe quite effectively. Strauss’s score is a revelation, one of my favourites of his, now finally hearing it. Ever pushing boundaries, there is also jazz, wild waltzes, piercing modernism, mimicking of a falcon and other delights. Even a glass harmonica features for a slight few bars in a decisive moment in the final act. What could feel quite demanding is essentially a story a out love, aspiration, fate and loyalty. It remains captivating.

In the cast there were no slip ups. Linda Watson gives great theatrical dame as The Nurse, a cunning role and the make up is almost drag like in appearance. Her voice is rich and perfect for this part. David Butt Philip as The Emperor handles the high notes well, in this briefer role, the ladies very much reign supreme here. Camilla Nylund as The Emperess might be my favourite voice of the night, the woman without a shadow in question on the quest for one. Her stratospheric heights in the third act were hair raising and her presence throughout was touching and absorbing.

A magnetic turn from Nina Stemme as Barak’s Wife, the dyer, whom the Empresser yearns for her shadow in order to save The Emperor from turning to stone. Stemme is electrifying in everything she does and here is no different. Her commanding vocal is emboldened in solos and soaring in ensemble moments. Barak himself, is John Reuter, world weary and tired of the hardships of life and his distant wife. Gruff and frustrated, it another awesome role with dramatic vocal parts for the only character in the whole opera with an actual name.

The supporting troupe of dancers, children’s choir and on stage musicians also wowed in this hefty opera that needs a lot more love.

Its runs till 28th June 2023

The next live stream from San Franciso Opera is El último sueño de Frida y Diego on 22 June and is available for 48 hours from 10am PST.

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