Die Frau ohne Schatten
Music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
14 March–2 April 2014
Director Claus Guth reveals the darker elements of Strauss’s exotic fairytale in a striking new production.
A co-production with Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Generous philanthropic support from
Sir Simon and Lady Robertson, Hamish and Sophie Forsyth, The Friends of Covent Garden and an anonymous donor
About 4 hours 10 minutes | Including two intervals
Sung in German with English surtitles
- Claus Guth
- Christian Schmidt
- Ronny Dietrich
- Lighting design
- Olaf Winter
- Video design
- Andi A. Müller
Bychkov Orchestra Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
- The Emperor
- The Empress
- The Nurse
- Barak’s Wife
- One-Eyed Brother
- One-Armed Brother
- Hunchback Brother
- Spirit Messenger
- Voice of a Falcon
- Guardian of the Threshold
- Voice from Above
- Apparition of a Youth
- Butt Philip
- First Nightwatchman
- de Souza
- Second Nightwatchman
- Voice of Unborn Child
- Voice of Unborn Child
- Voice of Unborn Child
- Royal Opera Chorus
Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) was conceived by Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal with the model of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in mind: a fairytale with a strong moral dimension. Although the narrative was largely Hofmannsthal’s invention, he drew on a diverse range of sources, from The Arabian Nights to Grimm’s fairytales. The opera was completed during World War I and received its premiere in 1919.
Die Frau ohne Schatten is one of Strauss’s mightiest and most demanding scores. It draws on the resources of a huge orchestra that includes extensive percussion, an organ, thunder and wind machines, as well as a glass harmonica. Musical highlights include a tender, yearning duet for the dyer Barak and his wife, an impassioned solo scene for the Empress as she struggles to maintain her integrity rather than steal a mortal woman’s shadow, and the opera’s ecstatic finale. Claus Guth’s striking production emphasizes the dark undercurrents of Strauss’s opera and powerfully evokes the Empress’s plight as a woman trapped between two repressive worlds.
Opera Essentials: Die Frau ohne Schatten
A quick guide to Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s mystical masterpiece.
By Kate Hopkins (Opera and Music Publications Officer)
The Story Begins…
The Emperor has married a woman from the spirit world, who, as a supernatural being, casts no shadow. After a year, the Empress is told that if she cannot obtain a shadow within three days she will be forced to return to the spirit world and her husband will turn to stone. To what extremes will she go to acquire a mortal shadow?
Strauss’s Fairytale Opera
Strauss and Hofmannsthal began work on Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1911. They intended it to be their answer to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte; a fairytale with a strong moral and spiritual dimension. Hofmannsthal became so excited by the subject that he wrote a full prose narrative to accompany the opera. The story was largely Hofmannsthal’s invention, though he drew on a wide range of material to inspire him, including passages from the Arabian Nights, Grimms’ fairytales, other German fairytales and Goethe’s Faust.
Claus Guth’s psychological production, originally shown at La Scala, Milan, brings out the darker aspects of Hofmannsthal’s fable, asking questions about female independence and repression. It movingly depicting the plight of the Empress trapped between two repressive worlds.
A Singers’ Showpiece
The five principal roles in Die Frau ohne Schatten are among the most challenging in all of Strauss’s operas. All have exquisite music, including two mighty monologues for the Emperor, several dramatic dialogues and a tender, yearning duet in Act III for Barak and his Wife. Another highlight is an impassioned solo scene for the Empress in Act III, as she struggles to maintain her integrity rather than steal a mortal woman’s shadow.
A Richly-Coloured Score
Strauss employs a massive orchestra for Die Frau ohne Schatten – including divided violas and cellos, quadruple winds, extensive percussion and an organ, thunder machine, wind machine and glass harmonica. However, there are also passages of extremely delicate scoring that depict the characters’ more tender emotions. Particularly striking passages include the singing of the Nightwatchmen at the end of Act I and the final, joyous ensemble of Act III.
Die Frau ohne Schatten runs from 14 March–2 April 2014.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Sir Simon and Lady Robertson, Hamish and Sophie Forsyth, The Friends of Covent Garden and an anonymous donor.
“Die Frau ohne Schatten is one of Strauss’s mightiest and most demanding scores. It draws on the resources of a huge orchestra that includes extensive percussion, an organ, thunder and wind machines, as well as a glass harmonica.”
In this production there is no glass harmonica – instead an electronic substitute has been used despite the increasing numbers of glass harmonica players around.
It is a terrible shame to deprive the ROH audiences of the real acoustic sound and expressive nature of this instrument, especially when London audiences have already experienced the magical and other-worldy effect it produces in concert performances of this piece.