STRAUSS Die Frau ohne Schatten
This Die Frau differs from some earlier opera recordings from the Mariinsky label in not calling upon the services of international singers: the cast is all Russian, the words they sing, alas, only part German. The international element is Jonathan Kent’s production, which pits dream-like orientalism in the spiritual world against a modern, determinedly tawdry washing machine-lined dwelling for Barak. Projections are used to conjure up some sense of the supernatural but many of the magical moments are avoided, and Kent runs out of ideas in the final act. Gergiev also seems in a rush in Act 3, which is the most heavily cut (although we are treated to the dubious pleasure of having all of the Empress’s spoken monologue, which poor Mlada Khudoley does her best with). Act 1 is uncut; Act 2 is marred by a nasty snip in the final scene.
There’s a lot of musical quality on show, not least from the virtuoso Mariinsky Orchestra, and Gergiev clearly knows how the piece goes, even if he favours speedy efficiency over warmth. Khudoley has a beautiful, soulfully lyrical voice and Olga Sergeeva throws everything at her performance as Barak’s wife, often with thrilling results. Edem Umerov’s pleasing bass-baritone is a good fit for Barak but Avgust Amanov makes a dreary Emperor, the voice grating and stiff, the acting standard semaphoring. Olga Savova is a forthright, fiery Nurse and there are solid voices in the smaller roles. But generally the engagement with the text is distressingly casual – pronunciation is atrocious; words get mangled and a couple even seem to have been made up; there’s little sense of anyone really knowing what they’re singing about. Dramatically speaking, then, the performance is inert and uninvolving, even if Strauss’s great score sweeps us along.
The sound and picture are both first rate, and Kent’s production, while unimaginative, presents the action with relative clarity, which Christof Loy’s enigmatic Salzburg production – uncut and superior in terms of cast and conducting – certainly doesn’t. With the older Solti and Sawallisch DVDs showing their age now, a universally recommendable modern Frau on film remains elusive.