STRAUSS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
ELLIOTT CARTER - 103rd Birthday Concert - December 8, 2011 -92nd
Street Y, New York
I first experienced Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten in the production given in 1966 at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House. Karl Böhm conducted and the cast featured Leonie Rysanek as the Empress, James King as the Emperor, Christa Ludwig as the Dyer's Wife, and Walter Berry as Barak. The performance was utterly magnificent, setting a standard that has yet to be equaled. Pirate disks are available of the broadcast, and perhaps eventually Sony will reissue it from master tapes in their historic Met series. There is a superb Vienna performance on CD, with the same artists, equally fine as everyone was in top form. And one would not want to be without the historic 1955 Decca recording with Böhm and Rysanek. This site has mentioned a splendid Bavarian Opera DVD production directed by Wolfgang Sawallisch (REVIEW), and a less successful more recent Salzburg presentation with Christian Thielemann conducting (REVIEW). Now we have this 2011 production from the Mariinsky Theatre with Valery Gergiev conducting and a group of Russian singers. It is disappointing in many ways. Paul Brown designed the sets and costumes. He has decided that the second act would take place in a laundromat (!!) with washers and dryers, along with an old car on stage left (Barak and his brothers drive off to work in it). There are many effective projected images and effects, but all are for naught in this "modern" version, particularly when the singers are inadequate. Of the principals, only Edem Umerov is up to his task. The women are vocally insecure and cannot cope with Strauss's demanding writing—you will hear a constant stream of unpleasant sounds. Video lets us see what was there, audio does not capture Strauss's rich orchestral textures. The booklet does not give any track listings, a major omission, although considering how inadequate this production is, perhaps it really doesn't matter.
Wagner's early opera Rienzi has not fared well on DVD. Several; years ago this site mentioned a wretched production from Berlin conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, with Torsten Kerl in the title role (REVIEW). That ill-advised production, staged by Philipp Stölzi, emphasized Gestapo elements, with projected scenes s of battle, and the score was severely cut which, considering the concept, perhaps was a good thing. This new version from Milan directed by Jorge Lovelli.is infinitely superior, with relatively simple sets and costumes neither of which seem appropriate for the opera .Singing is not the problem. Again we have Torsten Kerl in the demanding title role, and he is in fine form. There is a fatal flaw in this DVD presentation. The booklet contain a lengthy interview with Lovelli in which he attempts to justify his concept of the opera, and there is a very concise synopsis. But there is no listing of tracks and timings in the booklet; that information is provided on the video, but it surely is awkward to access, impossible while viewing the production. Excellent video and audio, but Rienzi, the last of the medieval tribunes, is still waiting for a production that respects what Wagner composed.
There was a very special concert given in New York's 92nd Street Y December 8, 2011. It was a celebration of the 103rd birthday of the dean of American composers, Elliott Carter. The festive occasion was organized by Fred Sherry, who wrote an appreciation of the composer, and we hear three premieres, as indicated above. All of the music focused on Carter's more recent chamber works. Also included are video comments by George Benjamin, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen and Colin Matthews. The concert ends with all singing Happy Birthday to the venerable composer, and it is a delight to see him in such a jovial mood and in good health at the time. Carter died November 5, 2012 and always will be remembered for his incredibly complex scores. He was a great man of music indeed.
R.E.B. (February 2014)