STRAUSS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos
Here are three important DVDs for opera fans. Strauss's massive Die Frau ohne Schatten, one of his most complex works, is a terror for opera producers. It requires five superb singers, a demand met in spades when the Met presented it in their new house in 1966 with a cast headed by Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry and James King (with Karl Böhm on the podium). This new DVD, recorded in 1992 when the Bavarian Opera toured Japan, isn't quite on that exalted level, but it comes very close. Best of all is American soprano Luana DeVol, stunning as the Kaiserin. It's easy to understand her successful European career at the time, although her recent Turandot disappoints (see REVIEW). Marjana Lipovsek is wonderful as the evil Nurse (she also is in the Decca DVD from the 1992 Salzburg Festival production conducted by Sir Georg Solti). First-rate singing throughout, with Wolfgang Sawallisch a true Straussian. He had recorded the opera for EMI in 1987 with the Bavarian Opera and an entirely different cast. This Frau offers a Japanese production team headed by director and kabuki actor Ennosuke Ichikawa. The colorful costumes and stark sets are remarkably effective. This is an outstanding issue, very well filmed , and the sound is superb. I prefer it to the Solti Salzburg DVD.
More outstanding Strauss can be found on the VAI issue of a telecast from January 7, 1969, a Boston Symphony concert performance of Ariadne auf Naxos. This is the original version of the opera including the expanded role of Zerbinetta magnificently sung by Beverly Sills, then in her prime. The entire cast is first-rate, Erich Leinsdorf a master of Strauss. Color photography and monophonic sound are just fine. This is an essential release for admirers of Beverly Sills and those who wish to experience the original version of the opera.
The already are two excellent Lohengrins on DVD, both with Peter Hoffman (see REVIEW). Here is another, this one from Baden-Baden's Festspielhaus, a co-production of Opéra National de Leon and Teatro alla Scala di Milano. Even if prefer a standard approach to the opera you may find director Nikolaus Lehenhoff's conception intriguing.He emphasizes the struggle between Good and Evil, between masculine and feminine, revenge and compassion. The minimal sets were designed by Stephan Braunfels. Of course there is no swan, costumes are contemporary. A bonus documentary film "Never Shalt Thou Ask Of Me" offers interviews with the director, principal singers and conductor Kent Negano. An intriguing release for sure, but I imagine most viewers will prefer a more standard approach.
R.E.B. (April 2007)