Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Die Frau ohne Schatten at San Francisco Opera

Johan Reuter (Barak) and Nina Stemme (Dyer's Wife)
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Act 3
Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Die Frau ohne Schatten opened on Sunday at SFO, some thirty-four years after its last performance on the War Memorial Stage. The performance was a triumph for all involved, especially Donald Runnicles, conducting the score for the first time (I was so surprised when I learned this), and the orchestra. They played absolutely magnificently, and you know, this isn't a work that gets played every day. By and large the singers are also great. I have a quibble or two but not many.

The company used Karl Böhm's cuts "as sanctioned by the composer" and I'm trying to get some more details on that. I can tell you that in Act 3, some of Barak and his Wife's wanderings around the Temple are trimmed and also the Empress's long speech before she finally refuses to take the Wife's shadow. There are cuts in Act 2 as well, but I can't be very specific about them.

Camilla Nylund (Empress) and David Butt Philip (Emperor)
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Act 3
Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

This is....a problem child of an opera, with extraordinarily beautiful music wedded to a maddening libretto laden with symbolism and full of apparent pro-natalist views and links between full humanity and fertility. I have one friend calling the opera garbage and another defending it (it's all about transformation! Well, yeah, but also babies! Babies! BABIES!). I am myself somewhere in between. I'd like to have a talk with Hofmannsthal, which is not happening, but I'm not throwing out anything this freaking gorgeous.

And it is! There is very little in opera that's this consistently beautiful. I saw the dress rehearsal and the first performance; I have a subscription ticket and likely I will go to at least one more performance. It is that good and who knows? It might be another 34 years before SFO stages Frau.

Here are the reviews that I have seen; no link to mine because it'll be in the August issue of Opera News

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