Die Frau ohne Schatten in Leipzig

At last! An opera production in Germany that is visually spectacular and pleasing and dramatically coherent and compelling; although the director responsible for the current version in Leipzig of Die Frau ohne Schatten,  Balazs Kovalik, is admittedly Hungarian. He was faithful to the themes of the piece, marital fulfilment and fertility, but at the same time rendered them enterprising and interesting. Thus instead of a conventional happy ending in which, to the chagrin of the Nurse, the two couples find each other again and relish the prospect of offspring, their ardour is checked as they ruefully survey a stage full of prams. Hofmannsthal’s symbolism is not neglected; rather the reverse. The falcon in this staging is prominent, a young boy leading the couples through their trials and to their fate.

Heike Scheele once again proved himself a master of scenography. The scenes of society on high were set in a lifeless white while for Barak and his wife in the world below, the environment was a tawdry city centre. And, just as in his designs for the Bayreuth Parsifal, one was impressed by the fluidity of the scene changes and how each stage picture complemented the score. Musically, this was a very exciting evening. Ulf Schirmer conducted a passionate unrestrained interpretation, but with the aid of the marvellous Gewandhaus Orchestra was also able to bring out the detail, particularly in Strauss’ depiction of Keikobad’s mysterious world. Jennifer Wilson has the voice of Barak’s wife but, during the second half, lost some control of it. Simone Schneider in contrast seemed never to be stretched and provided a very convincing characterisation of the Empress, both vocally and dramatically. The rich baritone of Thomas Mayer gave great pleasure but he  could have given the role of Barak a stronger profile. The veteran Wagnerian Doris Soffel was an outstanding Nurse.