Die Frau ohne Schatten is the most extravagant opera created by the duo Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. For the music of this enormously scored work ranges from the purest diatonic to the greatest dissonance. The dynamic range is also immense: it includes the greatest intensity of sound, but also the greatest restraint and introverted silence – whereby the orchestral part also features all kinds of demanding solos. But this is not the only reason why every performance of this “magical fairy tale” (Hofmannsthal) is a particular challenge.
To make Die Frau ohne Schatten a musical success requires no fewer than five world-class soloists. For their concert performance of the opera, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko have engaged the acclaimed dramatic sopranos Elza van den Heever and Iréne Theorin in addition to the American heroic tenor Clay Hilley – plus Michaela Schuster (mezzo-soprano) and Wolfgang Koch (bass), who sings all the great roles in his field.
At the heart of the opera is an empress who, as a spirit being, casts no shadow but must become human to prevent her husband from turning to stone. The wife of the dyer Barak agrees to a deal, accepting that her marriage will almost be destroyed. After countless entanglements, the empress gains her shadow and both couples rejoice together.