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Albert Innaurato, October 2012

STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (NTSC) OA1072D
STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7104D

This is a great musical account of the note-complete (usually heavily cut) Die Frau ohne Schatten, produced at Salzburg in July, 2011.

Strauss calls for a huge orchestra, with some unusual instruments. It helps conductor Christian Thielemann that he has the spectacular Vienna Philharmonic in the pit, apparently mesmerized. They give him a silken, caressing tone even in many of the strenuous passages. When he does build to a mighty fortissimo it is the more stunning, and the sound remains beautiful rather than clattery. His control of rhythm and detail allow for wonderful specificity and a totally unexpected charm—as in the Empress’ entrance, a mixture of bird song (winds, two celestas) and quietly lurking threat (soft brass), or in the wonderful playing of the gorgeous D major theme when Barak and his wife feel but can’t express their love. And the bite and precision Thielemann achieves are evident in his frankly amazing control of Strauss’ longest exploration of atonality—the nurse’s meltdown in Act 3.

The cast is exceptional. The villainous Nurse, a huge part in the complete score, considered “impossible to sing”, is done with panache by Michaela Schuster. As The Dyer’s Wife, Evelyn Herlitzius has the necessary wide range and temperament…Anne Schwanewilms seems light for the Empress, but her sweetness of tone and manner is very touching in Act 3. Stephen Gould sounds bulky but secure as the Emperor, and Wolfgang Koch is lovely in the lyrical music of Barak…The many smaller parts (some of which have difficult music to sing) are well cast… © 2012 Read complete review

Ionarts, September 2012

STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (NTSC) OA1072D
STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7104D

…it’s a great opera with music unlike anywhere else in Strauss. Especially thanks to Christian Thielemann’s conducting; succulent and lean in turns, modern yet intransigently sumptuous. And uncut, which turns the Nurse (Michaela Schuster) into a principal character! Evelyn Herlitzius, the Dyer’s wife, also stands out, the other singers performs between convincingly and admirably. © 2012 Ionarts Read complete review

David Shengold
Opera News, September 2012

STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (NTSC) OA1072D
STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7104D

Anne Schwanewilms’s wary, delicate impersonation of the Empress offers flute-like, instrumental vocalism, mainly beautiful. With her “Bette Davis eyes,” soprano Evelyn Herlitzius makes a compelling, vibrant Dyer’s Wife; her voice — no more a thing of great beauty than was Goltz’s — is pliant, expressive and relativelycomfortable at the demanding climaxes. Stephen Gould copes manfully with the Kaiser’s grueling tasks…Michaela Schuster, an exuberantly detailed Nurse, enters 200 percent into her character, singing with abandon if occasional raw patches at range extremes.

Thielemann’s work is, simply put, superb. He rules the Vienna Philharmonic — which, as he says, is an optimal ensemble to perform this score. The texture and playing are quite staggering, and the vital solo cello and violin passages prove extraordinary. As in the Met’s 2001 production (what a shame it was not documented, with Deborah Voigt in zenith form), Thielemann opens all of the extensive cuts Böhm made in the score, intensifying the demands made on the singers (and, frankly, on their auditors). The supporting cast has no weaknesses; particular honor goes to the Spirit Messenger of Thomas Johannes Mayer and the lovely-sounding Guardian of Christina Lands­hammer. © 2012 Opera News Read complete review

Richard Lawrence
Gramophone, August 2012

STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (NTSC) OA1072D
STRAUSS, R.: Frau ohne Schatten (Die) (Salzburg Festival, 2011) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7104D

…this is no staging but a concert performance with a difference.

It’s all a long way from the original but if you can accept Loy’s reinvention there’s much to admire…the Vienna Philharmonic play like angels: Christian Thielemann is alive to every detail of Strauss’s kaleidoscopic orchestration. As the Empress, Anne Schwanewilms is outstanding, her gleaming soprano scoring bullseye after bullseye. Michaela Schuster’s subtle facial expressions are well caught by the camera…Wolfgang Koch is a sterling Barak…

Thielemann/Loy is absolutely complete, including all the Empress’s spoken words in Act 3. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2012

Many commentators describe Richard Strauss’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten as musically his finest opera. He had used a libretto by Hofmannsthal that related the fairy-tale of the Emperor who marries the beautiful daughter of Keikobad, master of the spirit world. That she cannot have children is her misfortune, and the fact that she has no shadow setting her aside from those around her. With her Nurse she goes in search of a poor woman who will sell her shadow. Things go dreadfully wrong for both her and the woman who, at first, seems willing to sell that shadow, but the story ends happily for all concerned when true love persuades Keikobad to release her, complete with shadow, into the human world. For this 2011 Salzburg Festival production Christof Loy changes the story to the opera’s first recording in 1955 when the young soprano arrives to make her first recording as the Empress and there meets the long-standing famous singer who is cast as the Nurse. I wont spoil your enjoyment of his totally new version by relating the whole of the Loy’s story, for you will have to make up your own mind as to whether you want something totally new in the Loy/Strauss opera or the original one from Hofmannsthal/Strauss. It really is as simple as that, for the two are totally and utterly different, and without the sound track Strauss would have no recognition of his opera had he seen this film. Loy for his part has been successful in adapted the actions of the opera singers involved to Hofmannsthal words, though you have to know the full story of those first recording sessions, and the people involved, before you can begin to understand the Loy’s version as the words will not tell you that. Much of the first act looks like a concert version with singers stood behind music stands as in a recording session, but Loy slowly breaks them free of those restraints as we move into the second and third acts. Take away the pictures and listen to the sound track, and, having heard all of the presently available recordings, this would be my top recommendation. It has today’s greatest female singer of Strauss, Anne Schwanewilms, in the leading role, her last act plea to her father as she expresses a desire to die rather than betray the love of the Emperor is deeply moving. She is almost upstaged by the potent voice of Evelyn Herlitzius as the Dyer’s Wife who does have rather more to sing in the opera than anyone. Stephen Gould makes a powerful Emperor who never spares his voice, while Wolfgang Koch is ideal as the brooding Dyer. The smaller roles are all well handled, and the final jewel in the crown comes from the exquisite playing of the Vienna Philharmonic under Christian Theilemann. I presume the enormous set is an accurate recreation of part of Vienna’s Sofiensale where the 1955 recording took place. It is magnificent and must have cost an absolute fortune to build. So far as picture quality and sound is concerned the results are outstanding. I watched it in Blu-ray, but it is also available as standard DVD on OA1072D. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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