Richard Strauss

Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), opera, Op. 65 (TrV 234)

    Description by Rovi Staff

    Die Frau ohne Schatten ("The Woman without a Shadow"), the third of Richard Strauss' collaborations with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is an ambitious mixture of operatic elements, both musically and dramatically. The story is part parable, part quest, and part human drama in which love and character are put to the test; the readiest comparison is to Mozart's The Magic Flute (Hofmannsthal, in fact, was the first to make the connection), with its veneer of comedy removed. Based on a fairytale by Wilhelm Hauff, Die Frau ohne Schatten traces the fortunes of a childless fairy empress whose desire for a "shadow" (fertility) drives her to consider stealing the desired qualities from an unhappy mortal woman. However, she cannot bring herself to do so, and eventually gains her own shadow by developing kindness and understanding.

    Hofmannsthal created a libretto of such symbolic and textual complexity that he himself had trouble keeping it straight -- in fact, he wrote a concurrent prose version that allowed him to develop the themes more fully; this prose explanation sometimes accompanies the opera in performance to assist audiences. The correspondence between the librettist and Strauss shows that the composer, at times, often did not "get it" either.

    The richness and complexity of Hofmannsthal's writing inspired Strauss to compose one of his densest scores, packed with intricate leitmotifs and exploiting his orchestrational talents to the fullest. In fact, it is perhaps only Strauss' ability to exploit the colors and textures of the orchestra that prevents Hofmannsthal's tale from lapsing into silliness; how many composers can pull off a chorus of unborn children that sings through the mouths of fish frying in a pan without straying into unintentional comedy?

    Die Frau receives regular performances, but it has never established itself in the hearts and minds of opera-goers in the same was as Strauss' other stage works. Certainly this is partly due to the cryptic libretto, but it is also a testimony to the difficulty of the vocal writing. The role of the emperor calls for a true heldentenor, and the singers often have to compete with an orchestra of formidable size: Strauss employs quadrupled woodwinds, extensive percussion and divided strings -- two sections each of violas, cellos, and basses. Having said that, however, Strauss frequently deployed the orchestra with exceptional restraint, often creating chamber-like sonorities that remind a listener of his later Capriccio.

    Though Die Frau cannot rival the composer's earlier Elektra for sheer musical and harmonic audacity, it isn't far behind. He concocts sounds and sonorities that would seem brazen removed from their context, but which meld so well with their dramatic context as to recede into the greater musical tapestry. Whereas in Elektra Strauss sought to draw attention to his adventurous musical choices, here he puts them fully at the service of more subtle dramatic concerns. Highlights of the score include the passages sung by the Emperor's falcon -- marvelously birdlike -- and the Watchmen's hymn from the end of the first act.


    1. Licht über'm See, ein fliessender Glanz (Die Amme)
    2. Ist mein Liebster dahin (Die Kaiser)
    3. Wie soll ich denn nicht weinen? (Des Falken Stimme)
    4. Amme, um alles, wo find' ich den Schatten?
    5. Flight down to Earth
    6. Dieb! Da nimm!
    7. Sie aus dem Hause
    8. Dritthalb Jahr bin ich dein Weib
    9. Was wollt ihr hier?
    10. Ach, Herrin, süsse Herrin!
    11. Hat es dich blutige Tranen gekostet
    12. Mutter, Mutter, lass uns nach Hause!
    13. Trag' ich die Ware selber zu Markt
    14. Sie haben es mir gesagt
    15. Komm bald wieder nach Haus, mein Gebieter
    16. Was ist nun deine Rede, du Prinzessin
    17. Orchestral Interlude
    18. Falke, Falke, du wiedergefundener
    19. Stille... O weh, Falke, o weh!
    20. Es gibt derer, die haben immer Zeit
    21. Schlange, was hab'ich mit dir zu schaffen
    22. Ein Handwerk verstehst du sicher nicht
    23. Wer da?
    24. Sieh - Amme - sieh
    25. Zum Lebenswasset
    26. Wehe, mein Mann!
    27. Es dunkeit, dass ich nicht sehe zur Arbeit
    28. Es gibt derer, die bleiben immer gelassen
    29. Das Weib ist irre
    30. Barak, ich hab' es nicht getain!
    31. Schweigt doch, ihr Stimmen!
    32. Mir anvertraut
    33. Auf, geh nach oben, Mann
    34. Sie kommen!
    35. Fort mit uns
    36. Aus unsern Taten steight ein Gericht!
    37. Was Menschen bedfurfen?
    38. Keikobad! Deine Dienerin
    39. Weh uns Armen!
    40. Vater, bist du's?
    41. Goldenen Trank
    42. Ach! Weh mir! Mein Liebster starr!
    43. Wenn das Herz aus Kristall zerbricht
    44. Sind das die Cherubim
    45. Engel sind's die von sich sagen!
    46. Trifft mich sein Lieben nicht
    47. Nun will ich jubeln
    48. Vater, dir drohet nichts

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Metropolitan Opera 811357018255
    2016 Metropolitan Opera 811357018224
    2015 Oehms Classics OC 964
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon B002013902
    2012 Erato / Teldec 2564662155
    2012 Decca
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9249
    2010 Decca 425 981-2DM3
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 001122002
    2006 Teldec
    2006 Opera D'Oro 7026
    2005 Orfeo 668053
    2004 Ponto 1015
    2001 Melodram 60006
    2000 Gala Records 100607
    2000 Opera D'Oro 1218
    1999 Golden Melodram 30033
    1997 Teldec 13156
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449584-2
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 445325
    1992 Decca 436 243-2DHO3
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 49074
    Myto Historical Line / Myto Records 212
    Sefel Records 5028