The Frau that Started it All
The Cultural Observer | 01/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the last two months of 1955, the Wiener Staatsoper audience was treated to a then Straussian rarity that a group of musicians began championing around the world to great acclaim. It was through this gifted bunch of singers and this great conductor that Die Frau Ohne Schatten became a mainstay in opera houses around the world. This conductor, Karl Böhm, was a friend of the composer and thought this massive score to be one of the composer's greatest gifts to mankind. He was right. The opera, perhaps one of the most complex, polyphonic scores penned by Strauss' hand, is extremely challenging and perhaps impossible to stage without the presence of great personalities to carry off the glorious music. One could say that Die Frau Ohne Schatten was Strauss' Don Carlo, not only requiring a great mind to birth the music onstage, but also demanding a quintet of great voices to assume the characters onstage.
Fortunately, for the opera lover, Strauss' Frau has been served well on records. Along with this live performance, Karl Böhm and more or less the same group of singers took this to the recording studio and immortalized an interpretation that would forever be remembered in history as the first and perhaps one of the greatest Frau's ever realized. Böhm's dedication to the score is audible in both documents and evidences a clarity, an orchestral texture, and a rhythmic drive that makes Frau live through sound alone. His cast is exemplary. For more than three decades, Leonie Rysanek was everyone's ideal empress. Not only did she easily command the role's high tessitura, but she also brought a humanity that made the empress a more immediate and loving character. It was a not a diaphanous voice like Cheryl Studer's was, but when she was on top of her game as she was here, she could arrest the audience's attention with the kind of blazing intensity she usually invests in every role she sings.
Hans Hopf is the emperor. He was one of the great Heldentenors of the last century, but he was also not very imaginative. Böhm would need James King many years later to give a three dimensional take on this character, whose part may be short but in the hands of a great interpreter can become one of the most touching and beautiful characters in the opera. Elisabeth Höngen, one of Germany's greatest mezzos, sings the treacherous role of the Amme in this recording. The Amme is perhaps the most difficult character to sing due to her complex qualities and a vocal line that takes the instrument from the depths of the voice to a high B. Kudos to her for her fine delineation of character and her highly capable assumption of this great mezzo role. Paul Schöffler, another great singer from that era, is Barak. Schöffler was a great Hans Sachs and a Wotan during his day, and he was a sensitive singer who knew exactly how to phrase a line of German music. As the dyer, no one sings the part more sensitively. Christel Goltz is the Dyer's Wife. Madame Goltz was one of the great dramatic sopranos of her day, underrated due to the presence of great international stars who were chosen to take the limelight. She is here finally given the attention that is due to her talent, and what a Färberin she is! No one, not even Nilsson, Marton, Behrens, Vinzing, or Ludwig, could come close to the kind of abandon that she puts on display here. The only two singers I can think of excelling in the Dyer's Wife in this respect are Inge Borkh and Gwyneth Jones.
In this recording, you hear a great night of the opera documenting what is the grand introduction of Frau ohne Schatten to the world of music. And in all respects is it a great performance. Highly recommended."