Date: 4 Sept 2019
Location: Grand Palace Hall
Category: Great Orchestras of the world
Vladimir Jurowski conductor, The Rundfunkchor Berlin, Benjamin Goodson conductor of the choir, Romanian Radio Children’s Choir, Răzvan Rădos conductor of the choir, Carmen Lidia Vidu multimedia director
Torsten Kerl the Emperor (tenor), Anne Schwanewilms the Empress (soprano), Ildikó Komlósi the Nurse (mezzo-soprano), Yasushi Hirano the messenger of Keikobad (baritone), Andrey Nemzer the Guardian of the Threshold, Artjom Vasnetsov, Christoph Oldenburg, Philipp A. Mehr Three Town Watchmen, Michael Pflumm the Apparition of a Youth (tenor), Nadezhda Gulitskaya the voice of a Falcon (soprano), Karolina Gumos a Voice from Above (alto), Thomas Mayer Barak, the Dyer (bass-baritone), Ricarda Merbeth the Dyer’s Wife (soprano), Christoph Späth the Hunchback, Barak’s brother (tenor), Tom-Erik Lie the One-eyed Man, Barak’s brother (baritone), Jens Larsen the One-Armed Man, Barak’s brother (bass), Nadezhda Gulitskaya, Sophie Klußmann, Verena Usemann, Jennifer Gleinig, Alice Lackner, Vizma Zvaigzne Servants (Children’s voices, Unborn children)
Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without Shadow) by Richard Strauss is an opera I had never listened to before, in German (not a language I am extremely familiar with), in the form of a concert without any subtitles or scenic context to give you a clue as to what was happening, so I was a bit skeptical as to whether I would enjoy this evening. Little did I know that this would turn out to be one of the highlights of the festival for me. Luckily, they had subtitles on a back screen, but the fun part was that I could only see half of the writing, the rest being blocked by the singers. But all was good, the fragments of subtitles along with my remnants of German knowledge and my previous reading of the plot helped me figure out what they were singing about so I could focus on the music and the singing.
Ricarda Merbeth in the role of the Dyer’s Wife was exceptional throughout the night, especially in the second act. Not only vocally but artistically, managing perfectly to portray the picture of an obnoxious wife making life difficult for her husband, only for her to come back to her senses in the end and appreciate their marital file. Thomas Meyer, Barak the Dyer, was a nice presence on the stage as well with his beautiful singing, but shining more with his expressive mimic and gestures. Ildikó Komlósi, the Nurse, was the one that captured my attention from the beginning, immersing herself within the character. Her voice faltered here and there in the second half of the night, but she was spectacular in the first act. I also liked the voice of Yasushi Hirano, I wish he had a bigger part. The trio of Christoph Späth, Tom-Erik Lie and Jens Larsen, Barak’s brothers, sang beautifully but they weren’t aligned with the rest of the cast in terms of volume: at one point they were disturbingly loud, almost entirely covering the children choir. Anne Schwanewilms, as the Empress, left me somewhat indifferent with her singing, her saving grace moment being the speech from the third act, when she summoned up some interpretation skills. I didn’t care for the Emperor at all.
In terms of music, because of the hall and the row I was in, right near the stage, I felt I couldn’t quite hear the entire orchestra when they were playing softer passages. Despite this, I liked the orchestral music, especially the powerful sections that marked the ending of each act, the third one being my favourite.
Overall, the musical score and the exceptional singing and interpretation by Ricarda Merbeth and Ildiko Komlosi made this a wonderful night, topped with two other festival acquisitions: the DVD Die Frau ohne Schatten (Studer, Moser, Marton, Hale, Lipovsek, Terfel, Wiener Philharmoniker, Salzburg Festival 1992, Sir Georg Solti, directed by Gotz Friedrich) and the book Absolutely on Music – Conversation with Seiji Ozawa by Haruki Murakami.