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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.
The fairytale nature of Die Frau ohne Schatten presents some challenges for the more experimental stage director used to modernising works, so it was always going to be interesting to see how Christof Loy was going to rework the story for the 2011 Salzburg Festival. Even by Loy's standards for courting controversy through a very personal conceptual approach, the Salzburg...
Published on 23 Mar 2012 by Keris Nine

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best!
This production from the 2011 Salzburg Festival has a lot going for it, strong cast, fine orchestra and conductor as well as a recognized director, so it's a pity I found it un-engaging and in some respects, boring!
For this production Christof Loy, the director, removes the action from its usual setting, placing it in a drab 1950's recording studio, taking as his...
Published 17 months ago by Stuart Sillitoe


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best!, 26 Feb 2013
This review is from: Strauss: Die Frau Ohne Schatten (Opus Arte: OA1072D) [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
This production from the 2011 Salzburg Festival has a lot going for it, strong cast, fine orchestra and conductor as well as a recognized director, so it's a pity I found it un-engaging and in some respects, boring!
For this production Christof Loy, the director, removes the action from its usual setting, placing it in a drab 1950's recording studio, taking as his inspiration the story of Karl Bohm's recording from the period when he was able to get stars from the Vienna Opera to record the work, un-paid, in an un-heated studio in the middle of winter. However, for me the result is one that leaves me look warm at best, its grey sets and costumes detracting rather than adding to the drama, this is further hampered by the lighting, which at times seems inadequate! It is only from act two that the action begins to unfold in the studio, but by this time the damage is done, and although it tries hard to redeem itself, the production doesn't quite make it. It almost seems as if this is a recession hit production, one which sought to save money on production costs, and as a result, one in which the drama came off worst!
This is a real shame as musically this is a first rate production, all the soloists are excellent, as are the chorus and orchestra. Stephen Gould is a strong Emperor whilst Anne Schwanewilms is a wonderful Empress with a voice that is more than able to convey all the drama of the role, it is just a shame that it is not able to show itself in a setting that is more fitting!
There are two extras, the first a rather limited cast gallery, the second, a documentary in which we see Thielmann rehearsing the opera, neither of these redeem the shortfalls in this production! Yes, Die Frau Ohne Schatten is regarded as the most difficult of Strauss' operas to stage, but for me, this production fails more than most, and some of the audience certainly thought so too, as there are audible `boos' amongst the applause!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking one dimension, 10 Jun 2012
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Die Frau ohne Schatten is my favourite opera. It has everything I could wish - tons of incredibly beautiful and fascinating music, and an imaginative and moving libretto. I have seen several great performances and I have listened to good audio recordings (Böhm and Solti). I am not very fond of near-VHS quality old recordings on DVD, so I have been looking forward to a modern blu-ray issue. And here it is. I knew however that this one would be different, kind of semi-concertant, and I don't want to see my favourite opera spoilt by a bad staging. But finally I gave in to my curiosity and bought it.

And yes, different it is. The setting is a recording studio. Soon after the recording has started the drama takes over. I was immediately dazzled - I felt this was good, really good. The orchestra under Thielemann played so beautifully, and the singing and acting was very good too. What was lacking in the visuals was well compensated by the focus on the relationships. Just as an example: In the beginning of Act III Barak and his wife, die Färberin, usually sit in two different caves, isolated from each other. Here the isolation is mental, the couple refuses to talk to each other; Barak reads a book while trying to keep his mind off the marital crisis.

The "Frosch" is sometimes criticised for being pretentious, unclear and difficult, but I don't agree with that at all. I like to think that the spirit world with the emperor and empress actually represents the Färberin's unconscious mind, in the Freudian sense. It is populated by her desires, fears and fantasies, by unborn children, and by a lot of archetypal symbols. The unconscious mind lives its own life and sometimes interacts with the Färberin's normal ego, often via the nurse. Frosch is the story of a woman in a very tough situation, living in hardship with a nice man who does not see or understand her. Her unconscious fantasies want something different and drive the couple to the crisis, but eventually her unconscious and normal egos mature and unite, and this is the grand finale. There are other ways to understand Frosch, but this one is simple and logical. Anyway, the visualisation of the spirit world is one of the things that makes Frosch so interesting.

Back to the performance. I think that Loy's ideas work fairly well until after the "Mir anvertraut". Then one moves to the spirit world and this is simply impossible to get into the studio, so the drama more or less ends and the actors return to recording. And here I feel that the opera is crippled. It is simply not enough just to sing about the boat, the door, the golden well, the emperor turned to stone, and all that. Some kind of visualisation is needed. An opera without visuals is only part of an opera.

And then the disaster becomes even worse in the final scene, which is staged as a Christmas concert. In Loy's setting it is supposed to be a 'statement' and not part of the plot. I don't buy it. The audience booed when Loy appeared on stage.

However, there is also the absolutely wonderful musical performance, especially by Thielemann and the Wiener Philharmoniker. The audio engineers must be commended; the sound quality is superb with clarity and detail at a level one seldom hears. The video is generally excellent although not completely flawless.

And as explained before, the first two acts are interesting and enjoyable, but the lack of one dimension - the visualisation of the spiritual world - is, especially in Act III, too disturbing, and the finish is horrible. I am still waiting for a blu-ray where the composers' intentions are convincingly realised with the help of modern technology.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars another modern fiasco, 19 July 2012
By 
John Chandler (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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I am beginning to despair at Opus Arte opera on Blu-ray. They started off with some wonderful offerings but with the exception of Billy Budd recent productions have mostly been terrible bombs. I did not think they could do much worse than their first Meistersinger and Dutchman but I was wrong. This muddled fiasco is even worse. It is not the singing or the playing which is wonderful but the incomprehensible production. As Strauss matured his operas required increasing attention to understand and this magical fairy tale especially so. This placed an extra responsibility on the stage director to help the audience follow the ever more complex plots. Rather like a Chinese classical story one needs to have it interpreted to make sense of the words. The infamous chicken before the egg! Here we start off with what might be a concert performance with singers reading the libretto and wandering about in a somehat disorganised way in suits and dresses. Minimal staging and lighting, and none of it bearing any connection to the on screen libretto. Yes there is some excellent facial acting but not much else. One needs to have done a lot of preparation to be able to work out who is who and what their relationship is.

If I had paid the hefty ticket price to see this in the opera house I would have been furious. I regard too-clever-by-half bare bones productions like this as an insult to the audience and to the composer alike. Some of the cast are even required to smoke, a disgrace in this day and age. The playing and singing is very fine but it is all ruined by the quite ghastly production. What a shame.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable., 23 Mar 2012
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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The fairytale nature of Die Frau ohne Schatten presents some challenges for the more experimental stage director used to modernising works, so it was always going to be interesting to see how Christof Loy was going to rework the story for the 2011 Salzburg Festival. Even by Loy's standards for courting controversy through a very personal conceptual approach, the Salzburg Festpiele Die Frau ohne Schatten must be one of the strangest conceits applied to any opera production. Not unsurprisingly, Loy dispenses with the fairytale setting entirely, ignores the stage directions, would appear to pay scant heed to the libretto, and instead sets Die Frau ohne Schatten in a recording studio in Vienna in 1955.

The idea of making the performance the performance, so to speak, isn't anything new in Loy's minimalist semi-staged productions, but this really takes the idea to another level altogether. The set is built to resemble, in meticulous reconstructed detail, the legendary Viennese concert hall, the Sofiensaal (destroyed in a fire in 2001), where, dressed in frumpy 1950s clothing, the singers here recreate the studio sessions for the first recording of Die Frau ohne Schatten by Karl Böhm in 1955. Well, it does and it doesn't, because although Die Frau ohne Schatten was indeed recorded in Vienna in 1955 by Karl Böhm, it was actually recorded, I believe, in the Musikverein, but, well, doesn't that just add to the perversity of the concept? Whatever the rationale, there seems to be little justification for having singers stand at a podium and sing out to the audience in a work as rich and wonderful as Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Evidently however, it's not quite that simple. There does seem to be some parallel drawn, perhaps, between the post-WWII setting of the recording of the opera and the time of its composition during the First World War. It seems no less extravagant to be recording such a work at a time of great privations (the concert hall is clearly unheated and there are no luxuries in the conditions or the sandwiches laid on for them), but like Strauss and Hofmannstahl's intentions (whether you judge them misguided or not, since the work was not well initially received), Die Frau ohne Schatten is an attempt to reconnect through art with the finer qualities of human nature in response to the horror going on in the world at that time. It's perhaps - and this is entirely my response to the work - the same recognition on the part of the performers in the post-war years of that deeper element in the work that hits the characters so hard, no more so than the confused Empress who is longing to regain a sense of humanity through the acquisition of a shadow, and the horror of the price that has to be paid for it.

Whatever the reason may be, Loy's production does in some way achieve a strong connection with the intent of a work whose purpose and meaning has always been elusive and enigmatic. In the way that it mixes musical references, asks self-reflexive questions on the nature of art and dramatic representation and has definite philosophical and humanitarian leanings, I can't help but think that the composer and librettist of such works as Ariadne auf Naxos, Der Rosenkavalier and even Capriccio (based on an idea by Hofmannstahl) would approve of such an approach. The model for Die Frau ohne Schatten according to the composer and librettist was Mozart's The Magic Flute, but to all intents and purposes the approach is Wagnerian and it's specifically Parsifal-like in its spiritual dimension and its theme of sacrifice and redemption. "There are higher powers at work".

Those higher powers are there of course in the music, which, as Strauss intended, takes over where words cannot adequately express. It's Wagner rather than Mozart that also influences Christian Thielemann's conducting of the orchestra and the fine singing performances. Scored for an orchestra of one hundred and seven, Thielemann controls every element of the huge sound that is created by the astonishing performance of the Wiener Philharmoniker, sweeping and powerful at times, and yet full of incredibly intricate, virtuoso touches and more sensitivity and heartfelt emotion than you would expect to find in the strange fairytale nature of the work. It is utterly, utterly beautiful - as fine an account of Strauss's most extravagant work as you could imagine. And as complete an account as well, the entire three and a half hours of the work presented here in full and uncut, restoring a balance to the work as a whole. It's all there and if you don't feel the full force of it in this production, then you must indeed have been turned to stone.

While this must have been extraordinary to experience live in the Salzburger Grosses Festspielhaus back in July 2011, it's to the credit of the recording that it's also an incredible experience in High Definition on the Blu-ray from Opus Arte. The image quality is impressive, but not clinical, with a slight softness that suits it. With a full four hours compressed onto the BD50 disc, there are a few instances of minor wavering and fluctuation in lines, but only if you are looking for them. The audio tracks are PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 and both are resolutely clear and powerful, with a gorgeous tone to the orchestration. There's a certain amount of reverb evident in the acoustics of the stage, which seems to be more pronounced in the stereo option, the surround mix spreading the sound a little better, I found. Extras on the disc include a Cast Gallery and Thielemann in Rehearsal, an interesting 25 minute look at the preparations for the production with interviews. Subtitles are in English, French, German and Spanish.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is the baby with the bathwater? You decide., 10 Aug 2012
By 
david may (hawkesbury heights, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
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This production seems to have divided opinions and it is hard to make a definitive recommendation. I still have mixed feelings after watching it twice now. Without a doubt the performance itself is magnificent and Thielemann gives a voluptuous reading of the score with clear lines and outstanding playing from the VIenna Philharmonic, especially in the sections which feature solo or chamber groupings. The female soloists are amazing. Anna Schwanewilms as the Empress and Micaela Schuster as the Nurse would, on their own, make the recoding a recommended purchase. Stephen Gould makes an imposing Emperor, though his rendition is not effortless. Wolfgang Koch and Evelyn Herltzius are impressive as the dyer and his wife. Sound and picture are stunning, amongst the best I have seen and heard on blu ray.

The production itself raises questions. Is it just a concert version? Has the producer gone too far in creating something that really isn't Die Frau Ohne Schatten? On one level, I miss the magic elements of the story. There is no wallowing in escapist fantasy here. There is definitely a narrative though and lots of drama and it is at times profound and moving. It certainly explores the themes of Hoffmansthal's libretto and stays true to the emotions and and dramatic resolution. While the original is full of magic , wonder and sweeping spectacle, the underlying themes are very cryptic. Here the themes of the Empresses' insecurity, the exploration of marriage and relationships and the role of children is actually made more clear with a deep psychological drama played out by opera singers at a recording session. It's just a matter of deciding if the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.

I enjoyed it more the second time through. My suggestion is that if you love this opera and know it well, then get this disc and come to it with an open mind. If it is your first experience, you might try the Solti DVD, also from Salzburg. It is a well done, traditional production.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Die Frau Ohnne Anything!, 10 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Strauss: Die Frau Ohne Schatten (Opus Arte: OA1072D) [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
I read the reviews and in spite of accepting it was going to be "interesting" nothing quite prepared me for what is the most outrageous self indulgent travesty I have watched for a long time. I have both the Solti and Sawallisch DVD'S as well as two really old terribly reproduced DVD'S with Nilsson/Wennberg (with Swedish subtitles) and Jones/Behrens (French subtitles) - which are still 100 times more engaging in spite of (I cannot stress enough) the most primitive and barely acceptable recordings.
I started watching and lasted half of ACT 1 and then came back to it a day later (unheard of for such a wonderful opera) - I thought I would watch the bonus to get some insite into what was going on. I watched as I feared a self indulgent diatribe particularly by the director (I use the term loosely) Loy about "meaning" and zzzzzzz.
My main gripe other than everything is that having people on stage so disengaged just aimlessly watching, waiting their cue, drinking tea spills over to the audience. Can you imagine how you would feel if the person next to you was texting on their mobile or the one two rows in front was reading their programme while all this high drama was going on? I would suggest you'd be furious but here so many pseudo's are going, "Oh my God, how wonderfully illuminating" - a case of, "The King's New Clothes" I would suggest. Added to that a Nurse looking more like Hilda Baker than the embodiment of evil. Followed by the whole female chorus appearing the same: as if Ms. Baker had cloned not only herself but also her male stooge. Looking into their compact mirrors and smiling at what they saw must have taken some rehearsing. I was half expecting, "She knows you know" appearing in the English subtitles.
Singing was powerful. But I still had a problem with the Empress relentlessly walking around with a look of enigmatic constipation on her face.
Over a period of five days I got to the end. The only thing worth waiting for was the curtain call and the booing that greeted the sham Loy. Trust me I joined in. If I had had a egg in my hand I would now be wiping it off the screen. Terrible. Terrible Terrible.
Sadly One is not allowed to give a nil point to this ..... this (cannot think of a word that is printable) - so I have given it 1 star. Buy it at your peril.
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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About the Sofiensaal as recording venue for Böhm's Die Frau ohne Schatten from 1955, 2 April 2012
By 
Eduardo Gentile (La Plata, Buenos Aires Argentina) - See all my reviews
Keris Nine wrote in his commentary on this page that he believe that the place for the recording of "Die Frau" conducted by Böhm on 1955 was not the Vienna's Sofiensaal but the Musikverein. This recording, produced for DECCA by Victor Olof and Peter Andry was a legendary one, by the enormous difficulties for that time and the challenge for a recording company on a time when the opera was relatively unknow for many people. In my city, Buenos Aires, Erich Kleiber conducted in 1949 Die Frau on Teatro Colon, but was a exception.
After reading about Vienna Philharmonic recording venues, on the investigation by John Hunt (vienna philharmonic and vienna state opera orchestras discography vol. two 1954-1989) was interesting to verify that "Die Frau" was the first of the recordings made at the Sofiensaal. Before this, DECCA have scheduled not only the Musikverein (a place shared with EMI) but a Redoutensal (a place into the Hofburg Palace) where the Così and Zauberflöte conducted by Böhm), Mozart's Piano Conecto Nº 27 (with Backhaus), Krips's Don Giovanni and last but no least the legendary Nozze by Kleiber taken place.
The sessions for Die Frau taken place between November 29th and December 10th, following the performances on the reopening Staasoper on this November. For this time and places is intesesting to search "Inside the recording studio" by Peter Andry (available on amazon.co.uk -who confirm the Sofiensaal as place for the recording) or the books written by John Culshaw ("Ring's resounding" and "Putting the record straight")
My sources were:
Wiener Philharmoniker - Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Orchestras: Discography: 1954-1989 Pt. 2
Mid-Century Conductors and More Viennese Singers, 10 Discographies Bohm, De Sabata, Knappertsbusch, Serafin, Krauss, Dermota, Rysanek, Wachter, ... Eberhard Wachter, Maria Reining, Erich Kunz
Inside the recording studio: Working with Callas, Rostropovich, Domingo and the Classical Elite
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13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars THE MOTHER OF ALL THE DISAPPOINTMENTS, 18 April 2012
By 
Francisco J. Muñoz (Santa Cruz, Bolivia) - See all my reviews
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That terrible disappointment this first installment on Blu-Ray of the magnificent opera by Richard Strauss "Die Frau Ohne Schatten".

A little history of how it went by entering in this work, those who want only the opinion of this Blu-Ray version, skip the next paragraph.

It is an opera that I love for many years back when I buy my first Wolfgang Sawallisch audio version, with Birgit Nilsson and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, the hurt of this "live" version is that it has a poor audio. Therefore purchase Giuseppe Sinopoli for Teldec, it was then where I could enjoy all the magnificence of this monumental work, both the music of Strauss as the drama of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, to date this is the version that I would have the first option, however you have some cuts. As my interest for the work was great buy the Sir Georg Solti (uncut version) audio version, great! With the arrival of new vision systems not endurance the temptation to see the opera and buy the Solti DVD version, a genuine wonder!

The staging of Christof Loy, is more disappointing that you can imagine. Simply all the opera develops as if the singers were in a recording studio, therefore there is no scenery of any kind, destroying all the purposes of the drama of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, all with neckties and portfolios point. That hurts... hope that very soon there is another installment in Blu-Ray of this work. The only pleasure is the see and hear Anne Schwanewilms, that shame that in this production she not can develop their potential great actress that has, evidenced in the Rosenkavalier in Blu-Ray.

At the moment I would recommend. If you want to see the opera: Solti on DVD (Decca), to only hear Sinopoli (Teldec).

Christof Loy, go and take a shower and look for a new job.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking, provocative and sublime!, 20 Jan 2013
By 
Phillip Bissell (Norfolk, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I do not usually write reviews but had to on this occasion...I came to this dvd with a great deal of trepidation, being familiar with a more 'conventional' approach....more realistic and truer to the stage directions a la the Solti dvd. HOWEVER...after the initial misgivings I was totally swept away with the sheer power of the staging to say nothing of the fabulous singing and playing! I do prefer traditional productions but this has just made me want more of innovative, thought provoking and intelligent opera productions....the old dust swept away. There is, of course, room for traditional productions and there are many favourites I have in my collection. I have seen modern productions of operas containing everything from spaceships to washing machines...but this production is in a class of its own...totally involving, beautifully filmed and above all you are totally connected to the emotions of the people involved....with close ups and widescreen vantage points. I don't think I have ever seen this opera so beautifully and perfectly presented.
So please, put your prejudices and expectations in a box on the shelf for a few hours and enjoy this magnificent achievement!
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars arrived very quickly, 18 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Strauss: Die Frau Ohne Schatten (Opus Arte: OA1072D) [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
I have played over many times very good as it is a difficult opera to listen to the first time
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