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Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten (Mariinsky Orchestra / Valery Gergiev) [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]
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In October 2013, the Mariinsky label releases a DVD & Blu-ray of Strauss most Wagnerian of operas, Die Frau ohne Schatten. Filmed in the historic Mariinsky Theatre in 2011, it stars Russian tenor Avgust Amonov as The Emperor, Mlada Khudoley as The Empress, Olga Savova as The Nurse, and is conducted by Valery Gergiev. The Mariinsky Theatre is one of the few opera houses capable of staging Die Frau ohne Schatten, due to the demanding soloist roles, elaborate sets and large orchestral forces required. This epic production, premiered in 2009, is a collaboration between two British artists, director Jonathan Kent and designer Paul Brown, and has become a regular fixture in the opera company s schedule. Kent has a long established relationship with the Mariinsky, and with Strauss in particular. 'Die Frau ohne Schatten' (The Woman without a Shadow) is an outstanding display of virtuosity, presenting one of Strauss most complex and colourful scores. The three-act opera, with libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is an exotic fairytale with a strong moral dimension, focusing on themes of the unborn and the supernatural. Avgust Amonov, who plays the role of The Emperor, has been a Mariinsky Theatre soloist since 2003. Prize-winner at the XIX International Glinka Vocalists Competition (2001) and the Irina Arkhipova Foundation (2004), his title roles include Shostakovich s 'The Nose', Verdi s 'Don Carlo' and Wagner s 'Parsifal'. Soprano Mlada Khudoley was named Singer of the Year by the St Petersburg Theatre Society for her performance of the role of Sieglinde (Die Walküre) opposite Plácido Domingo in 2001. Her concert repertoire includes the soprano roles in Stravinsky s 'Les Noces', Mahler s Eighth Symphony and Beethoven s Ninth Symphony. Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Savova joined the Mariinsky Opera Company in 1996, and was nominated for a Grammy award in 2001 for her recording of Prokofiev s 'Semyon Kotko'. Her repertoire also includes the mezzo-soprano roles in Verdi s Requiem and Berlioz s dramatic legend 'La damnation de Faust'.
It is perhaps not surprising that this strangest of Strauss s operas has long been considered a tough nut to crack, but the number of performances which have the measure of the work have become more quotidian as is the case with this reading that takes an intriguing approach to this symbolist piece. The Russian voices have a highly individual sound... the vocal colouring is always distinctive. Picture and sound values are impressive... The Mariinsky Theatre is one of the few opera houses capable of staging Die Frau ohne Schatten, due to the demanding soloist roles, elaborate sets and large orchestral forces required. This epic production, premiered in 2009. --Barry Forshaw, Cd Choice- November 2013
**** Performance **** Recording Valery Gergiev coaxes some magnificent playing from his Mariinsky orchestra with that extraordinary style that seems to rely on little more than grasping a toothpick. The Act II interludes are sumptuous with the brass and woodwind in particularly fine fettle. But it s Gergiev s attention to detail that really counts with nothing smudged or generalised in his reading of the score. --BBC Music Magazine (UK)
The orchestra under, inevitably, Valery Gergiev sounds absolutely terrific... Gergiev s pacing and dynamics seem very sure and the orchestral passages are very impressive... The picture quality on Blu-ray is excellent and both the surround and stereo sound tracks are vivid and spacious. --Opera Ramblings (US)
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If you haven't already wasted your money on this awful production made even worse by a lacklustre orchestre, don't buy it. I'm not going to waste any more time reviewing it because it's just not worth it.
Act 2. A return to the spiritual world,traditional costumes which give it this other worldliness,so you understand where you are.A tree with huge light blue flowers are at one end of the stage,with a small falcon. Nearby a horse.Then back to today's world.Act 3 really comes into its own,where the Empress is laying next to the stone of her husband. Above the rocks,hang to one side,the posessions of the physical world and the other the red door and the tree;symbolizing her state of mind and the test she must endure.The scenery and costumes help you understand the opera and what world you are in.Brilliant.
Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus;at 203 minutes,faster then Thielemann.Each conductor has a different agenda and cannot be compared. Gergiev brings out the modern music and melodies within the opera. Thielemann the beautiful long melodies of Strauss.One brings out the tension contained within this opera,the other the sheer beauty of the score.Gergiev uses the shortest baton I have ever seen,it is the size of a match stick.Both are good."This score" according to Irving Kolodin,contains some of the freshest,sweetest,and most heartfelt music Strauss wrote."
The singers I have never heard of before.The Emperor is Avgust Amonov,has the type of voice Peter Seiffert had when he was younger. The Empress Mlada Khudoley,has a different voice to the great Anne Schwanewilms,but the part suits her. There is no one to touch Anne in this part.But Mlada is very good.Nurse,Olga Savova,is near enough a contralto. Barak, Edem Umerov, sings "Mir anvertraut" beautifully,which makes you gulp.When his wife, Olga Sergeeva,who has sung Brunnhilde in the Ring cycle,sings if 'only you would believe I have not sold my shadow' in a distinctive manner. You believe her.This opera has to have four good singers for it to work,and they have,and it does.The rest of the cast are worthy of the parts they sing.
This opera staged by Loy as if actually recording the opera in the mid 1950's,works on many levels.It is about a new singer threatening a older one,but also the psychological termoils in the life of the singers,which illustrates what this opera is all about.It made you think.Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmoniker. The cast has Anne Schwanewilms,Michaela Schuster,Wolfgang Koch,Evelyn Herlitzius,Stephen Gould.It works because of these singers but it is not to everyones taste because of the staging.But it had a different agenda and cannot in anyway be compared with this new version. This new version is a combined traditional and modern staged opera,which would suit those who did not like this Thielemann version.Even if you did,like me,you will like this version as well.
ALL REGIONS. HD 1080i. 2.o 24 bit PCM Stereo. 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Menu English. Subtitles: English. French. German.Spanish. Russian.The booklet has the synopsis and details about the singers in Russian,English,French and German,plus a few pictures from the opera.
REFERENCES:Batta,A.(Ed) Opera.2005.Konemann. Ewen,D. The world of 20th century music.1968. Prentice-hall. Guinn,J&Stone,L(Eds) St James Opera Encyclopedia(1997).Visible Ink. Holden,A.(Ed) The Penguin opera guide 1995.Viking. Kennedy,M. Richard Strauss.(1976)J.M Dent &Sons.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and his librettist Hofmannsthal were opposites. The former was easy going,the latter was a snob,stiff and aloof. However,when Hofmannsthal died on the 13th July 1929,Strauss wrote to his widow,"no musician ever found such a helper and supporter. No one will ever replace him for me or the world of music."Between them they created; Elektra,Der Rosenkavalier,Ariadne Auf Naxos,Die Frau Ohne Schatten,Die Egyptian Helena(available on Decca with Gwyneth Jones,Detroit Sym orch cond Dorati) and Arabella.
The libretto for Die Frau ohne Schatten draws upon Grimm's fairy tales,folk stories of China,Persia(Iran)and India,to the works of Goethe,Ruckert and other German Romantic poets.However,some of Strauss's music is in the Wagnerian mode,also that of Elektra, the delicacy of chamber music,and in parts resembles closely Mahler's 8th symphony and Das Lied von der Erde's exotic oriental flavour.
The Synopsis: In the World of spirits,a young Empress,offspring of the supernatural Keikobad,has no shadow. The shadow being symbolic of fertility. This is the reason why she cannot bear a child,though she has been married to the emperor for a year. In three days time her husband will be turned to stone,then she will be forced to return to her father. So the Empress accompanied by the nurse descends to earth to buy a shadow.They arrive at the hut of Barak,a dyer,who has a nagging wife,based upon Pauline,Strauss's wife. In return for worldly riches the wife is willing to sell her Shadow.Later on the wife reveals to Barak what she has done.He threatens to kill her.The Empress moved by pity states she cannot accept a shadow stained with blood. The dyers wife confesses she has not actually sold the the shadow. Then the Barak and his wife are sucked into the world of spirits,where they are reconciled.The Empress because of her unselfishness and nobility,gains a shadow and the Emperor is released from being a stone.
According to Ewen "the shadow is is a symbol of humanity.The Empress is a non human who has to experience love and pity to fulfil her.Barak is humanity,who has not achieved spiritual values.The nurse is unable to follow the Empress on her quest to have sympathy for all beings". The Crippled brothers represents the imperfect qualities of Mankind. Voices of unborn children: symbolizing latent creative posiblities,they await their manifestation.Falcon analytical consciousness.Hofmansthal stated that it is about,"combining the higher values of the spiritual realm with that of the earthiness of Man".There are so many ways one can interpret this opera.That is why it is one of my favourites.This opera was completed in 1917,so the work was probably a reaction to the First world war.The Premiere was held in 1919 at the Vienna Staatsoper.Dont forget the DGG CD Live version with Rysanek, cond Bohm.I hope you enjoy this opera as I did.
The entirely Russian cast, contrary to other opinions here, does very well indeed. If they're not quite the equal of the great stars of previous generations, they're still very good, and in many cases younger and fresher, even singing German. They're certainly better than the recent cast at Covent Garden. Olga Savova's superbly sung and acted Nurse would grace any cast, Evgeny Ulanov's sonorous Spirit Messenger is magnificent -- better even than Bryn Terfel on Solti's DVD version -- and Avgust Amonov, though a rather sedate stage figure, sings the Emperor far better than German heroic bellowers. Mlada Khudoley's Empress and Olga Sergeeva's Dyer's Wife strain their youthful voices at times, but live their roles passionately, and Eden Umerov's moments of gruff tone are balanced by some genuinely heart-wrenching singing and credible characterization. The supporting cast is excellent, and the sense of ensemble evident. Gergiev conducts with sweeping emotional force, and the Mariinsky orchestra sounds superb. The recording does it all justice, on BluRay especially. There are some of the usual stage cuts, but they're no great disadvantage.
Solti's Salzburg set, my previous favourite, is undoubtedly very good, even better conducted and with some fine casting, but the somewhat clinical production isn't nearly as involving and there isn't the intensity of acting and ensemble. The most recent competitor, Christof Loy's recording-studio staging, is wholly empty, a clumsy get-out of a difficult piece, and no more than adequate musically. This is the version which comes nearest to making this heavyweight fable a living human opera.
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