STRAUSS: Die Frau Ohne Schatten
Stephen Gould (The Emperor). Anne Schwannewilms (The Empress). Michaela Schuster (The Nurse).Wolfgang Koch (Barak). Evelyn Herlitzius (Barak's Wife). Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Christian Thielemann, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO TT: 220 min. + 26 min. documentary

BERG: Suite from Lulu. Der Wein .MAHLER: Das klagende Lied
Anna Prohaska, soprano; Dorothea Röschmann, soprano; Anna Larsson, contralto; Johan Botha, tenor; Vienna State Opera Chorus/Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Pierre Boulez, cond.

Mischa Didyk (Hermann). Lado Ataneli (Count Tomsky/Ziatogor), Ludovic Tezier (Prince Yeletsky). Ewa Podles (Countess). Emily Magee (Lisa). Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Michael Boder, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD TT: 180 min.

One of my most thrilling nights in the opera house was the Met's presentation of Die Frau Ohne Schatten during their opening season in 1966, their first performance of this masterpiece, with an all-star cast including Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, James King, and Walter Berry, with Irene Dalis as the Nurse and Karl Böhm conducting. Let us hope Sony will reissue this in their series of live Met broadcasts. In 1955, the Vienna State Opera presented Frau and the cast and conductor loved the opera so much that they agreed to record it without fee. This was the first recording of the opera. Rysanek was the Empress, Christel Goltz the Dyer's Wife, Paul Schoeffler the Dyer, Hans Hopf the Emperor, and Elisabeth Höngen the Nurse, with Böhm on the podium. This classic recording, made in stereo, is still available and all those who love this remarkable score should own it, even though some small cuts were made. The only weakness in that cast was Goltz, then towards the end of her career. This new Salzburg production is almost a non-production. Directed by Christof Loy and designed by Johannes Leiacker, it is a performance replicating recording sessions for the historic 1955 recording. Costumes (by Ursula Renzenbrink) are modern and varied, and one can see engineers at their tape machines, with singers occasionally moved for best stereo effect. The simple single set is the stage of the Musikverein. Singers sometimes respond to each other dramatically, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they take sips of water, conveniently handed to them by an assistant. Only in the final scene is there a splash of color as the stage is filled with choruses and unborn children. The performance is of highest quality. Thielemann obviously loves this score which is presented without cuts but he has a tendency to subdue major climaxes, unlike Böhm who unleashes the huge orchestra when appropriate, particularly in the closing scene. Anne Schwannewilms is a fine Empress, dramatically convincing, but she doesn't have the rich huge sound of Rysanek. Evelyn Herlitzius is a convincing Dyer's wife and easily copes with the demanding role. Michaela Schuster is a menacing powerful Nurse. Wolfgang Koch's Barak is excellent in every way, but Stephen Gould, unfortunately, is severely taxed as the Emperor, the only weak link in the cast. . Video is super-clear, audio adequate although orchestral sound is somewhat remote. Subtitles in four languages clarify the confused plot, and there is a documentary featuring rehearsals. This is a rather odd but important issue for Strauss lovers.

Pierre Boulez is a favorite at the Salzburg Festival, and his July 28 concert that opened the 2011 Festival is on this new DVD. It seems a rather odd program for a festive occasion, but it does highlight two composers with strong associations with Vienna: Alban Berg and Gustav Mahler. .A suite from Lulu features the remarkable coloratura soprano Anna Prohaska in Lulu's Lied and the brief music sung by the countess at the opera's end. Lulu's scream as she is murdered by Jack the Ripper is omitted. Prohaska also can be seen on a recent DVD performing the same music with Claudio Abbado on the podium (REVIEW). Dorothea Röschmann is heard in Berg's concert aria Der Wien which wears composed at the same time as Lulu, a setting of three poems by Charles Baudelaine about wine: The Wine's Soul, The Wine of Lovers, and The Wine of the Lonely One. This is sung magnificently by Röschmann who easily copes with the very difficult score. She also appears as one of the soloist in the featured work, Mahler's Das klagende Lied, presented in the two-movement version. Boulez is a master of Mahler; he has recorded all of the symphonies except the tenth, and in 1970 recorded Das Klagende Lied in London. It is fascinating to watch him conduct, so precise and detailed, showing no emotion whatever. Orchestral playing is outstanding, and video director Michael Beyer obviously knows the score as well as the conductor: there are countless brief shots of individual instruments. Video and audio are first-rate. Recommended!

Two videos of Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame have been mentioned on this site, a production from the Paris Opera in 2005 conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, easily forgotten (REVIEW), and a 1992 performance with the Kirov Opera directed by Valery Gergiev which generally is satisfactory, although it has its problems (REVIEW). Both are totally eclipsed by this superb new version from Barcelona June 21, 2010. William Orlandi's sets and costumes are perfect in taking us to St. Petersburg in the time of Catherine the Great, and lighting designer Albert Faura often produces dramatic effects. The cast uniformly is outstanding. Ukrainian tenor Mischa Didyk's acting is rather primitive, but his singing of the demanding role of Hermann is assured. Ewa Podles is a formidable, frightening figure as the Countess, and American soprano Emily Magee, who is one of the major sopranos on the current operatic scene, is brilliant as the unfortunate Lisa. Her soaring voice is glorious, and dramatically she also excels, particularly in her scene with Hermann in the final act. Gilbert Deflo's direction usually has the singers facing the audience even when they are singing to each other, but this is a minor point. The Liceu orchestra is in fine form under Michael Boder's knowing direction. This is an exciting performance of Pique Dame, and, viewed on Blu Ray, offers crystal-clear, brilliant video. Audio also is state-of-the art. This is a major operatic DVD. Don't miss it!

R.E.B. (August 2012)