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Towards the end of his life, rightly suspecting that Die Frau ohne Schatten would be rarely staged, Strauss produced an orchestral Fantasia from the opera's music. Oddly enough, my excerpts cross the Fantasia's path not at all. The fact is certain of the opera's characters would try anyone's patience. Of course the Nurse had an impossible task trying to look after the future Empress when she had her talisman and could change shape just as she pleased. But Nurse becomes increasingly unpleasant as she uses all her wiles to wrest a shadow from the Dyer's wife, who is herself a fractious harridan. Having met Mrs Strauss, Hofmannsthal said she would be an admirable model for the wife -- Nurse too, I feel.

Luana DeVol as The Empress. DVD screenshot © 1992 Bayerische Staatsoper
Luana DeVol as The Empress. DVD screenshot © 1992 Bayerische Staatsoper

Quite the loveliest stretch of music is given to the Emperor (Peter Seiffert), who has to learn to hunt less and ensure his wife can have children and hence a shadow [watch and listen -- DVD1 chapter 3, 12:02-13:30]. Strauss teases us with snatches of the tune from time to time, happy signposts when feeling unusually lost. Caroline Maria Petrig as the Falcon now warns Luana DeVol's Empress that, unless she acquires a shadow within three days, she must depart to father Kaikobad and the Emperor will be turned to stone [watch and listen -- DVD1 chapter 5, 16:57-18:24]. Nurse loathes humanity, but realises it is only in the brutish world below that she might cadge a shadow for her mistress.

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Copyright © 24 June 2007 Robert Anderson, London UK


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