When Richard Strauss and his longtime librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal began work on Die Frau Ohne Schatten, in 1911, they were surely aiming high.
The two men had just scored an enormous success with their opera Der Rosenkavalier. A wistful drama of reluctant aging, and nostalgia for youthful love, Rosenkavalier was already being compared to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. So when Hofmannsthal proposed the new opera to Strauss, he suggested that if the previous drama was "their Figaro," Die Frau ohne Schatten might just be "their Magic Flute."
Perhaps because both artists expected so much of the new piece, the opera was a long time in the making. But there was likely more to it than that. The drama's lengthy gestation might also have been a result of its extraordinary depth and complexity.
Dramatically, the opera inhabits two worlds -- the real human world, and a sphere of pure spirituality. Along the way, those realms meet and interact, sometimes with results approaching disaster, but eventually delivering a distinctly optimistic message. Strauss completed the opera in 1917, writing much of its music during the midst of World War I. Yet it carries a theme of almost unbridled hope, and of ultimate confidence in the innate generosity of the human spirit -- all set to more than three hours of some of the most lushly beautiful music Strauss ever composed.
On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents The Woman with No Shadow in a production from London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. A top-notch, international cast includes tenor Johan Botha, soprano Emily Magee, baritone Johann Reuter and soprano Elena Pankratova, in a performance led by conductor Semyon Bychkov.