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"Now there are two: Solti and Sawallisch. In most aspects, this wonderful Sawallisch production clearly trumps Sir Georg Solti's recorded just two months earlier. First, Sawallisch's cast sings expressively, accurately, and musically without the heavy sweating and harsh vocalism that pervades Solti's. Secondly, Sawallisch claims Die Frau his favorite opera, and his enthusiasm is everywhere evident. Solti's reading seems dispassionate, workmanlike, and oddly colorless in spite of the ravishing sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. Sawallisch and the Bavarians aim at lightness, clarity, nuance, and color; while the pace can be a bit too fast (e.g. the final bars of Act III), Sawallisch's expressiveness is welcome alternative to Solti's flatland reading. Finally, and most importantly, the soloists here are stronger, more balanced, and in greater control of the opera's extreme demands. In particular, Janis Martin's Dyer's Wife sings this tortuous role with élan aural pleasantness in spite of her shrewish character's persona. By not sounding like a harridan (as Eva Marten does in Solti's), we are more likely to believe her redeeming qualities. As the Empress, Luana DeVol's transparent voice is immediately perceived in her opening moments: those athletic arabesques, set in an uncomfortably high tessitura, indicating the Empress's ethereal fragility, are sung pitch perfect - a rather unique accomplishment as this role goes. Alan Titus's Barak, while relaxed, is beautifully sonorous. Peter Seiffert's Emperor may be the best interpretation since Rene Kollo who practically owned the role a couple of decades ago. Marjana Lipovsek, the Nurse here and on Solti's disc, is phenomenal in coursing through the jagged and unforgiving barbwire music that Strauss sadistically throws at this villainess.
The production by Ennosuke Ichikawa is a hybrid of Kabuki and Western staging. Characters from Ethereal and Middle worlds (Messenger, Empress, Emperor, Nurse) are in Kabuki dress and move and gesture accordingly. Bara k, his wife and brothers, representing humanity, looking more like Afghan nomads, seem rather smaller than life. The intersection of their fates, juxtaposing the detached idealism of Kabuki with the all-to-human lives of the Baraks, provides yet another way of unifying the concepts of Light and Dark in von Hofmannsthal vision. In an Eastern setting, Strauss's leaping grace notes, which abundantly adorn the Nurse's role, now seem fittingly Japanese-like.
The few drawbacks in this new DVD might compel some prefer the Solti: Sawallisch takes cuts throughout, while Solti insists (rightly) on an unabridged performance. The timings indicate about a twenty-minute difference. Also, the DTS post-processing on this disc is not as vibrant as on Solti's. Finally, the Vienna Philharmonic is the more polished machine. In a perfect world one should buy Sawallisch's first, and if you really love the work, purchase Solti's, as an indulgence, for a note-complete performance. "
Look no farther for the definitive Frau
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 04/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production from the Bavaian opera on tour in Japan was created to celebrate Sawallish's 25 year association with the NHK orchestra and his farewell to the Bavarian. It is his favorite opera and it shows. What we have is my nomination for opera DVD of 2007 - productions like are alas seldom seen today. The production side was given to Japanese artists, Westerners provided the music. Hofmanstall envisioned Frau taking place in the South Pacific but there is nothing particularly Asian about the music. Indeed most productions ignore the Eastern locale. Not here. The celestials come from Kabuki theater. The earthlings wear generic peasant. And when you see it you realize, yes, this is it. Ichikawa honors the libretto insuring a production that would have delighted its authors. This is a work of magic and it is available for our delectation - magic falcon, flying fish, a sword. The earthquake at the Act 2 finale will knock your socks off only to be outdone by the finale itself. He even manages to make the shodow visible. The performane itself is better than we might hope for today. The sopranos are overtaxed at times and for once the men lead the day. But no one is less than fine. And Sawallish's conducting sings his love for this beautiful score although he makes some cuts which bring it in at 2:52 rather than Solti's 3:15. I think he is also faster than the Solti which is also excellent but only very good visually. It does not take your breath away. It does not make you a child again."
A Shadow To Die For!
Guntram | PR,Brazil | 04/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like a "Frau ohne Schatten" huge admirer(addicted,just to be honest)as I am,I can't refrain myself to say;this production is nothing less than remarkable!I loved to hear gorgeous Peter Seiffert performing the Emperor in his whole regal,strong tenor voice,Luana De Vol is just perfect both singing and acting this very,very difficult part(she's amazing and in fresh voice on act 3),Janis Martin can sing her part just like it's in the score contrary to shout terribly that all time(such a rare event;to hear Strauss vocal lines just like he put it on paper!),the whole cast is so well prepared that one can surely believes Sawallisch is the legitimate authority on this magnificent Strauss score.The huge orchestra and chorus are both great as well.Besides,in these bizarre production times and directors' emotional disorders absolutism,this dvd is just a heavenly,refreshing sight.Splendid costumes and stage setting catches properly that Hoffmansthal's fairy tale spirit.The final scene(the emperor and his wife over the bridge)is just to die for."
Love the look, hate the cuts
adorian | 11/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is what a good "Frau" should look like. The Asian costumes and make-up (by a Japanese team) are brilliant. The stage effects are diverting. But the opera is heavily cut (the standard Karl Boehm edition). If you want uncut, go with the Solti-Studer-Marton version. All three ladies here have trouble with their high notes. but those costumes are just so interesting that you often don't care. You can usually tell how far-out things will be from the costume worn early on by the Spirit Messenger, and he does not disappoint with his bizarre outfit.
This performance ends the way too many opera DVDs end: group bows but no solo bows for the singers. The conductor (Sawallisch) gets a solo bow, and then the director gets a solo bow, and the audience gives him a huge ovation for this gorgeous opulent production. I wish I could have been there with them to cheer him.
"Frau" is my favorite German opera, so I want it uncut. And I want a soprano with a glorious soaring life-of-its-own top (I saw Rysanek do this live... with Nilsson). Luana DeVol is not in the Rysanek Big Leagues, but then who is? I want the Dyer's Wife to make loud Elektra noises, and Janis Martin does it here. Strauss was never kind to his tenors, but Peter Seiffert survives the arduous task of his two solo scenes. Alan Titus is Barak, and he does justice to those soft slow gorgeous melodies. Marjana Lipovsek is the Nurse, but she's much better on the Solti DVD, where she gets to sing all of her extra music that is cut here."
Good performance of a difficult opera
A Reader | San Francisco, California, USA | 08/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Die Frau ohne Schatten" is a challenging opera to perform and this production is remarkable for the impressive singing and the staging, which helps to make what is muddled comprehensible. While Act I remains coherent, the storyline then gets bogged down and becomes confused, difficult even for a sympathetic viewer to follow. Of course, Strauss' gorgeous music soars above the obscurities of the plot or intended meanings.
The kabuki costumes, headdresses and mask-like faces of the emperor, empress and nurse make them appropriately mysterious and otherworldly and separate them from the human world of Barak and his wife. The empress and the dyer's wife not only sing well but also act well and make their characters believable.
The moment with the greatest dramatic impact for me is the "conversation" in Act I between the nurse, the empress and the falcon. The sparse kabuki-style staging is very effective here. If you enjoy Strauss' music and can allow yourself to go along with the invented moralizing fairy tale, you will enjoy this production and images like this scene may stay in your mind for a long time afterward. "