STRAUSS: Die Frau ohne Schatten ó Covent Garden 1992

Music composed by Richard Strauss. Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

First Performance: 10 October 1919, Wiener Staatsoper,

Principal Characters:
Der Kaiser [Emperor] Tenor
Die Kaiserin [Empress] Soprano
Die Amme [Nurse] Mezzo-Soprano
Geisterbote [Spirit Messenger] Baritone
Die Erscheinung eines J¸nglings [Apparition of Youth] Tenor
Die Stimme des Falken [Voice of the Falcons] Soprano
Barak der F‰rber [a dyer] Bass-Baritone
SeinWeib [his wife] Soprano
Der Ein‰ugige [his brother, The One-Eyed] Bass
Der Einarmige [his brother, The One-Armed] Bass
Der Bucklige [his brother, The Hunchback] Tenor

Setting: The Emperorís palace, Barakís hut, fantastic
caves and landscapes


Act I

The Emperor’s gardens

The Nurse is visited by a Spirit Messenger sent by the Spirit King
Keikobad to check whether the Empress has a shadow. The Empress is the
daughter of Keikobad, who had given her a magic talisman enabling her to
transform herself into any form she chose. It was while in the form of a
white gazelle that she was hunted by the Emperor and struck down by his
falcon. She regained her human form and they were married, but the talisman
carried a curse, which she has forgotten, threatening that her husband will
be turned to stone and she will return to her father if she fails to win a
shadow, that is, become pregnant.

A year has passed and she has not conceived, as she and the Emperor are so
wrapped in one another that they have not sought to produce children. The
Messenger grants a delay of three days, but the Emperor tells the Nurse that
he will be probably be absent for three days, hunting for his falcon, which
had flown off when he wounded it in his anger at its attack on the

The Empress laments her husband’s absence and her inability, since she has
lost the talisman, to transform herself again. The lost falcon returns and
weeps because, as it tells the Empress, if she casts no shadow, the Emperor
must turn to stone. She now remembers that these were the words, carved on
the talisman, and asks the nurse how she can obtain a shadow. With apparent
reluctance, the Nurse answers that it is possible to buy shadows from mortal
beings. Though she paints a grim picture of the world of men, she is unable
to resist the Empress’ plea to take her there to find a shadow.

The Dyer’s house

The three deformed brothers of the Dyer are fighting, but when the Dyer’s
Wife throws water over them, they turn on her. In answer to her complaints
and threat to leave the house, Barak says that it is his responsibility to
feed and care for his brothers. She is discontented and blames him for not
having made her pregnant. He answers her vituperations calmly and benignly,
but does not succeed in soothing her.

The Empress and the Nurse appear, disguised as serving maids, the latter
pretending to be amazed at the beauty of the Dyer’s Wife, who is at first
angry at this flattery, but becomes intrigued when the Nurse speaks of a
bargain by which she can obtain her heart’s desires: if she will renounce her
shadow, she will have slaves, fine clothes and many young lovers. The Nurse
transforms the poor hut into a rich pavilion, summons slaves to adorn the
wife and shows her her reflection in a mirror. She tells the wife that by
renouncing the idea of child-bearing, of which she paints a gruesome picture,
simply by selling her shadow, the wife will achieve a life of love and
luxury. When Barak is heard returning for his supper, his wife says she will
refuse to sleep with him, and the Nurse splits the conjugal bed into two
parts and summons fish to appear in the pan, from which, strangely, the
voices of unborn children beg their mother to let them in.

The wife tells the dyer that he must sleep alone, while her “cousins,” who
have come to serve her, will sleep at her feet. Although distressed, he takes
it philosophically. Nightwatchmen bless the procreative love of husband and

Act II

The Dyer’s House

As soon as the Dyer leaves for the market the next morning the Nurse
offers to send a messenger for the Wife’s secret lover. Disconcerted because
there is no such person, the wife confesses that she had once looked with
interest at a young man she passed in the street. Using her magic arts, the
Nurse summons the shape of a young man. The Empress, who had previously been
eager to obtain the shadow, is now repelled by the means used to achieve it
and distressed by the apparent corruptibility of mankind.

The wife is embarrassed at this granting of wishes she scarcely knew she
had. The young man disappears when Barak returns, laden with food and
followed by a troop of beggar children, whom he joyfully feeds, along with
his brothers. Again he turns away with a mild answer the discontented
reproaches of his wife.

The Emperor’s falcon house in a wood

The Emperor has found his lost falcon and followed it to the falcon house.
He has received a message from the Empress that she will be spending the
three days of his absence there, alone except for the Nurse. But he senses
the aura of humanity surrounding his wife. Believing that she has lied to
him, he thinks of killing her, but is unable to bring himself to do so and
leaves sadly.

The Dyer’s house

Barak is at work and his wife and the Nurse impatiently await his
departure. He asks for a drink and the Nurse gives a cup to the Empress who
hands it to him. He falls asleep, but his wife is angry when she realises
that he has been drugged, and tries to rouse him. She accuses the Nurse of
spying out her deepest secrets and putting ideas into her head. Although
apparently not averse to the idea of the young lover, she wants nothing to do
with the Nurse’s machinations.

Nonetheless the Nurse summons up the young man and the wife seems inclined
to listen to his wooing, but suddenly draws back and, assisted by the
Empress, shakes Barak awake, blaming him for sleeping and leaving her at the
mercy of thieves.

The Emperor’s bedroom in the falcon house

The Empress sleeps restlessly, haunted by the memory of Barak’s eyes,
aware that she has sinned against him. She dreams that she sees the Emperor
turning to stone, only his eyes crying for help, and blames herself.

The Dyer’s house

Although it is mid-day, darkness is falling. The Nurse realises that
powers greater than hers are at work. The Dyer’s Wife finds the house
unbearable, and Barak feels weighed down. The Empress, moved by his great
humanity, decides to remain among mankind.

The wife tries again to provoke her husband, hinting at the adventures she
has been experiencing and finally announcing that she will not have children,
having renounced her shadow as a sign of this. As it is seen that she really
has lost her shadow, Barak raises a sword to her and she falls at his feet,
swearing that she has not sinned against him, only thought about it, but
begging him to kill her. The Empress refuses to take the shadow, which has
blood on it. A river rises, Barak and his wife are swallowed up by the earth
and the Nurse leads the Empress to a boat.


An underground vault, divided by a wall

Barak and his wife are on different sides of the wall, unable to
communicate, each regretting their estrangement.

A rocky terrace

The Empress and the Nurse are carried by a boat to the entrance to a
temple, where the Spirit Messenger awaits them. The Nurse tries to resist,
but the Empress knows that she is called to judgment by her father. The door
leads to the Water of Life. The Nurse warns her against it, but she believes
she has to sprinkle the Emperor with it, to save him from turning to stone.
Declaring that she now belongs with mankind, she rejects the Nurse and goes
through the gate. The Nurse is unable to follow her and vindictively misleads
Barak and his wife as they search for one another. She tries to save the
Empress from her fate, but is banished to earth and curses Barak and his

The Empress awaits her father’s judgment, resisting the temptation to
drink the Water of Life for the same reason as she rejected the shadow,
because it has blood in it. She sees her husband turned to stone, but still
has the strength to refuse to accept the shadow at the expense of the
happiness of others. The spell is broken and the Emperor returns to life and
the Empress throws a shadow. The voices of unborn children are heard calling
to them.

A beautiful landscape

Barak and his wife can see one another, but they are on the opposite sides
of a ravine. Her shadow turns into a golden bridge. Both couples rejoice and
look forward to their children.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

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the complete libretto

image_description=Anna Tomowa-Sintow
first_audio_name=Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
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product_title=Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
product_by=Der Kaiser (Paul Frey)
Die Kaiserin (Anna Tomowa-Sintow)
Die Amme (Jane Henschel)
Der Geisterbote (Robert Hayward)
Ein H¸ter der Schwelle des Tempels (Judith Howarth)
Erscheinung des J¸nglings (Peter Bronder)
Die Stimme des Falken (Jacquelyn Fugelle)
Eine Stimme von Oben (Gillian Knight)
Barak (Franz Grundheber)
Sein Weib (Gwyneth Jones)
Der Ein‰ugige (Daniel Washington)
Der Einarmige (Roderick Earle)
Der Bucklige (Anthony Roden)
The Royal Opera Chorus
Chorus Director: Terry Edwards
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Bernard Haitink (cond.)
Live performance: 16 November 1992, Royal Opera House, London