I fell in love with this old Frau

I fell in love with this old Frau


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2013

Steve Rubin, publisher at Henry Holt and, way back, a music writer on the New York Times in its glory days, is first with a review of an old flame at the Met. And, boy, does Steve know his singers:


The Met’s revival of its 2001 production of FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN last night proved once and for all that there’s life left in the old girl yet. It was an evening that harked back to the days when this house was able to cast a notoriously difficult and demanding opera with ease, provide great conducting and an eye-filling spectacle on stage.

I do not remember Herbert Wernicke’s production with affection, but I rather loved it this time around, and not only because it gave the Met’s technical facilities a healthy workout. FRAU has a pretentious, silly storyline, but Wernicke embraces it theatricality with abandon. Whether it’s his use of the Met’s fabulous on stage elevators or his spectacular, often blinding lighting, this guy is out to grab your attention.

I had never heard any of the singers, so it is exciting to report they are all terrific. The star of the show unquestionably is Christine Goerke, whose huge, powerful dramatic soprano embraced the Dyer’s Wife’s glorious music with ease.  The German soprano Anne Schwanenwilms, made her Met debut as the Empress, and although she lacked the ethereal radiance of a Leonie Rysanek, when her voice was in full bloom it was beautiful. The other lady in the cast is the Nurse, unquestionably one of the most difficult parts in opera. Ildiko Komlosi acquitted herself admirably.

The guys were marvelous. Torsten Kerl is a genuine heldentenor, and when he sang the Emperor’s marvelous music in Act I, it was like going back to the days when strangulation was not the order of the day.  Is there a nicer guy in opera than Barak? Johan Reuter was completely winning and sang with a honey-voiced baritone that may have been one size too small for the Met, but who cares? He was irresistible.

Vladimir Jurowski let the crackerjack Met Orchestra make a resplendent racket, and blessedly, for this version is uncut, his tempos were brisk. but he never lost sight of the fact that FRAU contains some of Strauss’ most beautiful music.

It was a thrilling evening.

(c) Steve Rubin/Slipped Disc


  • Ignacio says:

    Yes, those Met Fraus way-back-when were truly spectacular: Leonie Rysanek who forever defined the Kaiserin for me, the splendiferous Christa Ludwig, James King, Walter Berry and Irene Dalis. A perfect cast. On the podium was Karl Böhm, as always excellent with Strauss, though the only thing wrong about those performances were all the cuts he insisted on making.

    I got to see it several times with this cast and have not heard any better. In subsequent years there were substitutions: a fiery, riveting Inge Borkh as the Färberin; Ursula Schroder-Feinen brought a unique timbre and engrossing interpretation to the part; unfortunately, Birgit Nilsson came too late to it (when I saw her), blazing top but wear and too much uncertain pitch in the middle. As for the Kaiserin, I only heard Rysanek and Eva Marton though there may have been others. I know Ingrid Bjoner sang it at the Met but I didn’t see her. I wish I had seen Janowitz as I love her voice (I’ve heard the recording from Vienna; Karajan switches scenes around in Act II). It has been many years since I have seen Frau. I am ready for another one….. but alas, I don’t think it’s in the works for Miami.

  • Christine Goerke has been going from strength to strength these last couple of years. She’s a great actress, too. If you see her singing Ariadne anywhere, get a ticket; her performance in Santiago de Chile in 2011 (substituting for Soile Isokoski) was outstanding.

  • Just to labour a point: Not having heard of any of Christine Goerke, Anne Schwanenwilms, Torsten Kerl or Johan Reuter is going it some these days. I’d have added this to my previous post but, as we know…

  • David Foulger says:

    Why on earth was this production not included in the MET Live relays. One can only hope that they will video record it for DVD.

    • Geoff says:

      No doubt they need the money which another TOSCA will make them. But I hope PGelb changes his mind and gives us a FROSCH relay soon.

  • Isabel says:

    Spot on Mr. Lebrecht!

  • MacroV says:

    The MET’s 2001production with Christian Thielemann was, just listening on the radio and knowing nothing of the production, one of the most amazing things I ever heard from the MET. Can’t even say why; it just was.

  • SergioM says:

    I have to agree with Rubin with everything he says. I was there Thursday night too and I thought it was spectacular. A real shame that I saw quite a few walkouts during the perforamnce. If you want something that’s easy listening and toally unchallenging go listen to La Boheme. Ansd speaking of Fraus I also like that Salzburg “Recording session” production of Frau conducted by Thieleman

    • If you ever bump into Christof Loy, ask him why he directed it like that. It’s very interesting.

      Dear Mr. Lebrecht, I don’t understand why copying and pasting two sentences from the article didn’t make the cut. It was quite an amusing juxtaposition.

  • Frosch is one of my favourite operas. Strauss’ virtuosic treatment of the subject, the orchestra, the voices only makes me regret even more the fact he didn’t do a Falstaff with all the possibilities that subject would have offered him.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Ignacio, the cuts were originally made by Richard Strauss for performances in Berlin and elsewhere. Boehm was following Strauss’ performance practice.