White Shirt Monday: I found a new place to dwell

[You make me so lonely, baby, I get so lonely, so lonely, I could die. – In any case, probably less paternalist lyrics than the ones actually at work in “The Woman Without A Shadow”. Also, I have really no other explanation for the red flare tuxedo pants other than “Keikobad The King made me do it.” Not that I mind. -Simone Schneider (Empress) and Doris Soffel (Nurse) in Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten”, Leipzig 2014. – Photo Credit: Andreas Birkigt/Oper Leipzig]

Yes, I know. It’s the Empress and her nurse, so it’s not necessarily white shirtish per se, but it’s a mezzo cutting a nice figure in a suit, so that counts. Also, we could always pretend that the Nurse is called Mrs. Danvers and the tenor simply stays petrified (and then she realized she could live very well without him by her side).

On Saturday, I caught the opening night of “Frau ohne Schatten” in Leipzig and while the production was nothing to write home about (other than “Oh, that part of the stage you can twist and turn, too? How about you tell a story with it, while you are at it?”), there was some Damn. Fine. Singing to be heard.

One big reason for me to go was Doris Soffel as the King the Nurse.

Yup, she’s still got it.

In this one, she even gets her own cooking show (“Hell’s Kitchen”, documented in the liner notes) and of course her acting presence is spot on throughout. She has a more pronounced register break now than three years ago and the lower middle sometimes falls flat and sounds papery at times. There are some pushed bits in chest voice, but then again a) the Nurse is a brutally hard part anyway  and b) the orchestra was not very sensitive about that. But damn, does Soffel still have those rich upper middle and upper dramatic heights: layered and colored like a fine aged scotch, with firm metal, but no shrillness at all. For anything else, there is always her diction that could cut through glass. And the pant suit really didn’t hurt either. (I’ll simply imagine the Nurse moved to Hawaii in the end and met a young lady worthy of her affections.)

The other two leading ladies were also outstanding. Jennifer Wilson (who did not deserve her first costume – Cindy of Marzahn for the German readers among you) tackled Barak’s wife – not, not like that, unfortunately – with gusto and seemingly endless stamina as well as some soaring lines with supple mezza voce (not that there would much space for mezza voce in this opera. You need to pack a considerable punch and boy, did she ever. She is no Nilsson (nobody is), but she has power, merely sometimes a little fuzzy around the edges). My ears were ringing in the best possible way at the end. Every five minutes, I was thinking “now I want to hear her Isolde!” (soaring and power, indeed). Whatever is on YouTube with her does not do this evening justice and I think she still has room to grow in this role (it was her role debut).

The Empress was Simone Schneider – unforgivably, heretofore not in my focus. She came with a dark, warm, somewhat palatal but not overly heavy or stentorian sound to her middle and lower registers and then an incredibly jubilant, full and flexible upper register, wonderfully tied in. Quite a different vocal physiognomy from the usual Straussian lyric-bordering-on-dramatic soprano that tends to be cast as Kaiserin.

I had initially wondered whether Schneider hails from mezzo lands (hello, Waltraud!) because her lower register is really comfortable and strong without pressure (she must be a killer Donna Anna with that one, particularly for “Or sai chi l’onore”), and then I studied the liner notes and realized that she once made a career of the Queen of the Night. WHUS??!! Color me flabberghasted. And very, very happy to have heard her in this role. It’s hard to imagine her in anything smaller after this night.

Among the men, I need to single out the beautifully, beautifully sung Barak of Thomas J. Mayer. All the tropes of warm, noble, and flowing with a substantial core? All true. Please, have him sing all the Wotans. Right away. And then some Sachs.

I will admit though that the next time I attempt “Frau ohne Schatten”, I will indulge in adult substances beforehand. I don’t know what chauvinist salsa Hofmannsthal was stewing in when he wrote this – it has been a while since I last studied it more closely – but there are some proto-fascist porn moments that really should not enter anyone’s brains undiluted (or, you know, basically unstaged. Grand moving scenery does not make up for missing interpersonal psychology).

But the singing. God, THE SINGING!

8 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: I found a new place to dwell

  1. That suit! That hair! That stare! That’s Klytämnestra! “…und schlachte, schlachte, schlachte Opfer um Opfer.” I don’t know what she’s doing with Chrysothemis, but Soffel’s Web page says Elektra in Berlin will be coming up. I shall imagine it like this. Thank you!

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  2. Hallo, I come on Tuesday to Leipzig to see the production and come back Wednesday to Berlin.
    Are you there, maybe a cup of coffee?
    Anna
    (from the Hungarian music blog…been a while since I’ve last commented on your blog 🙂

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    1. glad to see you again, Anna!

      I would have loved to meet up for coffee on Tuesday, but these days, I’m merely an infrequent Leipzig guest myself. I was only there for a presentation last week and won’t be back to teach until July.
      Either way, I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on the production (and on the singin) after you’ve seen it!

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  3. Ah, this is perfect– I’ve really gotten into Elvis lately. My girlfriend pokes fun at me about it. :p But wow, that is a great suit and amazing mezzo swag!

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  4. Oh my God, what a production. Each and every minute stunning with amazing conception and well realised sparkling ideas. I can not agree more what you wrote about the singers, Soffel was infernally good -it was more the deep understandig of the role as the singing which amazed me from her part.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your opinion!

      Particularly interesting since I saw the production so differently. So I’m curious, what was the tale, the character psychology for you? What were your favorite staging ideas? Which moments worked best for you? Perhaps I’ll arrive at another opinion yet!

      It felt – at least on opening night – a lot like a revue to me: impressive scenery and changes, but I missed the connecting dots. Like the Golden Gate image – great image per se, but what does it offer beside the image?
      Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether things were meant in an ironic matter or not (the animal dancers, the five singing fishes, the projection of a fish swarm being decimated by sharks in the end) and some I found too blunt (the strollers in the end).
      My favorite bit, which I thought could have gone somewhere psychologically, was the 19th century “father of the house” sequence, where Barak’s noble mind is illustrated, but it remained, even in the reprise (apart from the white shadows, which I liked) detached from the rest.

      Either way, a great night. And Doris Soffel is always worth the trip, right? 😉

      Do you have your review up somewhere in English or German? I would really like to read your take on it.

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  5. Oh God I have so much to say, I start to write and then rewrite and rewrite and could talk hours about it. I must say the best would be really next a to a coffee. Do you reside in Berlin or somewhere else in Germany? (I think you are able to acces my Email address throught this comment -or at least I guess 🙂
    I wrote an article which will appear in a major newspaper this Friday and I’m planning to translate the text into German too!

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