Tonight was the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s final performance of Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten — a new production that has received much attention for its luxury casting. Not only does it include Franz Hawlata as Barak, but Jill Grove as the Nurse, Deborah Voigt as the Empress, and Christine Brewer as Barak’s wife. Although this was the last performance, I was rather glad I had waited to the end in that the run has been plagued with illness by various cast members including Grove, but tonight, everyone seemed back in action. Needless to say, the musical qualities of the evening were impeccable. Voigt continues to amaze, repeatedly blowing away the audience with ease. Hawlata did crumble a bit at the start of Act III, but for the lion’s share of his role he was wonderful.
Then there is the matter of Christine Brewer. Brewer received the biggest ovation and deservedly so. She was so good, you almost didn’t notice Voigt at times, and that is no small feat. I am counting the days until I get to hear her sing a complete Brünnhilde. All this and her acting is becoming steadily more engaging as well. Her voice is captivating, cruising in and out of the upper ranges effortlessly without an ounce of weakening throughout the entire 4 hours. With all due respect to Ms. Voigt whom I love, Ms. Brewer is undoubtedly the best soprano in this neck of the reperitory these days. Sir Andrew Davis led the house orchestra in a strong if not the most nuanced performance ever.
If I have any criticism, it is over the direction and design elements strung together by Paul Curran. Curran is exhibit A in the argument for why giving inexperienced theater or film artists a try directing an opera is a good idea. Curran is plenty experienced and plenty awful. His Boheme in Santa Fe this year was atrocious, and this Frau is only slightly better. Full of a hodgepodege of elements intended to instill the requisite sense of “magic” such as umbrella boats, flying horses, and neon lights – the minimal sets often carried much less punch than they should. Curran is a sort of poor man’s David McVicar. That is when he’s not trying to be a poor man’s Mark Morris. Curran is apparently responsible for all of the so-called needless choreography in the evening as well as everything else going on. Still, there was too much good about this performance to dismiss it.
Labels: Opera Review 07/08
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