Opera Scotland

Frau ohne Schatten 2011Mariinsky Opera, St Petersburg

Read more about the opera Frau ohne Schatten

These three evenings formed the Scottish premiere for this overwhelming work, with its huge orchestra and outrageous scenic demands. Performances in Britain have been rare, and debate always arises about the quality of the piece and the tendency of Strauss to overdo things. It was only introduced to London by the Hamburg State Opera in 1966, and Georg Solti conducted a production by Rudolf Hartmann at Covent Garden soon afterwards, which was revived a couple of times. More recently it has been staged there in a production by John Cox, an acknowledged Strauss expert, who used designs by David Hockney. Richard Armstrong also conducted it when he worked at Welsh National Opera, with Anne Evans as the Empress and Pauline Tinsley as the Dyer's wife.

The director Jonathan Kent began his career as an actor, and may be remembered for his Edinburgh Festival appearance in the Assembly Hall in Richard Cottrell's production for the Bristol Old Vic of Troilus and Cressida, in which he played Troilus (1979). He turned to direction and successfully co-directed the Almeida Theatre in London for a decade. Since turning his attention to opera, his work in collaboration with Paul Brown has included Tosca at Covent Garden and Elektra in St Petersburg.

This staging made even more than usual of the contrast of the richly-coloured, quasi-oriental world of the Emperor and Empress on the one hand, with the mundane, poverty-stricken home of Barak and his family. Even the tumble dryers, whose presence jarred at first, were made to fit into the action beautifully.

The Russians still know how to train singers with unlimited reserves of stamina, desperately needed in this work, and the principals produced floods of mostly beautiful tone, all evening long, and they all acted in a detailed way that still seems unusual. The fact that the Mariinsky is able to field two casts of equal quality on successive nights is simply amazing.

Quite how the band gets through three performances on successive evenings is in itself miraculous. But the unique soundworld created for this opera was fully reflected in a glorious account by the Mariinsky orchestra which sounded superb in the airy space of the Festival Theatre. The only serious quibble is that in his enthusiasm Gergiev did tend to drown out the important offstage voices.

Performance DatesFrau ohne Schatten 2011

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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

1 Sep, 18.00 2 Sep, 18.00 3 Sep, 18.00

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