Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow)
Strauss, R.
Die Frau ohne Schatten
Opera in Three Acts
Opera House | 19:00-22:00

 

„No animals were harmed in the making of the video displayed during the performance.  

The film displayed during the performance contains extracts from the silent movie Berlin - Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) of Walther Ruttmann. (Distributor: FOX Film Corporation US, and FOX EUROPE) 

In the film projected during the performance the costumes of the production „Boito: Mefistofele also appear, costume designer Mari Benedek. 

Act One 

The Emperor of a remote island marries the daughter of Keikobad, King of the Spirit Realm. As the daughter of Keikobad and a mortal woman, the girl was blessed with the magic power of transformation and appeared as a white gazelle before the Emperor as he was hunting. Just before she was slain by his spear, fear caused her beautiful body to break free from the animal figure, and so hunter and prey fell in love. Three days hence, the Emperor and the Empress will have been living together on the desolate island surrounded by the Seven Moon Mountains for a full year.  

Having married a mortal man, Keikobads daughter has lost her magical power of transformation, but she does not become entirely mortal: her body never casts a shadow. Light penetrates her as through glass. It is dawn. The Empresss Nurse is awake: she is guarding her ladys dream in the hated mortals arms. Although she despises the world of humans and yearns to return to the Spirit Realm, she does not leave her lady. Just as in the previous eleven months, a messenger of the Spirit Realm arrives, now for the twelfth time, to enquire whether Keikobads daughter is casting a shadow. Upon hearing the bad news, he informs her of the decision of the King of the Spirit Realm: if the Empress fails to cast a shadow in three days time and is not pregnant, she must return to her country, and the Emperor will be turned to stone. The Emperor sets off on a three-day hunt to find his favourite falcon, the one that helped him catch the white gazelle. In his wrath, the Emperor wounded the bird 

with his dagger. The falcon has not been seen since. 

The Nurse wakes the Empress. They catch sight of a falcon with bleeding wings, and the crying bird repeats the curse engraved in the Empresss talisman: If the woman does not cast a shadow, the Emperor will turn to stone. The Empress begs the Nurse for help. The Nurse can see only one solution: they must obtain the shadow of a mortal woman. But to do so, they must descend to a human world that exudes deadly vapours. 

 

Barak, the muscular but good-natured dyer, lives with his young wife and three crippled brothers in humble conditions. The woman is unhappy, they have been married for two-and-half years but she has not fallen pregnant. She blames Barak for her fate, but he optimistically waits and hopes for the blessing that will come.  

The Nurse and the Empress, disguised as servants, arrive at the dyers dwelling. When the husband leaves for the marketplace to sell his goods, the Nurse uses several tricks to deceive Baraks beautiful wife, who deserves a better fate: she is promised treasure, wealth, lovers and eternal youth in return for her shadow, that dark nothing stuck to her heels. The wife accepts the deal: these two strange women will serve her for three days and will be paid with her shadow; in exchange, she will receive eternal life. When Barak arrives home, he is welcomed by an unusually whimsical wife. He can only find one explanation for this: she must be pregnant. Barak is happy - there is nothing he desires more than a child. 

 

Act Two 

The following morning. As soon as Barak leaves home, the Nurse uses vicious magic to conjure before the Dyers Wife the figure of a young boy she saw in the town earlier. The young lover appears as a pale and weak giant. Baraks wife resists temptation. Particularly as she hears her husband approaching in loud company. Believing that he will soon become a father, the generous Barak returns home with a prodigal dinner in the company of his brothers and child beggars to celebrate together. But all he gets from his wife is a rebuke.  

That same night. The Emperor has found his falcon. The bird leads him to the hunting lodge hidden in the middle of the forest. The Emperor is shocked to find there his wife and the Nurse as they enter the lodge after returning from the world of men; their bodies exude the sinful odour of humans. The Emperor is stricken by jealousy: he prepares to kill his wife, whom he believes to be adulterous. But eventually he cannot do so - he walks broken-hearted to the arid rocks where neither humans nor animals can hear his grief. 

 

The following day, the Dyers Wife and Nurse are impatiently waiting for Barak to leave home again. But he does not feel well and asks for something to drink. The Nurse drugs his drink and then attempts to conjure up once again the figure of the young lover in the dim room. The woman resists: she does not want to be controlled by the Nurse, this black and white spotted snake. Threatened by the ghost-like apparition, the terrified woman wakes her sleeping husband. Barak comes around but does not understand why his wife is accusing him, and why she then flees the house in terror. The Empress begins to feel pity and the prick of conscience on seeing the struggles of the Dyers Wife. Night. The Empress suffers nightmares in the lodge. First she sees the distressed Baraks face and then the Emperor as he enters a tomb in a rock and is turned to stone. The Empress blames herself for the suffering of the two men.  

The Dyers Wife tells Barak that she has cuckolded him in his own house on several occasions and has even sold her own shadow: no childrens feet will ever touch her womb. Her shadow disappears. Barak is furious and suddenly a sword appears in his hand: his muscular arm is ready to strike. Despite the Nurses pleadings, the Empress does not want a shadow spoiled by blood. The Dyers Wife sees her husband as she has always wanted to see him: as a strong man in pursuit of justice. She confesses to him that she has never committed adultery, but is nevertheless ready to accept her husbands lethal blow. But then the ground opens up below them. Barak and his wife disappear into the depths. 

 

Act Three 

Deep underground, Barak and his wife are suffering agony in dark loneliness, separated from one another. Barak suffers pangs of guilt for making his wife unhappy, and genuine, pure love rises in his wifes heart. A path leading upwards opens before each of them. A boat arrives on the shore near the highest peak of the Seven Moon Mountains: it brings the Empress and the Nurse. The Nurse fears Keikobads wrath as the Empress prepares to apologise to her father. She dismisses the Nurse forever: Your knowledge of the intentions of humans is lacking, you do not know the deep secrets in their hearts. The desperate Nurse cries Keikobads name. A messenger arrives and rebukes the Nurse for uttering the name of the one whose child she had to guard but could not protect. As a punishment, she must wander among humans and dwell with those she hates. In the meantime, Barak and his wife are desperately seeking each other. The Empress hears a voice: all she must do is drink of the Golden Water of Life and she can become like the one whose shadow she is yearning for. Theres blood in the water, I wont drink it! I sinned here, this is where I belong, the Empress cries. Her husband has been turned to stone, only his gaze lives on, begging for help. But the woman would rather die than sacrifice Barak and his wifes happiness for her own. The curse is broken: the Emperor becomes a flesh-and-blood man again; Barak and his wife find each other. Now both women cast shadows. 

 

Ye wedded folk, lying in each others arms, 

you are the bridge across the great abyss, 

on which the dead return again to life! 

Blessed be the fruit of your love! 

 

János Matuz