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Strauss Rarity at the Staatsoper

Vienna State Opera
02/24/1999 -  and 27* February, 3 March 1999
Richard Strauss : Die schweigsame Frau
Franz Hawlata (Sir Morosus), Natalie Dessay (Aminta), Benedikt Kobel (Henry Morosus), Bo Skovhus (Barber), Ildiko Raimondi (Isotta), Gabriele Sima (Carlotta), Gottfried Hornik (Morbio), Rudolf Mazzola (Vanuzzi), Alfred Šramek (Farfallo), Gertrude Jahn (Sir Morosus‘ Housekeeper), Josef Borbely (Mime)
Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Ernst Märzendorfer (Conductor)
Marco Arturo Marelli (Director, Set Designer), Dagmar Niefind-Marelli (Costume Designer)

One wonders why this fine opera with its elaborate ensembles and the brilliantly witty libretto by Stefan Zweig, based loosely on "The Silent Woman" by Ben Jonson, is so rarely staged. First shown in Dresden in 1935, the work was banned by the Nazis after only four performances and never really made its way into the standard repertory thereafter. At the Vienna State Opera, Die schweigsame Frau was not shown until 1968 and was only given 37 times until the premiere of this very successful new production in 1996.

Director/set designer Marco Arturo Marelli set the action in a sparsely furnished white tower (lighthouse?) with a spiral staircase, three portholes as windows and a few miniature ships. Colours and lighting were effectively used to convey the change of atmosphere in the course of the intrigue. While the peace and quiet of Sir Morosus' seclusive life was symbolized by the colours white, blue and a bluish violet, Aminta, as Lady Morosus, redecorated the house in a bright orange, with orange-golden wall paper, a crystal chandelier and a huge piano for her singing lessons. This concept was also supported by Dagmar Niefind-Marelli's Rococo-style costumes which were mainly black and white in the first act, with daring splashes of colour here and there (e.g. bright pink stockings for the impressario of the opera troupe and a bright red wig and red and black striped socks for the barber), and got more and more colourful in the course of the evening.

The singing and acting were uniformly good, with Marelli's clear and detailed direction giving individual life and personality to each of the characters. After huge successes as Olympia and Lakmé, Natalie Dessay has definitely found another star role in Aminta/Timida. She sang the part with exquisite style, delivered the coloraturas and top notes with total ease and also acted superbly. Sir Morosus was movingly portrayed by Franz Hawlata who possesses a very rich, pleasant bass voice, albeit with some limitations at the very bottom. He portrayed Morosus not only as a grumpy old man, but showed real warmth and feeling in the second act scenes with Aminta/Timida, which made Morosus' final conciliatory reaction to the charade more credible. Bernhard Kobel was a dramatically convincing Henry with a fine lyric tenor voice, but had difficulty maintaining his stamina until the end. Bo Skovhus was a delightfully affected Barber in true opera buffa style and not only sang the role beautifully but also impressed with his excellent German diction in the spoken passages. Among the members of the Italian opera troupe, special credit must be given to Ildiko Raimondi and Gabriele Sima who showed great comic talent in the the roles of the coquettish "Fräulein Rottenmeier" and the dumb peasant girl Kathi, respectively. The other character parts were filled reliably by Gottfried Hornik, Rudolf Mazzola, Alfred Šramek and Gertrude Jahn. The music was in the capable hands of Ernst Märzendorfer who drew committed, sumptuous playing from the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera.

Bettina Maani



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