Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, which the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts this weekend, is a fairy-tale opera telling a lofty story of love and self-sacrifice.
The woman who is the title character is the daughter of a powerful spirit ruler, and the wife of an emperor. A fortunate lot, you might say. But she cannot have children symbolized by her inability to cast a shadow. To gain a shadow, the empress must descend into the world of mortals, and witness the struggles and yearning of ordinary human beings.
The librettist of the opera told Strauss that this was their equivalent of The Magic Flute. But he might also have said that it's their equivalent of Wagner's Ring. Both tell myth-like stories, using elaborate, sometimes obscure symbolism. Both call on all the resources of the opera house: a big orchestra, and a cast of singers with big voices, and stamina.
It also poses big challenges to the scenic department. For one thing, the lighting people have to do their best to make sure that the lead soprano doesn't cast too obvious of a shadow. There are spectacular transitions from one realm to another. When the scene changes from the Empress's world to the mortal world, the Met's entire stage rises on hydraulic lifts to make the transformation happen. Not to mention fish that magically fly into a frying pan, and an emperor who almost turns completely to stone.
Those of us listening on the radio will have to use our imaginations for some of this but tune in all the same. Even without the fish and the hydraulics, Die Frau ohne Schatten is always an event.
Listen to this Met Opera broadcast on Classical MPR on Saturday, Feb. 15, at noon.