The woman without a shadow

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Work data
Title: The woman without a shadow
Nurse, figurine by Alfred Roller (premiere 1919)

Nurse, figurine by Alfred Roller (premiere 1919)

Original language: German
Music: Richard Strauss
Libretto : Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Premiere: October 10, 1919
Place of premiere: Vienna State Opera
Playing time: approx. 3 ¼ hours
Place and time of the action: Wonderland, in fairytale time
  • The emperor ( tenor )
  • The Empress ( Dramatic Soprano )
  • The wet nurse (dramatic mezzo-soprano )
  • The Spirit Messenger ( baritone , high bass )
  • The Guardian of the Threshold of the Temple (Soprano)
  • The young man's voice (tenor)
  • Falcon (soprano)
  • Voice from above ( alt )
  • Barak the Dyer ( bass baritone )
  • The Dyer's Lady (dramatic soprano)
  • Barak's brothers (tenor / baritone / bass)
  • Voices of the Guardians (tenor / baritone / bass)
  • Six children's voices, servants

(Main parts in italics)

The woman without a shadow (op. 65) is an opera in three acts by Richard Strauss , the text of which is by Hugo von Hofmannsthal . The work was premiered on October 10, 1919 at the Vienna State Opera (conductor: Franz Schalk , director: Hans Breuer , stage: Alfred Roller ). A few days later, a second rehearsal was premiered at the Semperoper under Fritz Reiner in Dresden. The opera was reluctant to gain acceptance on German and international stages.



The emperor of the southeastern islands hunted a white gazelle, which turned into a beautiful woman before his eyes, namely the daughter of the ghost king Keikobad (after the ruler Kai Kobad in Persian mythology). He desires her and takes her as his wife, but because the empress does not cast a shadow , she does not fully belong to the people, for shadow, fertility and human empathy are one and the same. At her side is the wet nurse, who detests everything human, but loves the Empress above all else. The nurse tells about the emperor: “He is a hunter and a lover, otherwise he is nothing! (...) His nights are her day, his days are her night. "

first act

At dawn a ghost messenger appears and announces to the nurse: The deadline will be over in three days; if the woman then does not cast a shadow, the curse will not hit her, but him, her husband ("He turns to stone"). The emperor appears, he has no idea of ​​the impending deadline, but happily goes on the hunt (“I won't come home for three days”). The empress steps out of her room and relates the past events. In order to save her husband from the impending petrification, she wants to win a shadow, consults with the wet nurse and therefore sets out with her to see the people ("A day is dawning! Lead me to them: I want!").

The dyer Barak (the only figure who appears who has a name!) Lives in poverty with his wife and brothers. This marriage is also sterile ("I am your wife for three months and you have not gained any fruit from me and have not made me a mother."). The dyer's wife is courted by the wet nurse, she should cede the shadow and the unborn children in exchange for wealth. She concludes a pact with the wet nurse (“To do away with motherhood for ever”), the empress understands the trade, but cannot prevent it. From a pan in which the dyer's wife is cooking food, she hears the voices of the unborn children crying and complaining. But she separates the beds, the pact is made. The returning Barak listens sadly ("You told me that your speech will be strange and your actions strange the first time. But I wear it hard, and I don't like the food.") The voices of the guards, the husband's love and Praise parents' happiness.

Second act

The wet nurse influences the dyer's wife by means of a beautiful young man who has been conjured up. Barak returns home, brings a feast ("What is your speech, princess, before this meal, you picky one?"), But does not know what is going on in the house and in his wife.

The emperor is happy to have the lost falcon back with him and on the hunt comes across the hut in which the empress wanted to spend three days with her wet nurse. But “the house is empty”, the emperor believes he has been betrayed and wants to kill his wife, which he cannot (“my hands cannot do”).

The nurse wants to continue the trade that was interrupted in the first act by Barak's unexpected return. She gives Barak a sleeping pill and conjures up the young man again. The dyer is shocked and tries to wake her husband. Nurse and dyer's wife leave, the empress stays with Barak. The latter wakes up: “Who is there?”, The Empress replies: “I, my master, your servant”. This is the linchpin of the drama, because the empress shows human feelings for the first time (compassion for a tormented person; compassion is the real condition for the incarnation of the empress!).

Fear embraces the empress. She dreams that her husband is locked in an underground vault (this is what happens) and screams out of her sleep (“it's all my fault”).

The dyer suffers a nervous breakdown, she announces to her husband that there has never been an adultery with the youth and the sale of her shadow in order to tear him out of his lethargy. In desperation, Barak wants to attack his wife, but the dyer's house sinks into the ground after the wet nurse was able to pull the empress to her just in time (“Overpowers are involved, come to me!”).

Third act

The dyer and dyer are in an underground vault, knowing nothing of each other. Both of them bitterly regret their mistakes (“confide in me that I cherish them, that I carry them in these hands”).

Empress and nurse land in a boat at the center of the empire. The nurse is terrified, but the Empress knows what to expect and that she has to face her task alone. Trumpets call for judgment on the emperor, the woman wants to help him ("What he suffers, I want to suffer"). The nurse tries to keep her from doing so, and the two finally break: "Nurse, I'll part with you forever!" The empress goes through the gate alone and leaves the nurse behind.

The dyers looking for each other come by one after the other and ask the wet nurse about the other partner, the wet nurse sends them both in different directions. The wet nurse would like to follow the empress (“I want to see her!”), But is rejected by the spirit messenger from the spirit realm and has to continue her life among the people she hates.

The empress is alone in a rock chamber. The source of the water of life jumps up, the Empress sees her husband, almost petrified. She is instructed: “Drink, and the shadow that was the woman's will be yours”, but she does not want to buy her happiness for that of the dyer's men (“There is blood in the water”).

“The scene of the inner struggle of the empress before the petrified emperor should have a visible bang. If it were possible that after a difficult internal struggle, she felt close to death, finally uttered a terrible cry, the first human cry, like the cry of a mother giving birth.
'I don't want to' is her answer. By renouncing the strange shadow, she wins for her husband and for both people. She now casts a long, sharp shadow of her own, and through her affection for human fate has therefore acquired the ability to become a mother; the emperor climbs down from the pedestal, not petrified. Dyers and dyers are free and turn to their earthly world, the unborn children announce in chorus that they will not be unborn much longer. "

- Hofmannsthal to Strauss, September 18, 1919


Strauss uses two clearly separated orchestral sounds: that of a chamber music orchestra as in the Ariadne auf Naxos for the ghost scenes and that of a massive orchestra reinforced with woodwinds and differentiated drums for the earthly entanglements as in the Elektra . A glass harmonica and five Chinese gongs are even used. With his highly dramatic music, he creates a clear, contrasting characterization of the people and scenes. His motifs for the falcon, the sword scene in the second act or the arrival of the boat in the realm of rulers at the beginning of the third act are almost film-like . The way in which the musical style is viewed is different, some believe that Strauss made a U-turn towards tonality in his musical language , while others emphasize the garish, eruptive colors of the orchestra and the z. T. extended harmonics . In the third act, however, a “tendency towards excess” culminates, which occasionally forces the singers to scream. All in all, this work shows Strauss' mastery of the musical psychologization of his characters with all (then) available means.

Symbolism and motifs

The work can be regarded as one of the most psychologically interesting and complex operas of all. The subject matter and instrumentation of the crystal-clear but versatile spirit world and the earth-bound human world are clearly different. For the human world, unlike CG Jung, the shadow motif does not represent the unconscious, but rather as a chthonic symbol. The shadow marks the “only humans” and means the willingness to love and motherhood. The motif of the lost shadow was taken from the fairy tale of Peter Schlemihl's wondrous story by Adelbert von Chamisso . From his own stories Hofmannsthal used the figure of the emperor ( The Emperor and the Witch ) and the motif of the petrification of the aesthetes ( The fairy tale of the 672nd night ). The purification of the empress releases her from the realm of shadowlessness and saves the emperor from petrification.

The dyer's wife sometimes gives the image of a severely depressed person with full preservation of her sensitivity. She experiences the same emotions all day long, which make her unable to act. Hofmannsthal used an essay by the French psychoanalyst Pierre Janet as a source of inspiration . The dyer's wife also affirms and finally receives her shadow. The transmission of life, praised by the choir of the unborn, appears as the essence of love. The gazelle stands for the strongly fluctuating sensations and rapid versatility of the empress. The falcon delivers messages between this world and the hereafter in crucial moments and recognizes what is important in moments of trial. - The Freya of Norse mythology, as the goddess of passion and fertility, also wears a hawk robe.

The libretto, however, is considered overloaded with ambiguous symbols. The dyer's wife's wet nurse conjures up five fish in the pan because she cannot prepare food for her husband and his brothers because she is afraid of the voices of the unborn children. The association between the fish and the unborn children seems macabre or involuntarily funny, which Strauss himself felt. Hermann Broch considered the libretto to be an attempt to compensate for Hofmannsthal's previous linguistic crisis, which had led to a "flowing stream of symbols" with a tendency to freeze, but which had gained a "second immediacy" and "beautiful simplicity" in this libretto.

Work history


Hofmannsthal's first ideas about this work date back to 1911, based on the conversations of German emigrants with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1795). The creation of the opera did not take place without difficulties, as evidenced by an extensive correspondence between Hofmannsthal and Strauss. Hofmannsthal treats Goethe's original freely, he invents two couples, an emperor and an empress from a dream realm or a world beyond, and a dyer couple from the earthly world. In addition to Goethe, the well-read Hofmannsthal draws on numerous other models - for example parts from the Arabian Nights or Grimm's fairy tales  - and even quoted Mephistopheles verbatim from Faust (wet nurse: "Her zu mir"). Throughout the text, the opera is conceived as a fairy tale with the theme of the blessing of love through the birth of children. Hofmannsthal compared it in some letters with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Magic Flute , at least the double pairs are also created there. The first letters on the conception date from 1911; Strauss immediately began to compose, the work on text and music ran parallel and mutually inspiring. The woman without a shadow was created during the First World War . Strauss was happy with Hofmannsthal's text, but struggled several times with the score and many details that he wanted to have changed for the sake of the dramatic effect. The opera was finished in 1915, but it was not premiered until 1919.

“I'm really looking forward to hearing. The certain difficulties with the material, stupid attempts to interpret and puzzle around where everything is simply pictures and fairy tales, I am prepared for all of this. That will pass, and what should remain remains. "

- Hofmannsthal to Strauss, September 18, 1919

Strauss himself described them as his “problem child”, as the work was very strenuous due to the complexity of the text and material during the world war. Apart from that, Strauss was dissatisfied with the first productions, which apparently did not meet his requirements. Musically speaking, Die Frau ohne Schatten is one of Strauss's most complicated and colorful scores. In contrast to the density of the related works Salome and Elektra , Strauss again gives space to larger monologues and scenes in Frau ohne Schatten . Five very demanding main roles (emperor, empress, dyer, dyer woman, wet nurse) and a very large orchestra as well as the various representations of reality / dreams on the stage make the opera a challenge even for larger opera houses.


The woman without a shadow is undoubtedly one of the most important operas by Strauss. Without the predecessors Elektra and Salome , but also without the Ariadne on Naxos , such an action and such expressive potential would not have been possible. In particular, symbolism and psychological elements in the text and in the music are essential accents of this opera, which is by no means a fairy tale in the Goethe sense. The functions of the shadow, the topic of fertility and marriage, as well as the central themes of trial and redemption, which are also central in music history, are too relational.

After the world premiere, the work was initially unsuccessful, despite extensive rehearsals (including in Dresden - according to Strauss, this rehearsal failed completely scenically -, Munich and Berlin), especially, as Strauss complained, in medium-sized and smaller theaters. On the one hand, this was due to the act, which was not easily understandable due to metaphor and symbolism. On the other hand, it was due to the enormous musical demands that the work makes. Not all houses were able to bring in five first-class singers from the German repertoire, who are essential for the main roles, and organize the many changes of scene.

Today, Die Frau ohne Schatten can be found on large international stages as well as in medium-sized theaters such as Bielefeld 1986 (Koch-Dew), Mannheim 2007 (Kober-Horres) or Wiesbaden 2014 (Hamar-Laufenberg). One reason for this may be that Hofmannsthal's cinematic stage instructions can be implemented better today thanks to digital technologies than when the work was created. The accusation of incomprehensibility also evaporated over time. So the piece was occasionally updated and e.g. B. like Kirsten Harms 1996 the moral tests in the trenches of the First World War. Or, like John Dew, you resorted to cheeky scenic solutions and let the fertility metaphors flow into a delivery room .


In 1919 Hofmannsthal published an adaptation of the libretto as an art fairy tale. He had been working on this prose version since 1912. The first printing took place in October 1919 by S. Fischer-Verlag. A Hungarian translation of the prose text was made by Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész in 1988.

In 1946, three years before his death, Strauss decided to extract an orchestral fantasy from the opera that summarized the highlights of the music. The score was completed on May 30, 1946 in Ouchy (Switzerland). Strauss dedicated the one-movement work to Manfred Mautner Markhof , an Austrian art patron. The orchestral fantasy was premiered by Karl Böhm on April 26, 1947 in the Konzerthaus- Saal in Vienna .

Cast of the premiere

role Pitch Conductor
( Franz Schalk )
The emperor tenor Karl Aagard Østvig
The empress High dramatic soprano Maria Jeritza
The wet nurse Dramatic mezzo-soprano Lucie Weidt
Barak the dyer Bass baritone Richard Mayr
The dyer High dramatic soprano Lotte Lehmann
The one-eyed one High bass Viktor Madin
The one-armed man bass Julius Betetto
The hunchback High tenor Anton Arnold
Spirit messenger High baritone Josef von Manowarda
Voice of the hawk soprano Felicie Hüni-Mihacsek
The young man's voice High tenor
Guardian of the threshold of the temple Soprano or countertenor Sybilla lead
Voice from above Old Maria Olczewska


Recordings (selection)

Web links

Commons : The woman without a shadow  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Ulrich Schreiber : The art of opera. Volume III, Frankfurt 2000, p. 289.
  2. Pierre Janet : The Loss of Sense of Values ​​in Mental Depression. In: Journal de Psychologie normal et pathologique . Reprinted in German translation in: The woman without a shadow . Program of the Berlin State Opera, 2018, p. 20 f.
  3. ^ Klaus Hoesch: On the psychology of the opera. In: The Psychology of the 20th Century. Volume 15: Transcendence, Imagination and Creativity , ed. von Gion Condrau, Zurich 1979, p. 1075 ff., here: p. 1082 f.
  4. Schreiber 2000, p. 291 f.
  5. a b Schreiber 2000, p. 286.
  6. Bryan Gilliam: Der Rosenkavalier - Ariadne on Naxos - The woman without a shadow. In: Richard Strauss Handbook. Edited by Walter Werbeck. JB Metzler, Stuttgart and Weimar and Bärenreiter, Kassel 2014, ISBN 978-3-476-02344-5 , pp. 183-211
  7. In: Menekülés a homályba. Osztrák elbeszélők a XX. század első felében. Európa Kvkiadó 1988. There is another Hungarian translation: Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Az árnyék nélküli asszony. Translated and edited by Sándor Tatár. Európa Kvkiadó, 2004.
  8. The following information is partly based on Schreiber 2000, p. 285 f.
  9. ^ San Francisco Opera Performance Archive