21 August 2012 | TheLittleSongbird
Underrated Strauss done justice in a great production
As a lover of Richard Strauss' music, I wanted to check out some of his lesser-known works. In this 1972 production with Kurt Moll and Reri Grist and Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting I found a good opportunity to do so with Die Schweigsame Frau. I don't consider Die Schweigsame Frau one of Strauss' best, my top 5 operas are Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, Salome, Ariadne Auf Naxos and Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Capriccio has a very interesting concept. However it is for me underrated, the score itself is true Strauss with a nice mix of lively and melancholic, and the story, think of a German Don Pasquale and you have the story here, is still entertaining.
Maybe part of the reason why Die Schweigsame Frau is so rarely performed is because the roles are next to impossible to cast. For Sir Morosus you need a true bass voice, for Aminta a very flexible(and possibly light) soprano and for Henry you need a tenor that doesn't sound too much he is more at home in operetta. While I do like a lot of singers today and think that there are promising young talents all the time, I can't think of many of them who could completely do justice to either of these roles. Well except Kurt Rydl for Morosus, though he's past his best.
This though, available complete on YouTube, is a most excellent production, an example of great production and musical values and singers who do do justice to these roles. Visually, while the colour could have been sharper, the settings and costumes are very opulent without being too stuffy. The staging doesn't feel fussy or static, and there is some good direction of the singers, especially Kurt Moll as Morosus.
As for the orchestral playing, the lively aspects of the score are stylish, lushly textured and energetic while the melancholic aspects are beautiful haunting and controlled. Wolfgang Sawallisch is one of the best Strauss conductors I know of alongside Karl Bohm. His tempos are judged perfectly and brings authority and firmness as well as nuances and subtlety to a complex score, along with sensitive musicality and intelligent phrasing. The buffo moments of Morosus' wedding and Act 1 have grace and a good deal of lightness as well.
Of the performances, all solid to outstanding, there are two standouts. Kurt Moll was a true bass, his voice was rich and firm, ideal for Strauss, Wagner and Mozart alike, the basso notes show not just a large size but also a rounded and sonorous tone and his top has colour. He is also a fine actor, I do think he is better in boorish roles like Baron Ochs and roles of grave dignity like Sarastro and Gurnemanz, but the role of Sir Morosus requires a great sense of comedy and also a great sense of tragedy and Moll nails both of those. Reri Grist is not unfamiliar with Strauss either, being one of the finest Zerbinettas I know of. Aminta is even more difficult as a role, but Grist doesn't make it sound so. The flexibility of her variably-coloured voice(both light and dramatic) makes it sound easy when it really isn't, and she plays the role with a good deal of coquettish charm and doesn't over-compensate with her body language.
Barry McDaniel stands out also. He is a very lively Barber, and boasts a warmly produced voice with good lyricism. Donald Grobe's Henry(one of Strauss' stronger tenor roles!) is stylishly and beautifully sung. His voice is not the tenor sound you hear with the likes of Bacchus and Herod, but more suited to Flamand or the Italian Opera Singers of Der Rosenkavalier and Capriccio, but it is a good unstrained sound and he does much with his music, which is a lot, especially in the duet ending Act 2.
The secondary roles are well taken with no real weak links, particularly Benno Kusche as a slightly lightweight but well characterised Vanuzzi. In conclusion, an excellent production, especially so for Sawallisch's conducting and the performances of Moll and Grist. Anybody who hasn't heard or seen the opera itself, do so, it's well worth hearing if perhaps not one of the all-time great operas.
10/10 Bethany Cox