On 25th May 2019, the Vienna State Opera celebrates the opera house’s 150th birthday with a new production of a work that also has an anniversary next year. Richard Strauss described his Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) as his “last romantic opera”. It received its world première – at the Staatsoper – in October 1919, so Vincent Huguet’s new staging, conducted by Strauss expert Christian Thielemann, marks a double celebration. It is one of six new opera productions next season, including a world première, and two Wiener Staatsballett premières: a true Viennese birthday bouquet.

© Wiener Staatsoper GmbH
Die Frau ohne Schatten

has a fantastical plot, with hints of The Arabian Nights in the character of the Empress, who is half human. In the form of a gazelle, she was captured by the Emperor, but she took human shape and married him. However, the Empress casts no shadow, symbolising her inability to bear children. Her father Keikobad, King of the Spirit Realm, decrees that unless she gains a shadow, he will reclaim her and the Emperor will be turned to stone. Strauss’ music is richly orchestrated and his opera requires big voices capable of riding the score, particularly the role of the Dyer’s Wife who agrees to sell her shadow to the Empress. The great Swedish soprano Nina Stemme sings the Dyer’s Wife in this new production, while Camilla Nylund is the Empress and Stephen Gould the Emperor. Evelyn Herlitzius – a superb Elektra – tackles the role of the wily Nurse. With casting this good, Frau is the pick of the bunch next season.

The first new production of the season will be a familiar one to London audiences. Sir David McVicar’s staging of Les Troyens opened at the Royal Opera back in 2012, and finally makes its way to Vienna in October, the first time Berlioz’s epic has been staged at the Staatsoper for nearly 40 years. It’s a spectacular staging, particularly the giant horse, snorting flames through its nostrils against Cassandre’s unheeded warnings. Anna Caterina Antonacci, an outstanding Cassandre in London, leads the Vienna casting. Joyce DiDonato has yet to sing her first Didon on stage, but her contribution to the outstanding concert performance in Strasbourg last year had audiences salivating. Alain Altinoglu, superb in French repertoire, conducts.

Les Troyens at the Royal Opera House London
© Bill Cooper | ROH

Treading the Vienna boards far more frequently than Les Troyens is Otello. The Staatsoper has had seven productions in its history, giving nearly 500 performances of Verdi’s penultimate opera. Adrian Noble, who directed an excellent Macbeth – another of Verdi’s Shakespeare operas – at The Metropolitan Opera, offers a new staging, conducted by Myung-whun Chung. Aleksandrs Antonenko, a memorable Moor, takes on the title role again, while Olga Bezsmertna sings his innocent young bride, Desdemona.

Laurent Pelly is best known for his stagings of bel canto comedies, such as his witty take on La Fille du régiment. For the Staatsoper’s new season, however, he turns to something far more serious, Donizetti’s masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor, a co-production with Opera Philadelphia. Pelly has a splendid cast, led by Olga Peretyatko as Lucia and Juan Diego Flórez as her secret lover, Edgardo.

Two of the most intriguing new productions are of contemporary operas. Manfred Trojahn’s Orest caused a big stir when it received its première in Amsterdam back in 2011. To a libretto written by the composer, it depicts Orest’s murder of his mother and how he deals – or doesn’t deal – with the guilt. According to Trojahn, Orest makes only one mistake: “He thinks that he can leave his guilt behind him – and only later does he realise that he has to live with this guilt in order to overcome it.”

© Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

Johannes Maria Staud’s Die Weiden is a Staatsoper commission, receiving its world première in December. It is an opera for today’s Europe, acknowledging the political shift to the right as Peter and Lea set off on a journey down a river to the heart of a continent torn apart. Ingo Metzmacher, a specialist in contemporary music, conducts a cast led by Tomasz Konieczny and Rachel Frenkel.

Manuel Legris, director of the Wiener Staatsballett, offers a new version of a classic in November. Sylvia, with its mythological setting, contains gorgeous music by Léo Delibes and is a great crowd-pleaser. This will be Legris’ second full-length work for the company. There is also a new mixed bill of William Forsythe, Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián, including the latter’s Symphony of Psalms.  The Staatsoper season closes with its traditional Nureyev Gala.

Some 50 opera stagings are revived through the season, often starrily cast, and remember – if you cannot get to the Staatsoper in person, you can enjoy many performances throughout the season via its live@home streaming service.

Take a look at the new season of the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Staatsballett.


This preview is sponsored by the Wiener Staatsoper.