Women overshadow men in Strauss fairy tale

David Hockney's spectacular sets return with a world-renowned cast of Strauss specialists and Music Director Kent Nagano leading this magnificent, critically acclaimed production.

Three women have powerful roles in Richard Strauss’ opera, “Die Frau Ohne Schatten,” presented by the Los Angeles Opera at the Music Center. That is as it should be, since this fairytale, concocted by the great librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is about the need for procreation, a message that might not sit too well with audiences of today.

The daughter of a god has married a non-god, the emperor, and is unable to bear children because she has no shadow. (Hence the title!) Her nurse suggests that she descend to the earth to buy a shadow from the wife of Barak, a dyer.

This is a simplification of a story that could rival “Lord of the Rings” for suspension of belief. There is a magic falcon, a spirit messenger, unborn children (yes) and other apparitions. Making up for the convolutions of the fantasy are the lush Strauss music, the beautiful sets by David Hockney, the colorful costumes by Ian Falconer and the excellent singing.

Inga Nielsen, who has a sweet soprano voice and a lovely presence, plays the empress. The prepossessing nurse is played with flair by Doris Soffel in a voluminous black robe used to effect. Linda Watson sings the woman who has a shadow with bravado. As the nagging wife of Barak the dyer, she certainly looks shrewish in sloppy pants with an expansive over-blouse.

It all ends happily, of course, as the empress recognizes Barak’s unhappiness and refuses to buy his wife’s shadow. She is rewarded by heaven and contentedly goes back to the emperor who will undoubtedly do his duty. The dyer finds that his wife loves him and his bed is placed next to hers.

As the emperor, Robert Dean Smith is impressive in his bespangled “dress” straight out of the Arabian Nights. Wolfgang Brendel is outstanding as the dyer. Others in the cast are James Creswell as the spirit messenger, Jooohee Choi as the keeper at the gates and Constance Hauman, voice of the falcon. Andrew Funk, John Duykers and Phillip Skinner play Barak’s three brothers. The noted counter-tenor Brian Asawa has a small role as the “apparition of a youth.”

This is one of those operas where you must keep up with the supertitles, go with the flow, and enjoy the music and singing. It can be a rewarding experience for all those who hang in there during the course of its three hours and forty minutes.