Frau ohne Schatten, Die (The Woman Without a Shadow)
  • Richard Strauss. Oper in three acts. 1917.
  • Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
  • First performance at the Staatsoper, Vienna, on 10th October 1919.
CHARACTERS
The Emperor tenor
The Empress, his wife high dramatic soprano
Nurse, her guardian dramatic mezzo-soprano
A Spirit Messenger high baritone
Keeper of the Temple Gates soprano or countertenor
Apparition of a Youth high tenor
Voice of the Falcon soprano
Voice from Above contralto
Barak, a dyer bass-baritone
His Wife high dramatic soprano
Barak’s Brothers:  
The One-Eyed high bass
The One-Armed bass
The Hunchback tenor
Voices of Unborn Children three sopranos & three contraltos
Voices of Three Nightwatchmen baritones

A messenger from Keikobad, King of the Spirits and father of the childless and hence shadowless Empress, gives her nurse the message that she must return to Keikobad after three days, and the Emperor will be turned to stone. The Emperor sings of his courtship and plans to go hunting for three days, missing still his falcon, which had disappeared the day he met his wife. The Empress too comes forward, singing of her love. The falcon now tells her that she must acquire a shadow, or the Emperor will be turned to stone. She seeks her nurse’s help. In the poor hut of Barak the Dyer, where his deformed brothers squabble, he reproaches his wife for their childlessness. He goes to market and the Empress and her nurse, disguised as peasants, enter the hut, the nurse seeking to buy the woman’s shadow. The woman agrees, proposing not to sleep with her husband, but then hears the voices of her unborn children. In the second act the nurse tempts Barak’s wife with the apparition of a young man and Barak, returning, finds her attitude to him changed. The Emperor, out hunting, finds his falcon again and feels that his wife has had earthly contact. On the third day the nurse still tries to buy Barak’s wife’s shadow, leaving the Empress herself filled with pity for Barak. In her own bedroom in the falcon-house she hears the voice of warning again. In Barak’s hut Barak’s wife at first admits to her husband her fault, but then repents of her intended bargain, as the Empress refuses the human cost of the shadow, for which Barak will kill his wife. The earth opens and receives the hut. Now, under the ground, Barak and his wife are divided by a wall, on one side of which she struggles with her conscience, while Barak’s steadfast goodness remains apparent. As the Emperor is about to be judged at the court of Keikobad, the Empress is told that if she drinks the Water of Life she will have the woman’s shadow, but the sound of Barak and his wife prevent her. She sees now the Emperor turned to stone, but still refuses to do harm to Barak and his wife in return for her shadow. Her final act of self-sacrifice wins her a shadow, while the voices of unborn children join Emperor, Empress, Barak and his wife in happiness.

It was suggested that, if Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose) were Strauss’s Marriage of Figaro, then Die Frau ohne Schatten was his Magic Flute. A magic opera, it is essentially a fairy-tale. With interwoven leitmotifs, the orchestral writing is rich in allusion. Possible dramatic excerpts from the opera must include the awakening of the Empress in the second act, when she already regrets her guilt in dreaming of harming Barak and his family.