Opera in three acts

Composer Richard Strauss · Text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
In German with German and English surtitles

Tuesday, 23. December 2014
05:00 pm – 09:20 pm

Duration est. 4 hours 20 minutes · 1. Akt (est. 05:00 pm - 06:15 pm ) · Interval (est. 06:15 pm - 06:40 pm ) · 2. Akt (est. 06:40 pm - 07:45 pm ) · Interval (est. 07:45 pm - 08:15 pm ) · 3. Akt (est. 08:15 pm - 09:20 pm )

Introductory Event: 04:00 PM

Prices K , € - /- /- /- /- /- /- /10

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Musikalische Leitung
Kirill Petrenko
Krzysztof Warlikowski
Bühne und Kostüm
Małgorzata Szczęśniak
Felice Ross
Claude Bardouil
Denis Guéguin
Kamil Polak
Miron Hakenbeck
Sören Eckhoff
Stellario Fagone

Der Kaiser
Robert Dean Smith
Die Kaiserin
Ricarda Merbeth
Die Amme
Deborah Polaski
Der Geisterbote
Samuel Youn
Hüter der Schwelle des Tempels
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Erscheinung eines Jünglings
Dean Power
Die Stimme des Falken
Eri Nakamura
Eine Stimme von oben
Rachael Wilson
Barak, der Färber
Wolfgang Koch
Elena Pankratova
Der Einäugige
Tim Kuypers
Der Einarmige
Christian Rieger
Der Bucklige
Dean Power
Renate Jett
1. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
2. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Eri Nakamura
3. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Golda Schultz
4. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Elsa Benoit
5. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Heike Grötzinger
6. Stimme der Ungeborenen
Rachael Wilson
1. Stimme der Wächter der Stadt
Andrea Borghini
2. Stimme der Wächter der Stadt
Evgenij Kachurovsky
3. Stimme der Wächter der Stadt
John Carpenter
Erste Dienerin
Golda Schultz
Zweite Dienerin
Elsa Benoit
Dritte Dienerin
Rachael Wilson
1. Kinderstimme
Golda Schultz
2. Kinderstimme
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
3. Kinderstimme
Eri Nakamura
4. Kinderstimme
Elsa Benoit
5. Kinderstimme
Rachael Wilson
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The daughter of the King of the Spirits has been floating in an in-between state since the human Emperor conquered her: She is neither a spirit nor a human. A woman without a shadow – which means a woman who is infertile. A threat hangs over the Empress and Emperor like a punishment for a great guilt: If she does not become fully human, he will turn to stone. Her panic-stricken search for a shadow, accompanied by her scheming nurse, takes the Empress to a woman who refuses her husband's advances. She is prepared to sell her shadow for the seductive promise of eternal youth. However, the prospect of the transaction does not make the Empress happy.

Inspired by Oriental fairy-tales and with an admiring glance at Mozart's Zauberflöte, the successful partnership of Strauss and Hofmannsthal created a puzzling, massive work heavy with symbolism and powerful sounds which constantly demands interpretation: is it wallowing in magical worlds whilst the old era is destroyed in the First World War? The pathway of trials taken by two couples on which the women overcome their own natures through subjecting themselves to the merciless law of renewal and decay? A study of the female psyche shortly after Freud's postulation of sexual neuroses? Or perhaps the spiritual voyage of a woman through her fears and guilt feelings at the end of which everyone comes together again on the threshold of the eternal father.


Ever since he won her heart, the Emperor has lived with the Empress in a realm remote from the world of human beings. He desires her every night, he leaves her every morning to go hunting. She then flees into sleep and dreams of how she, the daughter of the King of the Spirits, Keikobad, is able transform herself into any animal she wishes – as was the case before the Emperor married her. She would love again and again to be the wild animal the Emperor catches with his falcons. They are both unaware of the threat which hovers over them: if the Emperor fails to succeed in fathering a child with the Empress within a year, he must turn to stone and she must return to the court of her powerful father. The nurse, who lives with the Empress, gives her father’s messenger the same information month after month: the Empress does not cast a shadow, which means she has not given birth to a child.

Act One

A messenger again asks questions of the nurse and announces that the deadline is due to expire in three days. When the Emperor sets out to go hunting for three days, the nurse does not tell him of the danger which threatens. Nor does she tell the Empress of the ultimatum. The Empress, however, hears the Emperor’s favourite falcon bemoaning the fact that his master faces the threat of being turned to stone. She begs the nurse to help her to acquire a shadow in order thus to save the Emperor’s life. The nurse knows of a possibility to cheat a person out of a shadow. She sets out for the human world with the Empress.

The dyer, Barak, lives in very confined space with his wife and his three adult brothers, whom he looks after. The wife is weary of her life with the undemanding Barak and threatens for the umpteenth time to leave him. Although Barak would dearly love to have children, the marriage has so far been barren. His wife blames him for this and rejects his advances.

When Barak leaves for work, the nurse and the Empress offer their services to his wife and describe for her a life of riches and beauty which could be had for the cheap price of her shadow. Suspicious at first, she then agrees to the deal, willingly renouncing her prospects of motherhood in exchange. When she is alone again she is overcome with feelings of guilt. When Barak comes home, however, she does not have supper with him and sleeps in a different bed. Barak is amazed by his wife’s behaviour, but accepts her decision.

Act Two

Barak has scarcely left the house the following morning before the nurse is urging his wife to be unfaithful to him. She tempts the woman with an apparition of a young man from her most secret thoughts. Before she can fall victim to temptation, Barak returns from the market, surrounded by his brothers and a crowd of children, whom he invites to share in their meal. Barak’s feast disgusts his wife. He again responds to her scornful comments with forbearance.

Guided by the red falcon, the Emperor arrives at night at the falcon house in which the Empress planned to spend the days of his absence. The house seems deserted. The Emperor sees the Empress returning from the human world. He is jealous and wants to kill her but cannot do it and flees.

Barak’s wife nervously waits for her husband to leave. The dyer demands something to drink and the nurse gives him a sleeping potion. She then again offers his wife the young man for pleasure, but the wife rejects him flirtatiously. She is suddenly gripped by panic and drags Barak from the depths of sleep. She overwhelms him with reproaches and leaves the house to go into town with the nurse. Barak does not understand what has happened to him. The Empress feels sorry for him.

During the night the Empress is troubled by nightmares. Barak’s tortured face appears to her first, then she dreams of the Emperor’s death. She sees him disappearing into a tomb-like cave. The Empress is roused from her dreams and feels guilty and responsible for the unhappiness of both men.

Barak’s wife boasts to her husband about the fact that she has been unfaithful to him several times in his own house. She then tells him that she plans to break faith with him and announces that she has sold her shadow and with it all unborn children she might have had. The nurse urges the Empress to grab the shadow of the dyer’s wife for herself. The Empress refuses. She wants to undo the deal. Barak thinks that his wife is mad and is about to kill her. Faced with the raised sword in Barak’s hand, his wife sees him through different eyes. For the first time she sees in him a beloved husband. She tells Barak that she has not done what she confessed and is prepared to accept his punishment. When Barak raises his hand to strike the deadly blow, a sudden flood drags him and his wife into the depths. The nurse leads the Empress to safety.

Act Three

Barak and his wife, separated from each other, are prisoners deep inside the earth. Each of them thinks of the other with love and regrets not having given happiness. A voice announces first to Barak and then to his wife that they are free to leave. They both begin to search for each other.

The Empress and the nurse arrive at a gate which seems familiar to the Empress. She feels that her father is calling her to the judgement hall. The nurse warns her of mortal danger on the other side of the door and tries to persuade her to flee. The Empress wants to face judgement, she bids the nurse farewell and crosses the threshold. The nurse wants to follow her beloved Empress. Keikobad’s messenger refuses to let her enter and bans her for ever into the human world.

On the other side of the gate the Empress calls on her father to reveal himself. She demands her right to face judgement and her punishment and declares her wish to belong to the humans. Her father does not answer, instead the image of the Emperor, turned to stone, appears to the Empress. Although she suffers with him, she refuses to drink of the Water of Life and thus still acquire the shadow of Barak’s wife.
With this renunciation she brings about a change: the Emperor comes back to life. She herself casts a shadow. Barak and his wife, who has regained her shadow, find each other again. The voices of unborn children can be heard amongst the jubilation of both couples, a possibility for a distant future.

Premiere of Richard Strauss's "Die Frau ohne Schatten" on November 21, 2013 in the Nationaltheater

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Kirill Petrenko was born in Omsk in 1972 where he studied piano at the College of Music. At the age of eleven he gave his first public performance as a pianist with the Omsk Symphony Orchestra. In 1990 his family (his father a violinist and his mother a musicologist) relocated to Vorarlberg where his father worked as an orchestra musician and music teacher. Petrenko first continued his studies in Feldkirch before moving to Vienna to study conducting at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts. 

His first job after graduation took him directly to the Vienna Volksoper where he was hired by Nikolaus Bachler as Kapellmeister. From 1999 until 2002 Kirill Petrenko was General Music Director at the Meininger Theater. It was in 2001 in his role as conductor of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, in the production by Christine Mielitz and with scenery by Alfred Hrdlicka, that he first achieved international acclaim. In 2002 Kirill Petrenko became General Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin where, until 2007, he was credited with a series of highly significant productions.

During his time in Meiningen and Berlin his international career also began to flourish. In 2000 Kirill Petrenko made his debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, in 2001 at the Vienna Staatsoper and the Dresden Semperoper, in 2003 at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Opéra National de Paris, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Bayerische Staatsoper, the New York Metropolitan Opera and in 2005 at the Oper Frankfurt. In Lyon, in collaboration with Peter Stein, he conducted all three Pushkin-inspired operas by Tchaikovsky (Mazeppa, Eugene Onegin and Pique Dame) from 2006 until 2008, which were also performed as a cycle in early 2010.

After moving on from the Komische Oper Berlin Kirill Petrenko worked as a freelance conductor. During this period his projects included conducting a new production of Leoš Janáček's Jenůfa (Production: Barbara Frey) at the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2009. In Frankfurt he conducted Pfitzner's Palestrina (Production: Harry Kupfer) and Puccini's Tosca (Production: Andreas Kriegenburg). In 2011 he worked on two new productions of Tristan and Isolde at the Opéra National de Lyon and at the Ruhrtriennale.

To date, the most important orchestras Kirill Petrenko has been invited to conduct include the Berlin Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the BR Symphony Orchestra, the Bayerische Staatsorchester, the WDR Cologne Symphony Orchestra, the Hamburg Philharmonic and the NDR Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, the Frankfurt Opern- und Museumsorchester, the Amsterdam Concertgebouworkest, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Kirill Petrenko has also conducted concerts at the Bregenz and Salzburg Festivals. From 2013 to 2015 he swung his baton for the new production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen during the Bayreuth Festival.

Since September 2013 Kirill Petrenko has been General Music Director at the Bayerische Staatsoper. He will be working in this position until the end of the 2019/20 season. Since 2013, he has taken to the rostrum for premieres of Die Frau ohne SchattenLa clemenza di TitoDie SoldatenLucia di Lammermoor, Lulu, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District and Tannhäuser as well as the world premiere of Miroslav Srnka’s South Pole and a revival of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen among other works. In June 2015, Kirill Petrenko was named future Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, starting this position in autumn 2019.

In the current season at the Bayerische Staatsoper Kirill Petrenko led an new production of Verdi's Otello  and Strauss' Salome. Furthermore, Kirill Petrenko conducts revivals of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Fidelio, and Parsifal as well as two Academy Concerts with the Bayerische Staatsorchester.

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