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The Sunday Opera: Richard Strauss' “Die schweigsame Frau” (The Silent Woman)

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This week’s Sunday Opera (3/20 3:00 p.m.) is once again happily showcasing an unfamiliar opera by a very familiar composer, “Die schweigsame Frau” (The Silent Woman) is a comic opera from the pen of Richard Strauss that had its world premiere in Dresden in June of 1935.

The libretto is based on a play by Ben Johnson entitled “Epicoene, or the Silent Woman” through a libretto by Stefan Zweig. Strauss insisted that Zweig, a Jew, had is real name prominently displayed as librettist on the score to the consternation of the Nazi party, but Strauss was so important to German music that he got his way.

The opera is reminiscent of several others in that the story centers around a miserable older retired sea captain named Sir Morosus (Theo Adam). Most of all, he wants a quiet life having been unnerved by the noises of battle during his service. He’s thwarted in this by his talkative housekeeper, the Widow Zimmerlein (Annaleis Burmeister), but the worst is yet to come. He tells his barber (Wolfgang Schone) that he has thought about finding a wife, a nice quiet wife because he is feeling lonely, and before he can talk further, his nephew Henry (Eberhard Buchner) arrives with his wife Aminta (Jeanette Scovotti) and is, at first, welcomed by his uncle, but once Morosus learns that Henry and Aminta are members of a travelling opera company, he is outraged and disinherits Henry.

The Barber, however, has an idea. He thinks that Morosus’ actions are reprehensible and devises a plan with Henry and Aminta along with the rest of the opera company (Carola Nossek, Trudeliese Schmidt, Kraus Hirte, Werner Haseleu, and Helmut Berger-Tuna) to trick Morosus into a sham wedding with one of the ladies of the company who would then turn Morosus’ world upside down and cause a din so that the nephew could return and make everything right in order to regain his inheritance.

Marek Janowski conducts the Chorus of the Dresden State Opera and the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Does it work? You’ll have to tune in to see, but remember, this is a comedy, and it’s filled with some of Strauss’ most beautiful music.

In the time after the opera, please stay with Michael Kownacky for more music of Strauss including a performance of the Four Last Songs by Arleen Auger, a fabulously percussive version of the Dance of the Seven Veils from “Salome,” and a suite from Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” performed by the Quartetto Gelato in a wonderful “Palm Court” style orchestration.