Die Frau: Voigt/Brewer Showdown

Where is Birgit Nilsson when you need her?

Generally speaking, Lyric's new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten is Cirque du Soleil meets Rent with just a hint of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The lighting design conjures up a burlesque show or a dazzling revue at the Lido; in the first Act, there were giant dye pots filled with neon colors which evoked exotic countries like Pakistan or Syria. They were baffling yet oddly eye-catching. As for the opera itself, well, it's all just so silly, really. Filled with a myriad of symbolisms that I don't really care to decipher; the music I'm told is supposed to be "more stirring" than Salome and "charming" than Der Rosenkavalier. I beg to differ. This production is definitely eye-candy, just a tad bit too eye-candy. Not to mention hokey. I found myself half-expecting Josephine Baker to swing down from the ceiling in her banana skirt. I also found myself increasingly stirred by the uncoventional beauty of Lyric débutante Cristine's Brewer's voice. I found myself wishing in vain all evening that she was singing the Empress.

Deborah Voigt's reputation as a formidable soprano, one who specializes in Strauss has been dubbed celestial and otherworldly, lustrous and orgasmic. But like a person tossing and turning in bed, trying to find the best position, I had a hard time searching something in her soprano that remotely conjured up the satisfaction or reception of beautiful singing. It goes without saying that her tone is rich and lush; her timbre, however, is one that does not bloom; it lacks color, if I may be so blunt. Ms. Brewer's voice, meanwhile, was ravishing last night as the Dyer's wife, at several instances, it forced my eyes closed. The timbre of her voice, a strata of silk with intricate beading; the tone, light as chiffon, and fluid as charmeuse is most perfect for the music of the Empress or any other Strauss heroine you care to name. Voigt's Empress was mere flurries to Brewer's blizzard of a Dyer's wife. Listening to Ms. Voigt's colorless soprano, it made me long all over again for Angela's timbre. If the color of Gheorghiu's voice evokes Rome at dusk, Voigt's resembled Seville in the scorching heat of the midday sun: Glaring, blinding, and at times, painful to take all in. She looks ravishing, though. Franz Hawlata, Jill Grove and Robert Dean Smith complete the solid cast. Paul Curran is the director. This opera is the type of opera Andrew Davis ought to conduct more often, instead of Puccini. In this Frau, the orchestra was thrilling and vivacious, ravishing and atmospheric. If only the soprano who sang the "shadowless woman" sounded that way.