Kirill Petrenko conducts Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten”

Kirill Petrenko (photo: Frederike van der Straeten)

Can one base one’s own happiness on the unhappiness of others? That is the central theme of Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow), one of Richard Strauss’s most enigmatic and fascinating operas. The emperor’s wife, daughter of the powerful king of the spirit realm, needs a shadow to save the emperor from being turned to stone and to be able to have children. In order to do that, she must buy the shadow and fertility of the poor dyer’s wife. After performances in Baden-Baden, Kirill Petrenko will conduct Strauss’s splendid psychological drama in a concert performance at the Philharmonie Berlin.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Kirill Petrenko conductor

Clay Hilley tenor (The Emperor)

Elza van den Heever soprano (The Empress)

Michaela Schuster mezzo-soprano (Nurse)

Wolfgang Koch bass (Barak, the Dyer)

Miina-Liisa Värelä soprano (The Dyer's Wife)

Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhechildrens' and youth choir

NFM Choir Wroclaw

Richard Strauss

Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow), opera in three acts op. 65

Dates and Tickets


Kirill Petrenko

Kirill Petrenko has been chief conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker since the 2019/20 season. Born in Omsk in Siberia, he received his training first in his home town and later in Austria. He established his conducting career in opera with positions at the Meininger Theater and the Komische Oper Berlin. From 2013 to 2020, Kirill Petrenko was general music director of Bayerische Staatsoper. He has also made guest appearances at the world’s leading opera houses, including Wiener Staatsoper, Covent Garden in London, the Opéra national in Paris, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and at the Bayreuth Festival. Moreover, he has conducted the major international symphony orchestras – in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome, Chicago, Cleveland and Israel. Since his debut in 2006, a variety of programmatic themes have emerged in his work together with the Berliner Philharmoniker. These include work on the orchestra’s core Classical-Romantic repertoire, most notably with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony when he took up his post. Unjustly forgotten composers such as Josef Suk and Erich Wolfgang Korngold are another of Kirill Petrenko’s interests. Russian works are also highlighted, with performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas Mazeppa, Iolanta and The Queen of Spades attracting particular attention recently.

Clay Hilley

“People have often told me that I was much too young to perform Wagner, some have said that I could never sing Verdi and Puccini. It was all nonsense. When I hear something like that, I go out of my way to prove the world wrong.” These are the words of Clay Hilley, who also causes a sensation on stages around the world as a top-class Strauss tenor. The American singer, who trained at Georgia State University, the Manhattan School of Music and the Opera Institute of Boston University, stepped in at short notice as Siegfried in Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen at Deutsche Oper Berlin on Bismarckstraße in 2021 – as a “singer-actor the likes of which have not been heard in a long time: with flawless diction, unadulterated colour, powerful but also delicate tones” (Neue Musikzeitung). In Germany, Clay Hilley was subsequently hailed as a discovery, although he had already performed on the great opera stages from New York to Salzburg. Since the aforementioned Ring at Deutsche Oper, the heroic tenor has lived in Berlin: “Deutsche Oper is now my opera home. They have been so kind to me here.” This season he will make his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. What is the secret of his brilliant success? “The basis of all good singing is an Italian approach, even with Wagner.”

Elza van den Heever

Elza van den Heever has caused a sensation in the recent past with several acclaimed role debuts: as Julia in Spontini’s La Vestale at the Theater an der Wien, as Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera New York, as Salome at the Opéra de Paris – and as the Empress in concert performances of Strauss’ Frau ohne Schatten conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin in Paris, Dortmund and Rotterdam, where the singer set “entirely new standards” as the Empress, according to Opernmagazin: “She quite brilliantly mastered her role with a resonant, silvery, pearly soprano voice and effortless articulation. Such a fully convincing performance of the role has not been seen for a long time!” In 2007, Elza van den Heever made her brilliant debut at San Francisco Opera as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. However, the real breakthrough for the South African-born singer, who trained in the USA, came in Frankfurt, where Elza van den Heever made her European debut as Giorgetta in a new production of Puccini’s Il trittico. A period of careful vocal development in the ensemble of Frankfurt Opera – “I think the fast-paced way opera stars are made today is very dangerous” – was followed by offers from the world’s leading houses. Today, Elza van den Heever is one of the most sought-after sopranos of her generation, with a broad repertoire ranging from Handel, the great bel canto, Verdi and Puccini roles, to Strauss and Britten.

Michaela Schuster

“My career path was a bit circuitous,” says Michaela Schuster. The mezzo-soprano, who is now at home on all the world’s great international stages, first studied oboe and already had her first orchestral engagement during this time. When she decided to study voice at the Mozarteum University Salzburg, her teachers gave her the choice: “Because the breathing is so different, it is impossible to do both. My love of acting ultimately led me to become a singer.” Her voice, says Michaela Schuster, had a dramatic bent from the start, which is quite unusual: “Normally you start with the lyrical and then slowly transition to the dramatic. In my case, the fact that I started singing later than many of my colleagues certainly played a role, so my voice was already heavier and more mature. At my first professional performance I was already 30 years old.” In 2017/18, Michaela Schuster made her acclaimed debut at the Metropolitan Opera New York as Klytaemnestra (Elektra). She is a regular guest at the state opera houses in Berlin and Vienna, Covent Garden in London, and Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich – with a repertoire that includes roles such as Ortrud (Lohengrin), Fricka (Rheingold and Walküre), Nurse (Die Frau ohne Schatten), Knusperhexe and Mutter (Hänsel und Gretel), Herodias (Salome) and Marie (Wozzeck).

Wolfgang Koch

“Basically, I started studying to sing Sachs one day,” says Wolfgang Koch. This ambition has been more than fulfilled – and not only because he has sung the part from Richard Wagner’s Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Vienna, London, Berlin and Munich. In general, Wolfgang Koch is today regarded as an outstanding baritone for the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss – someone who masters the enormous vocal demands of these roles like almost no other. This gives the singer the freedom to portray characters rich in nuance, for example when he portrays Klingsor in Parsifal “fascinatingly multi-voiced, as a master of the unreal” (Die Zeit). Wolfgang Koch is not only at home in the German repertoire and, for example, made his debut at the New York Met as Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. He studied at the Munich Conservatory and under Josef Metternich, Gianni Raimondi and Leodino Ferri. He was subsequently an ensemble member of Stadttheater Bern, Staatstheater Stuttgart and the Volksoper in Vienna. Wolfgang Koch made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1996 in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with Claudio Abbado conducting. His most recent guest appearance with the orchestra was in September 2022, when he sang the title role in Luigi Dallapiccola’s short opera Il prigioniero under the baton of Kirill Petrenko.

Miina-Liisa Värelä

Highly dramatic and with clear diction, Miina-Liisa Värelä as the Dyer's wife “simply dominated everything” (Volksblatt) and set new standards in this part – also because she was able to “effortlessly rise above the orchestra without any loss of quality” (OperaWire). The Finnish soprano enjoyed a sensational major success with her role debut in a new production of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Landestheater Linz, which was enthusiastically acclaimed by the audience and the press. With completely effortless high notes and a perfectly wonderfully developed middle range, the young singer, who graduated with honours from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, also dazzled in the main female role in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Glyndebourne Festival, where her “luminous voice” was one of the “revelations of the evening” (The Stage). The repertoire of the multiple award-winning singer, who is currently proving to be “one of the most promising sopranos in the dramatic field” and who is “appearing increasingly on the larger opera stages” (Opernmagazin), also includes roles such as Elsa and Senta in Wagner’s Lohengrin and Der Fliegender Holländer respectively, plus the title roles in Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos Ariadne auf Naxos. Miina-Liisa Värelä also regularly enjoys great success on the concert stage, most recently in performances of Dmitri Shostakovich's 14th Symphony No. 14 with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.