Strauss and Hoffmansthal’s fantastic fairytale has a reputation as a brute to stage and while expensive, requiring a heavy-duty cast of singers to do it justice its heavy symbolism and Jungian archetypes, it’s a gift to directors who can give free rein to their imagination. Sadly, most try too hard to spell out the bafflingly symbolic as seems to be the case in Jonathan Kent’s literal production which serves the human aspects well but is rather ho-hum when it comes to the other-worldly; Barak and his wife live in a squalid Laundromat while the inhabitants of the Spirit-World gad about in a colourful Russo-Oriental pastiche. 

The Mariinsky singers have the necessary heft but also a great deal of Slavic wobble. Best of the bunch were the Olgas Sergeeva and Savova as the Dyer’s wife and Nurse; both threw themselves
into the maelstrom and their dramatic intensity made up for the occasional ugly sound. 

Gergiev’s conducting, while wildly exciting, lacks the sweeping Echt-Straussian line and while the strings make some glorious sounds the orchestra comes across as relentlessly loud and crude.
An essential purchase for Gergiev fans, perhaps, but I would veer towards the Sawallisch/Munich production with its clever Kabuki-style and musical refinement or the Solti/Salzburg extravaganza for imaginative scenery and vocal splendour.