Above: Alfred Roller design for Die Amme (the Nurse) in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN
DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN (The Woman Without a Shadow) is Richard Strauss's massive fairy tale of an opera. The "schatten" (shadow) of the opera's title symbolizes a woman's ability to bear children. The Empress, a half-human half-spirit creature, is shadowless; thus her marriage to the human Emperor is childless. As the opera opens, the Empress's nurse receives word that Keikobad, the spirit-king and father of the Empress, will re-claim his daughter for the spirit world if she cannot cast a shadow within three days; and in addition, her husband will be turned to stone.
Die Amme, the Nurse, is the Empress's faithful companion. She grudgingly agrees to help her mistress obtain a shadow from the human world; their quest settles on the wife of the lowly dyer, Barak. Promising the unhappily-married Dyer's Wife untold riches and a handsome youth to be her lover, The Nurse arranges that the shadow of the Wife will be transferred to the Empress.
After bitterly renouncing Barak, the Wife submits to the Nurse's magic spell of transference. Suddenly a magic sword flies into Barak's hands; his brothers urge him to kill the deranged, possessed Wife. Overwhelmed by the situation, the Wife relents at the last moment and begs her husband to slay her; Barak raises the sword, but Keikobad intervenes: the sword is shattered, the house begins to crumble. Crying out "Higher powers are in play! Hither, to me!", the Nurse leads the Empress away from the destruction.
The brief scene of the Wife's change of heart is excitingly sung here by Marilyn Zschau, and the Nurse's spectacular cry of "Übermächte sind im Spiel! Her zu mir!" climaxes on a sustained high B-flat from Mignon Dunn in this, one of the most thrilling "curtains" in all opera.