Synopsis: Die Frau ohne Schatten

from Richard Strauss

The Woman Without a Shadow

The emperor of the Eastern Islands once nearly killed the daughter of Keikobad, lord of the spirits, while out hunting. He married her but, neither human nor spirit, she has borne her husband no children. The nurse looks upon the emperor and his wife before they are awoken by news that Keikobad will turn the emperor to stone and take back his daughter if she does not "cast a shadow" within the next three days.
Knowing that a shadow can be obtained only from a human woman, the nurse takes the empress to see the dyer, Barak, a poor man with three deformed brothers. The dyer's wife is unhappy, having been unable to provide her husband with children. This the nurse turns to her advantage, offering the woman a life of luxury in return for her shadow. First, however, she must
resist Barak for three days, during which the nurse and the empress will act as her servants. Barak returns from the market to find a single bed.

The nurse conjures the young man of the wife's dreams. When Barak returns she refuses the food that he brings. Meanwhile, awaiting his wife, the empeoro sees her in the world of the humans and decides to kill her, but he cannot bring himself to fire the arrow.
Barak too is driven to thoughts of murder when his wife tells him of her pact with the nurse. But as he raises the sword above his head, he an his wife are swallowed up by the earth.

Separately imprisoned, Barak and his wife are released by the spirits in order to find each other. Since being alone, they have come to realize that they love one another.
The empress, realizing that the nurse is using deception and trickery to win her
a shadow, rejects her help and, in defiance of the nurse's advice, she enters Keikobad's temple, where she can hear the voices of Barak and his wife as they search for each other. The nurse is banished and the Keeper of the Threshold offers the empres a drink, after after which she will have the dyer's wife's shadow. But the empress refuses to steal the shadow, even after she is shown an image of the emperor turned to stone.
At this point the stage goes dark and when the light returns the empress casts a shadow as she has learned the importance of compassion. All are forgiven, Barak and his wife are reunited and the opera ends with singing from the voices of unborn children.