Die Frau ohne Schatten
Hunting with his favorite falcon, the Emperor of the Southeastern islands captured a gazelle; she turned into a woman, whom he married. Daughter of Keikobad, king of the spirits, she is a woman without a shadow - that is, unable to bear children. According to Keikobad's decree, unless the Empress gains a shadow before the end of the twelfth moon, she will be reclaimed by her father and the Emperor will turn to stone.
ACT I. A Pacific island, legendary times. On a palace terrace, the Empress' Nurse, adept in black magic, hears the Messenger of Keikobad warn that the Empress, still barren, has only three days left. Leaving his wife in the care of the Nurse, the Emperor departs for the hunt in hopes of recapturing the falcon, which he wounded for attacking the gazelle. Nurse and Empress descend to the human world in search of a shadow.
In the hut of Barak the dyer, his misshapen brothers argue with his wife. Barak longs for children, but she is reluctant, fearful of motherhood without having experienced it. When Barak leaves, the Nurse and the Empress arrive disguised; conjuring up visions of luxury, the Nurse convinces the Dyer's Wife to deny Barak for the three days that the visitors will act as her servants. As the Nurse and Empress disappear, the Dyer's Wife hears the voices of Unborn Children bewail their fate. Barak returns to find the marriage bed divided. Outside, Watchmen sing of conjugal love.
ACT II. The Empress, troubled, helps Barak leave for work, whereupon the Nurse brings forth the image of a youth the Dyer's Wife finds attractive. Barak returns with his hungry brothers and beggar children.
The Emperor, while hunting, is suspicious when he sees his wife and the Nurse surreptitiously enter his lodge.
Back at the Dyer's house, Barak is drugged as the Nurse conjures up the young man again for the Dyer's Wife, who, grown anxious, rouses her husband.
The sleeping Empress writhes in torment at her sin against Barak; as the falcon repeats that she is childless, she seems to see the Emperor enter a temple door.
As darkness overcomes Barak's hut, the mortals express fear, the Nurse confidence and the Empress her budding humanity. The Dyer's Wife relinquishes her shadow, enraging Barak when the lights rekindle to reveal her shadowless. A sword materializes in Barak's hand, but before he can strike her, they are swallowed into the earth. His wife now sees the value of her shadow.
ACT III. In an underground grotto in Keikobad's realm, the Dyer's Wife, separated from her husband, tries to still the voices of the Unborn Children, crying that she loves Barak, who regrets his violence. A voice urges them up a winding staircase.
A boat brings the Empress and the Nurse before the Temple, where Keikobad's Messenger condemns the Nurse to wander the mortal world.
Inside the Temple, the Empress, prostrate before the fountain of life, sees her husband turned to stone as the cries of the Dyer and his Wife are heard in the distance. She refuses to save the Emperor at the expense of Barak's happiness -- at which she casts a shadow and frees the Emperor.
In a landscape, the two couples, reunited and fertile, sing of their humanity, to the praises of the Unborn.