Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Janice Watson as Salome (Photo: Ken Howard, © 2006)
24 Jul 2006

SHORT ON SALOME

Richard Strauss’ 1905 neurotic shocker Salome has long been a favorite Santa Fe Opera repertory piece, having enjoyed ten productions over the years.

It was the special province of the opera company’s late founder, John Crosby, who conducted Santa Fe’s first Salome in 1962 and led it as late as 1998, not long before his death. Now, some eight years later, the Strauss opera is back for the Festival’s 50th Anniversary season, in a presentation that makes one wonder why the effort was made. With one important exception, this year’s Salome is a surprisingly pedestrian affair.

Happily, a brilliant orchestral performance was achieved by the American conductor John Fiore, currently chief conductor at Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Dusseldof . Fiore led the best realization of the Strauss score I have ever heard at Santa Fe, and for the most part elsewhere, one of remarkable transparency, detail and color -- lacking only a final thrust of energy and excitement to find the real magic of Strauss’s score, a limitation imposed by a noticeably compromised cast.

Fiore, once a musical wunderkind (indeed, he was coaching singers in Wagner’s Ring Cycle at age 14 at Seattle Opera where his father was chorus master), is now a portly, somewhat Europeanized world-class conductor. We heard a highly competent orchestra, whose musicians obviously thrive on the strong direction they are now receiving at Santa Fe under the guidance of the company’s Music Director, Alan Gilbert. Fiore brought out the best of this group, playing the complex German music with a strong and secure hand, and balance that allowed Strauss to flow naturally and idiomatically.

If only the singers had been as good! Any Salome rises or falls on the success of its title soprano, in this case the English Strauss specialist Janice Watson. This artist has a good history at Santa Fe, where in 1996 she sang a brilliant Daphne, her voice well remembered for its thrust and thrilling high range. She sang a splendid Arabella a year later and was well regarded for Mozart performances.

Saturday night’s Salome was Watson’s debut in the role and it disappointed on all counts. Her acting was studied rather than spontaneous and it did not work; yes, the depraved teenager’s pouts and petulances were in place -- applied like makeup. Watson undertook her own Dance of the Seven Veils, which included hand-feeding grapes to King Herod in lieu of any better ideas, a great deal of rolling about on the grid covering Jokanaan’s cistern (so he could have a peek or two in case he changed his mind?). By the removal of the seventh veil it was all a faintly embarrassing non-event. The show could have been redeemed, of course, by a strong vocal performance, which was not forthcoming. Watson’s voice seems to have diminished and lost range and quality; her breathing was short and interrupted the vocal line, an uncomfortable situation at best. Hers was an odd piece of casting, especially since it has been known for some time, and was heard in Mozart performances last year at the Metropolitan Opera, that Watson was having problems.

Greer Grimsley’s bass has seen many Wagnerian nights over the years since he was last on the Santa Fe stage, and his voice is now rough and monochromatic; I found his Jokanaan’s religious pronouncements merely tiresome shouting and lacking in effect. We’ll not go into his costume or wig.

Alas, I am duty bound to report octogenarian Swedish tenor Ragnar Ulfung, who once owned the role of Herod, now can barely visit it. He was said to be hampered by an injured leg, but Ulfung’s singing was seriously inadequate. His limitations, along with those of Watson, undermined the show. The English contralto Anne-Marie Owens, the Whore of Babylon, Herodias , managed to muster plentiful volume but not much else of interest. Dimitri Pittes possessed a strong cutting tenor as Narraboth .

I wish he had enjoyed more becoming costumes in a production that was in every way conventional and routine. It played out on a large raked disc, slightly elevated above the stage, with Jokanaan’s cistern in the center – a thrice familiar but useful Salome concept. Duane Schuler’s lighting, again, was unatmospheric and almost surgical. We hope for better days for Salome, especially since Santa Fe Opera has a conductor on board who can do justice to Richard Strauss’s masterful scores.

(c) 2006 J. A. VAN SANT
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):