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

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

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):