Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.



Nadja Michael (Salome) [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
25 Feb 2008

Salome at Covent Garden

The Royal Opera's new Salome is set roughly in the 1930s, in surroundings which refer overtly to Pasolini's Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, populated by uniformed soldiers and naked whores.

Richard Strauss: Salome
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, February 21, 2008

Above: Nadja Michael (Salome)
All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of the Royal Opera House


Its main set is a pale, dank, tiled basement – the excesses of the banquet in the palace above are glimpsed on an upper level which sits just below the proscenium arch. The 'below stairs' angle may be one of director David McVicar's trademark devices, but here it is evocative of a sewer, an underworld, a space suspended between this world and Hell. Designer Es Devlin has exercised faultless attention to detail in bringing this concept to life.

The people who inhabit this place are as devoid of human emotion as the animal carcasses we see hanging in one of the basement's doorways. Following Narraboth's suicide, the others make a point of picking their way around his fresh corpse as if to demonstrate just how little his death matters to them.

Nadja Michael's Salome is credibly young and nubile, slinky, poised, if not really sexy. She produces a huge sound considering her physical build, and it gleams on top when it is in tune, though she does have a few intonation problems. Her fixation with Jokanaan is quite understandable, as Michael Volle dominates the stage in both voice and presence even when he cannot be seen.

The Dance of the Seven Veils is not done as a conventional striptease but as a dream interlude after the modern fashion. It is a subtly disturbing fantasy sequence, where the tiled walls give way to black depths with cinematic projections which suggest Herod's sexual obsession with Salome from early childhood. This unspoken suggestion of Salome's lifetime of rape by her stepfather makes sense of her scheme to destroy both Jokanaan and Herod himself. At the end of the dance, Salome leads Herod off for one final tryst – this time on her terms – before making her fatal demand.

Robin Leggate was a late substitute as Herod. If he lacked the physical presence and vocal weight of Thomas Moser, who he replaced, he certainly found an element of black comedy in his petty, bickering interchanges with Daniela Schuster's Herodias.

Against the murky grey-white background, there is an emphasis on the luridness of Herod's court – represented by Herodias in her glittering turquoise gown – and of Jokanaan's murder, when the naked executioner emerges from the cistern dripping with the prophet's blood. However, Salome herself is a pale sylph in a glistening white dress, and Herod's fantasies of her during the Dance of the Seven Veils have a crisp monochrome purity. From Herod's perspective, her horrific request for Jokanaan's head comes as a complete surprise from someone he sees as a perfect specimen, an alabaster ornament.

Salome_006.png(left to right) Michael Volle (Jokanaan), Joseph Kaiser (Narraboth) and Nadja Michael (Salome)

And as this beautiful creature's white slip and limbs become drenched in Jokanaan's blood, the assembled court – at first averting their eyes in revulsion – gradually turn towards her and become transfixed on the spectacle, just as Herod's and Narraboth's eyes had always been inexorably drawn in her direction.

Orchestrally, the standards were generally high; Philippe Jordan certainly has an understanding of how to bring out the horror in Strauss's opulent score, though some untidy brass playing took the shine off the texture.

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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):