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 Reviews

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Nadja Michael as Salome [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
09 Nov 2009

Salome in San Francisco

If Herbert von Karajan conducted Madama Butterfly and Maria Callas sang Isolde it follows that Nicola Luisotti should conduct Salome.

Richard Strauss: Salome

Salome: Nadja Michael; Herodias: Irina Mishura; Herod: Kim Begley; Jokanaan: Greer Grimsley; Narraboth: Garrett Sorenson; A page: Elizabeth DeShong; First Jew: Beau Gibson; Second Jew: Robert MacNeil; Third Jew: Matthew O’Neill; Fourth Jew: Corey Bix; Fifth Jew: Jeremy Milner; First Soldier: Andrew Funk; Second Soldier: Bojan Knezevic; First Nazarene: Julien Robbins; Second Nazarene: Austin Kness; Cappodocian: Kenneth Kellogg; Slave: Renée Tatum. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Director: Seán Curran. Consulting Director/Dramaturg: James Robinson. Production Designer: Bruno Schwengl.

Above: Nadja Michael as Salome [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

And that is exactly what he did at San Francisco Opera just now where he is the incoming music director, and therefore can conduct what he pleases. No reduced orchestration for this maestro, the ninety-one players stuffed into the War Memorial pit made a mighty sound, a mighty opulent one.

Mo. Luisotti sought the sonic richness of this early Strauss score rather than its burgeoning sexuality and exploding nervousness. The psychological penetration that is Strauss’ discovery in Salome may not yet have become the orchestral maelstrom that bares Elektra’s tortured soul, nonetheless Strauss is dealing with a pantheon of unstable personalities who enact a very sexual, personal and finally very ugly story. Strauss obliges with music that is sometimes sensual and sometimes ugly, but always personal — after all it marks a difficult passage and consequent loss of innocence. Mo. Luisotti opted to make it all beautiful.

It is an unabashedly lush score, as Mo. Luisotti helped us discover as never before. He caressed its musical lines that evoked the opera’s evening setting, the rising moon and the overwhelming grandeur and power of the word of God. His lions roared and his dogs barked and Herodias raged. But Luisotti did not discover the delicate sensuousness with which Strauss enveloped Salome, nor the desperate lust and self doubt that tortured Herod, or the sense of impending doom that hangs on every word of the text.

Luisotti version of Strauss’ first great opera was supported by the production imported from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the stage a vista (open to view) when we entered the auditorium, the soldiers, Jews, Nazarenes, were milling around as they did the entire evening, making Salome’s sexual awakening a public spectacle rather than a personal drama. But these onlookers did not seem to know quite what to do or think as they stood around. We were kept waiting for them to react but they never did.

One of several daunting challenges facing a Salome stage director is the extended length of its dance of seven veils. The Opera Theatre of St. Louis production sought to solve this problem by engaging a choreographer, Seán Curran, to stage the opera. His solution was to impose an unrelenting formalized ritual, ten minutes of abstract choreography whose sensuality was limited to the flowing geometry of five or six squares of silk pulled through the air by a pair of eunuchs. The final shock of Strauss’ dance was eviscerated by completely covering Salome with silk veils so that, as we found out, she could make a quick change into a gold, vaguely Klimpt-essque gown for her orgy with John the Baptist’s severed head.

The setting too, by Bruno Schwengl, was unrelentingly geometric, a hard edge rectangular box disappearing into an exaggerated one point perspective that the supertitles called a vault and the libretto calls a cistern, but in this production it was really the most private part of the female anatomy, with an opening that expanded and contracted just like the real thing (honest to God). Gratuitously symbolic except that when the executioner entered it and Luisotti’s pit made its super exaggerated slicing noises the effect was a virtual hymenectomy. It was flat out gross.

But John the Baptist was not really inside the vault. When he was to have been heard from the cistern/vault he was actually off-stage down left singing through a sousaphone bell. His voice was weirdly loud over there on the side, very far away from where it was supposed to be (upstage center), and could have been had modern electronic technology been allowed to do its magic.

There were some fine performances on October 21 (the second one), particularly Nadia Michael as Salome, certainly one of the more resplendent of our current Salomes, her youthful figure able to embody a vocally well drawn character, with reserves of gorgeous tone sufficient to soar above the massive Strauss orchestral climaxes. We may miss the neurotic tinges awarded this complex role by Anna Silja and Maria Ewing, and the uncanny histrionics perpetrated by Leonie Rysanek (all former San Francisco Opera Salomes) but we did profit from Mme. Michael’s more even temperament as she did her best, a good trouper, to go along with this hapless production.

Reportedly in the fourth of the six performances her stamina waned, and she then bowed out of the fifth performance. Molly Fillmore was brought in at the very last moment from Arizona Opera where she is rehearsing the role (according to SFO general director David Gockley’s front of curtain announcement). While those of us there that evening must be grateful to Mme. Fillmore for the obvious heroics necessary to get through the performance, we can question San Francisco Opera’s lack of an adequate cover in what were foreseen circumstances.

Greer Grimsley gave his brief on-stage performance as Jokanaan splendidly, blinded by light delivering his confrontation with Salome with genuine fervor and horror, his curse ringing in our ears. Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura gave a fully sung, lurid account of Herodias that was intense and chilling, as it should be and so rarely is.

British tenor Kim Begley is not a big enough performer to bring Herod as horridly alive as he should be. One remembers Mr. Begley as a fine, sympathetic Narraboth, this role in this production taken by Garret Sorenson who made no effect in what can be a most affecting role. Perhaps both Mr. Begley and Mr. Sorenson were betrayed by the conducting and production, thus exonerating them from blame for their pale performances.

With staging entrusted to a choreographer there was much smooth movement. Overall the effect was in fact choreography rather than staging, except in the complex ensemble scenes when staging reverted to textbook procedures.

Michael Milenski

[Click here for additional production information and photo gallery.]

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):