Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

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):