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

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lise Lindstrom as Salome [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of San Diego Opera]
02 Feb 2012

Salome, San Diego

The San Diego Opera Company opened its 47th season on Saturday, January 26th with Richard Strauss’ Salome, a work that has something in it for everyone: lust, love, lasciviousness, homosexuality, heterosexuality, homicide, suicide, a voluptuous dance and quickie nudity.

Richard Strauss: Salome

Salome: Lise Lindstrom; Jochanaan: Greer Grimsley; Herod: Allan Glassman;

Above: Lise Lindstrom as Salome

Photos by Ken Howard courtesy of San Diego Opera

 

There’s purity and Godliness too — all overlapping and jammed together so intensely into your eyes and ears, that when the curtain comes down you can be left gasping.

MG0572.pngGreer Grimsley as Jochanaan (John the Baptist)

Salome is a spoiled young Princess, the daughter of Herodias and step-daughter of Herod. Upon hearing the voice of the imprisoned John the Baptist (here called Jochanaan), she tempts Narraboth, a young soldier who loves her, to release him. Obsessed with Jochanaan, she is furious when he refuses to look at her, unmoved when Narraboth kills himself. As her reward for dancing for Herod she insists on having Jochanaan’s head. The extraordinary concluding scene of the opera begins as Salome waits fretfully for the prophet’s head to be brought to her, and ends in an insane frenzy when she kisses the prophet’s mouth, and Herod screams to his soldiers, “Kill that woman.”

Gustave Flaubert created an equally John-obsessed Salome in his story Herodias which formed the basis for Jules Massenet’s opera Herodiade. There’s no doubt Wilde knew Flaubert’s story. He wrote Salome in French in 1891 while living in Paris. An English translation (which Wilde disliked) was prepared by Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s 20-year old lover, in the hope of staging the play in London with Sarah Bernhardt. Alas, British censors forbade the presentation of biblical characters on stage. Germany, however, was not so strait-laced. The play in a German translation by Hedwig Lachman so transfixed Richard Strauss that he began working on it immediately.

MG1752.pngLise Lindstrom as Salome and Allan Glassman as Herod

The opera’s first performance took place in Dresden, Germany in December 1905. Austria took more time. The Viennese court opera refused to produce the work, but the directors of the small opera house in Graz, assured that this “ultra-dissonant biblical spectacle, based on a play by a British degenerate whose name was not mentioned in polite company,” would produce a succès de scandale, agreed to the presentation. Its performance on May 16, 1906 proved a huge social and musical occasion. Strauss conducted. Giacomo Puccini, Gustav and Anna Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky and Alban Berg were among the composers present. The work was an instant success.

San Diego Opera’s production of Salome began life as a joint venture of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, San Francisco Opera and L’Opéra de Montréal. First performed in 2009, it was created and directed by choreographer Seán Curran with lighting and costumes by Bruno Schwengl.

The success of this difficult work depends largely on the talent and stamina of a soprano who looks like a teen age virgin, and who can sing over a huge brass-heavy orchestra as easily as that other operatic virgin, Brunhilde. Strauss’ original orchestra called for a hundred and twelve musicians and included the newly invented Heckelphone, plus a harmonium and organ (both off stage). He eventually reduced the orchestra size. Even so, San Diego squeezed seventy musicians into its pit. Happily, its all star vocal cast met the challenges of their roles.

MG1887.pngIrina Mishura as Herodias and Lise Lindstrom as Salome

Lise Lindstrom’s soprano with its tender vibrato in middle voice, blossoms to silvery at the top with an edge that at once youthful and strong enough to ride the orchestral waves. Fiddling with her long hair and biting her nails, she gave a convincing portrayal of a spoiled young princess, was admirably feline in her pursuit of Jochanaan, and graceful in the not very voluptuous dance created by Curran. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsely was a resounding Jochanaan, clearly tempted by the young girl, and convincing as he tried vainly to move her to compassion. Mezzo soprano Irina Mishura’s Herodias, though well sung, was not a commanding presence. Someone should have told her not to wave her wrists around like a hapless housewife. Neither she, nor Allan Glassman, who sang gloriously as Herod, seemed like people capable of running an empire. I can only assume it was the direction that turned them into a pair of restless, ditzy characters. Tenor Sean Panikkar was compelling as the enraptured Narraboth.

Despite the excellent voices, sadly I was not as out breath as I would like to have been when the curtain descended. Part, I think can be attributed to the staging of the last moment of the opera in which Salome is on her feet, as though considering her deed, rather than being fully immersed in the horrid act that Herod is seeing and that the orchestra is describing. Steuart Bedford’s conducting too, often lost focus on the emotions that this hideous tale should evoke. The simplest example perhaps relates to the moments during which Salome is waiting for Jochanaan’s head — waiting to hear his scream, waiting for his body to fall. The only music Strauss gives us at first are B flats ticking unevenly in the bass.

The notes and intermittent silences, followed by the subsequent undulating comments of the woodwinds should have been chilling enough to make my skin crawl. They weren’t. Even at its screeching heights the orchestra often lacked tension and energy.

MG2035.pngLise Lindstrom as Salome

I am never happy to see a Salome without a moon. Wilde told Bernhardt that the moon had a leading part in the play. Directors who ignore the moon, ignore the poetry and imagery of the play. There are thirty-two mentions of “moon” in Wilde’s play, fifteen of “mond” in the libretto. A page described the moon the moment the curtain rises. “How strange the moon seems. She is like a woman rising from a tomb.” To which Narraboth responds, “a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver.” The moon’s appearances and disappearances move in relation to Salome’s actions. But there’s another reason I particularly missed the moon. The first musical note Strauss made on his copy of the Salome libretto was to set Salome’s key as C# minor, the key of the Moonlight Sonata. (Please don’t write to me, I know Beethoven didn’t give the sonata that name. But it had that name in Strauss’ time).

Finally, I’m also unhappy with Salomes in which only the five Jews are dressed in 21st century clothes with specifically identifiable Jewish religious accouterments. It’s both a stereotype and a cliché. A director who can do without a moon in Salome, can surely do without business suit and prayer shawls.

Estelle Gilson

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):