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

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

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):