Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

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):