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 Performances

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

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):