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

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angela Denoke as Salome [Photo © ROH 2012 / Clive Barda]
04 Jun 2012

Salome, Royal Opera

In David McVicar’s staging of Strauss’s disturbing opera, first seen at Covent Garden in 2008 and now enjoying its second revival, Salome’s descent down the Stygian staircase is a literal drop into a subterranean slaughterhouse and an ethical fall into the delights and depravity of her of burgeoning yet deadly sexuality.

Richard Strauss: Salome

Salome: Angela Denoke; Jokanaan: Egils Silins; Narraboth: Will Hartmann; Herod: Stig Andersen; Herodias: Rosalind Plowright; First Soldier: Scott Wilde; Second Soldier: Alan Ewing; First Jew: Peter Bronder; Second Jew: Hubert Francis; Third Jew: Timothy Robinson; Fourth Jew: Pablo Bemsch; Fifth Jew: Jeremy White; First Nazarene: Andrew Greenan; Second Nazarene: ZhengZhong Zhou; Page: Sarah Castle; Cappadocian: John Cunningham; Slave: Madeleine Pierard. Conductor: Andris Nelsons. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Director: David McVicar. Revival Director: Bárbara Lluch. Designer: Es Devlin. Lighting design: Wolfgang Göbbel. Choreography: Andrew George. Revival Choreographer: Emily Piercy. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday, 31 May 2012.

Above: Angela Denoke as Salome

Photos © ROH 2012 / Clive Barda

 

This is a Salome who is less interested in the bodily pleasures offered by the pure masculinity of Jokanaan than in the narcissistic celebration of her own vicious carnality. And, Angela Denoke is just the singer-actress to convey the princess’s escalating self-awareness and indulgence in emotional extremities. Denoke, returning as Salome after her performance in the production’s 2010 revival, may not have had the requisite consistent sheen at the top, and indeed may have struggled at times to hit the uppermost notes truly and securely — who wouldn’t given the unalleviated high tessitura? — but she possesses an emotional sincerity, communicated through an infinite variety of colours, shades and shadows, which wins the hearts and minds of the audience. Slightly tense at the start, she went from strength to strength: the final statement of her insistent demand, “Give me the head of Jokanaan”, was truly chilling in its honest exposure of human egoism; and in the final scene, as she cradled the bloodied head of the prophet, at times tender, then terrifyingly solipsistic, she communicated powerfully the destructive yet vulnerable self-regard of the eponymous anti-heroine before her thankfully inevitable death.

SALOME 120528_0202.pngStig Andersen as Herod and Rosalind Plowright as Herodias

As the ill-fated prophet, subjected to incarceration in the unfathomable depths of Herod’s subterranean prison, Egils Silins’ bass has the necessary biblical profundity to lend sonorous weight and resonance to his visionary pronouncements, which rise through the black grid of internment like clarion calls to humanity in the face of the wickedness to which it has submitted. Unfortunately, his perhaps understandably self-absorbed characterisation resulted in absolutely no erotic tension between Silins and Denoke; nor a real sense of the prophetic power which might strike such fear in the heart of Herod. And, as Jokanaan strode back and forth across the stage, fleeing Salome’s flirtatious advances, one wondered why the guards melodramatically traced his movements with their rifles given Herod’s command that the prophet must not be harmed. Surely none would risk such suicidal recklessness?

Stig Anderson, as Herod, used his resonance and power intelligently. There was no doubting his stentorian dominance and brutality when he unleashed his full force, but elsewhere his weak hesitancy was effectively conveyed.

Rosalind Plowright was a persuasive, vocally secure Herodias, sufficiently sumptuous to make her a convincing object of Herod’s desire, but not afraid to add a touch of roughness or harsh extremity to convey the Queen’s desperation to maintain her husband’s admiring gaze and her delight in capitalising on his weakness. Her relationship with her daughter was appropriately ambiguous.

The minor roles were performed with uniform accomplishment. The beautiful warmth of tone of Will Hartman’s Narraboth poignantly conveyed the purity of his transfixion in the face of Salome’s beauty; indeed, the understated portrayal of his death seemed a dramatic injustice. As the First and Second Soldiers, Scott Wilde and Alan Ewing were resonant and clear; similarly, Peter Bronder, as the first Jew, and Andrew Greenan, as the first Nazarene, were vocally and dramatically compelling.

SALOME 120528_0145.pngEgils Silins as Jokanaan and Angela Denoke as Salome

Andris Nelsons conducted the orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a thrilling, precise yet disquieting rendition of Strauss’s provocatively extrovert score. Solo lines emerged effortlessly from the luxuriant orchestral canvas. The seductive harmonies which foreshadow Rosenkavier — employed therein to depict exuberant sexual freedom, piquant desire and joyful satisfaction — were here bitterly destabilized by disconcerting instrumental colours textures and extremity of register, which Nelsons exploited to perfection. The conductor perfectly balanced measure and excess, liberation and control. His ability to restrain his naturally exuberant forces until precise moments of erotic release was nowhere more evident than in the Dance of the Seven Veils.

Oddly, here, McVicar eschews an erotic depiction of Salome’s growing appreciation of the power ordained by her beauty and nascent sexuality; rather we have a series of remarkably chaste, dream-like tableaux as Salome is relentlessly pursued through a series of chambers by Herod, her movements and gestures suggestive of an increasing interiority and introspection (à la Freud?). That is, until the final image portentous of imminent — or retrospective — rape.

There are many McVicarian clichés — gratuitous nudity, excessive blood-letting etc. etc. — but, while some have found some aspects of the production (the Nazi uniforms of the subterranean warders, for example) unduly specific and contradictory to Wilde’s somewhat stylised, even mythic, timelessness, to me they seemed true to the era in which Strauss composed his opera — when man’s appalling sadism was shortly to be revealed in its full horror. Es Devlin’s split-level designs — we are afforded glimpse of blasé banqueting diners loftily removed from the debasing debauchery below — effectively intimate the hypocrisy of the indifferent, and the shared culpability of all mankind. And, at the close, even the naked executioner Naaman (Duncan Meadows) is unable to overcome his disgust and turns his back upon the repellently orgasmic Salome, until required to fulfil Herod’s command to “Kill that woman!”; savagely breaking her neck, he conveniently relieves our own disgust and, thankfully, breaks our hypnotic absorption with Salome’s repulsive yet mesmerising self-glorification.

To some extent it is probably true that modern opera audiences, immune to the gore, nudity, depravity and gratuitous degeneracy regularly served up by directors, are largely unshockable. Yet, this listener for one experienced nauseating terror in the face of the dreadfulness of Wilde’s and Strauss’s disclosure of humanity’s inhumanity; a terror resulting less from the gruesome specificity of McVicar’s reading than from its suggestion of man’s ubiquitous amorality and cruelty — rendered supremely, and ironically, by Strauss’s painfully beautiful musical portrait.

Claire Seymour

SALOME 120528_0320.pngAngela Denoke as Salome, Stig Andersen as Herod and Rosalind Plowright as Herodias

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):