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

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):