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 Reviews

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

31 Aug 2014

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Richard Strauss : Salome,,BBC Prom 47, Royal Albert Hall, London 30th August 2014. A review by Robert Hugill

 

For Salome, Donald Runnicles conducted the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, with Nina Stemme as Salome, Burkhard Ulrich as Herod, Doris Soffel as Herodias, Samuel Youn as Jokanaan, Thomas Blondelle as Narraboth and Ronnita Miller as Herodias's page. The concert staging was directed by Justin Way,

Prior to the performance, I rather wondered why this particular opera and these performers. Salome is certainly not rare in London and the David McVicar production at Covent Garden gets regular outings. Nina Stemme has recently sung Salome in Stockholm and Zurich, but the opera does not seem to appear in the current roster of Deutsche Oper productions. We did not seem to be being given a glimpse of an existing production. This seemed confirmed when the singers varied from being completely off the book, to standing resolutely behind music stands. There was a performing area in front of the orchestra, but only Nina Stemme's Salome and Doris Soffel's Herodias took real advantage of this. But all doubts were swept away by the performance, this was simply one of the finest performances of Salome that I have heard in a long time.

The problem with Salome (written in 1905), is that though premiered barely a century ago it dates from an era of different performing styles. Dramatic sopranos had voices which were more lithe, more narrow in focus. Orchestras were generally quieter, with narrower bore brass and gut strings, and the orchestral sound a lot less dense. Production values were more forgiving, Audiences didn't generally worry about whether the heroine looked 16. But early sopranos in the role would probably sound a lot younger, to our ears. Nowadays, both singers and directors frequently move the character into maturity. One of the few singers that I have heard who seemed able to capture the bright freshness and youth of Salome was Montserrat Caballé..

The remarkable thing about Nina Stemme's account of the title role was the wonderful brightness and freshness that she brought to the vocal line. Singing with a lovely, fluid sense of line, this was a singer who really did link this music to the Strauss of the songs and the later operas. There wasn't a screamed note the whole evening, and she seemed to be able to encompass the whole role whilst preserving focus and flexibility. As Brünnhilde, Stemme does not have a huge voice compared to some of the Brünnhildes of the past, but this is an advantage as Salome.

She both looked and sounded young. From the moments of her first entry (throughout she was off the book, and fully acted), it was clear that this was a petulant, selfish teenager. Salome's naivety and inexperience came out in Stemme's voice and her body language. It was wonderful to see and hear the way petulance gave way to desire and more; the typical teenager reaction of becoming obsessed with something you are not allowed to have. Salome is a huge role and once on stage she is rarely off, and the concluding section focusses exclusively on her. More so here, as the stage was cleared and we were left with just Stemme (Burkhard Ulrich's Herod and Doris Soffel's Herodias sang from high up near one of the auditorium exits). And she was completely mesmerising, and seemingly tireless. It was wonderful to be able to see and hear a great artist in such a complete musico-dramatic performance without the interference of any sort of konzept or over fussy stage business. After all, it is all in the music.

Stemme's partner in the enterprise was of course Donald Runnicles, who directed his orchestra with poise, sensitivity and control. Yes, there was the odd moment of poor balance, but in the main the orchestral sound was transparent enough for the singers to rise above it despite the fact that rather than being in a pit, the 104 players were ranged on the platform behind the singers. The orchestra became another of the stars of the show as for the first time, I was able to appreciate some of the details of Strauss's orchestration. Runnicles led a fluid and fluent performance. Yes there were over 100 players, and yes there were loud moments, but by and large it was the flexibility and sheen which came over. The whole of the performance was suffused with the glow which Strauss achieves in this opera, the strange eerie light of the moon which is apparent from the opening. There were far too many lovely details to recount; one stands out, the sound of the high stabs from the double basses as Salome waits for the head of Jokanaan. The Dance of the Seven Veils was really a dance, with Runnicles bringing out the waltz element of Strauss's melodies.

In a concert performance, it is fatally easy for the singers playing Herodias and Herod to dominate the show, but here they simply complemented the intense dramatic performance from Stemme. Doris Soffel had stood in as Herodias at the last minute, but you would not have known it. Off the book, she looked gloriously queenly and prowled around the stage like a panther caged. This was a fully sung account of the role, not just barked, and perhaps occasionally she veered towards dramatic caricature, but overall this was a strong and musical performance. Herodias has some great one-liners and put-downs (it really is a gift of a role), and Soffel showed that she understood how to make these work musically and dramatically.

Soffel was nicely paired with the Herod of Burkhard Ulrich. He started off firmly behind his music stand, but soon relaxed and gave us a highly vivid, extremely neurotic Herod. Ulrich does not have the largest of voices, and for the Royal Albert Hall he sounded half a size too small, but he compensated by his vividly coloured performance. However, he did occasionally push the role a little too far towards sprechstimme for my taste.

Samuel Youn made a virile and resonant Jokanaan, singing his glorious phrases with great beauty and a lovely full line. Jokanaan's music must be some of the most beautiful that Strauss ever wrote for a hero in his operas. For the performance Youn had to shuttle between the organ loft and the stage, and perhaps this extra activity got to him because his voice protested at one point. Youn recovered with aplomb, and continued singing in a finely phrased manner.

Thomas Blondelle made a virile Narraboth, his voice sounding a little high tension under pressure and thus giving the character a neurotic edge. Blondelle remained immured behind his music stand, but did react well to other performers giving a fully rounded performance. In this he was supported by the Page of Ronita Miller, who impressed with her poise in this small but important role.

The supporting characters were all very strong, the Jews were Paul Kaufmann, Gideon Poppe, Jorg Schorner, Clemens Bieber and Andrew Harris, the Nazarenes were Noel Bouley and Carlton Ford, the Cappadocian was Seth Carico and the Soldiers were Marko Mimica and Tobias Kehrer.

This was as complete a dramatic performance as you could wish for, and certainly a performance of Salome for the memory box. Nina Stemme achieved a remarkable intensity and sustained beauty in the title role, complemented by some superb orchestral playing from Runnicles and the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin.

Robert Hugill

Richard Strauss: Salome
Burkhard Ulrich: Herod, Doris Soffel: Herodias, Nina Stemme: Salome, Samuel Youn: Jokanaan, Thomas Blondelle: Narraboth, Ronnita Miller: Herodias's Page, Paul Kaufmann: 1st Jew, Gideon Poppe: 2nd Jew, Jörg Schörner: 3rd Jew, Clemens Bieber: 4th Jew, Andrew Harris: 5th Jew, Noel Bouley: 1st Narazene, Carlton Ford: 2nd Nazarene, Marko Mimica: 1st Soldier, Tobias Kehrer: 2nd Soldier, Seth Carico: Cappadocian
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Donald Runnicles: Conductor
Justin Way: Stage Director
Saturday 30 August 2014, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London

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):