Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alex Penda as Salome and Ryan McKinny as Jochanaan [Photo by Ken Howard]
19 Aug 2015

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

A review by James Sohre

Above: Alex Penda as Salome and Ryan McKinny as Jochanaan

Photos by Ken Howard

 

That is not to say there were not some excellent components in the mix, but the pervasive uneasiness that must underpin any good production of this shocking masterpiece, was in short supply.

Let us start with concept that placed the piece at the turn of the last century. Director Daniel Slater attempted to infuse the work with layers of Freudian introspection so contemporary at that time. There is merit in this to be sure. But I found the result was too often a stand and sing affair that bordered on costumed concert opera.

Mr. Slater was not helped by Leslie Travers’ straight-jacketing formal evening wear and colorful military uniforms, gorgeously executed as they were. Nor was Travers’ giant rotating set very atmospheric or evocative. The "cistern" was relegated to a pit in front of a monolithic cement-block box that had windows and doors aplenty which could reveal different scenarios as the whole shebang spun effortlessly.

24 Robert Brubaker (Herod) and Michaela Martens (Herodias) in ‘Salome.’ Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015.pngRobert Brubaker as Herod and Michaela Martens as Herodias

For example, Jochanaan was revealed, not in the cistern, but in a crumbling study, where he is frantically scribbling exhortations, resembling Rasputin as a barefoot student ascetic. The opening party referred to by Narraboth, usually offstage, was revealed up and center, looking like a very proper “Downton Abbey” dinner party. Rick Fisher’s lighting design provided all that was required with good area definition and nice gobo effects. The turbulent moon effects, so carefully scripted, were completely absent.

For Salome’s critical dance, the large vertical window opened to create a stage of sorts. As Salome did graceful (if unimaginative) arm gestures, a back wall crept forward to enclose the box, while cockeyed windows revealed Salome as a young girl who witnesses Herod killing her father, who had been imprisoned in the very same cistern that holds Jochanaan. Or that “would” hold Jochanaan, except that we are not using the cistern, but rather the library. Confused?

I only know the above dance scenario to be true since I read the director’s notes. My friend, who hadn’t and who was attending his first ”Salome,” did not understand what was going on.

Salome herself, clad in a chaste blue gown for most of the night, seems more a petulant debutante than the troubled, perhaps sexually abused adolescent. As Salome rather tamely comes on to Jochanaan, Narraboth, in military uniform and sash stands stoically down right, staring out front.

Eventually he starts to get turned on by the trash-talking heroine and slowly, subtly begins undoing clothing and feigning looks of sexual arousal, even removing, crumpling and sniffing his white sash. He never actually looks at the action and when he finally stabs himself, he is looking front.

Director Slater clearly intended this full frontal connection and it is a visual theme. The quarrelsome Jews only occasionally sing to each other, mostly just changing places in a straight line to sing to us. And once they sing, they leave. In fact, everyone does that.

29 Brian Jagde (Narraboth), Ryan McKinny (Jochanaan), and Alex Penda (Salome) in 'Salome.' Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015.pngBrian Jagde as Narraboth, Ryan McKinny as Jochanaan, and Alex Penda as Salome

In the last third of the show, Herod and Herodias, alone, gape at the auditorium expressionless through most of the dance and through all of the brutal final scene. If this is supposed to evoke Freudian preoccupation, it was about as exciting as watching a patient lie on a sofa for an hour.

Herod removed his own ring and hurled it off right. This makes hash not only of his asking “Who has taken my ring?” but also of its importance as a royal signal to the Executioner to behead the Baptist. Never you mind because there is no Executioner. Oops. So who killed Jochanaan? I guess Freud did it. . .

Happily, the music-making offered much compensation. David Robertson conducted with a knowing hand, and the sublime orchestra rose to meet every Straussian challenge. The exposed solo work was full of personality, and the cello and contra-bassoon effects were especially affecting. If the Maestro got off to a more deliberate start than other readings I have heard, perhaps it was owing to the distraction of a smattering of entrance applause just as he gave the downbeat. It seems that the production wanted to sneak him on to the podium unremarked, but it is something to reconsider if can precipitate this kind of false start.

For most of the 100-minutes, Robertson and his band struck an admirable balance with the stage. It is not the Maestro’s fault if the evening’s Salome is about one and half vocal sizes too small for the role.

Alex Penda is a lovely artist, exceedingly musical, and she commands a silvery soprano that, when unleashed at forte in the upper register is downright thrilling. Her chest voice has bite and presence. And then . . .there is that pesky lower middle where many phrases, and more to the point, phrase endings, lie.

Ms. Penda’s is essentially a heavy lyric instrument, and to make it speak in mid-range against some dense instrumentation, she pushes it within-but-to her limits. The result is occasional inaudibility, a Sprechstimme that veers off the pitch, or a nasal, childish retort. Salome is a big, big sing and Alex mostly succeeds admirably to conquer the role on her own terms. It should be reported that the audience rewarded her with a generous ovation.

32 Alex Penda (Salome) in 'Salome.' Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015.pngAlex Penda as Salome

She is certainly the right physical type and another production might have capitalized more on her considerable dramatic range. In the final scene, when she was finally unleashed as a prowling cat savoring its victim, she had superb presence. But where was that character specificity the rest of the night? I applaud Alex Penda’s commitment and resourcefulness, but maybe she should let the next Salome incubate a few years.

Ryan McKinny has all the goods for a first tier Jochanaan, namely a meaty, forceful bass-baritone that has powerful point and burnished quality in every register and volume. Mr. McKinny found all the heft necessary for the big statements, and other times sang with sensitivity, understanding, and ever-present beauty of tone. It is a pity that the costume design had him all buttoned down as he is an attractive man, yet there was no opportunity to display the primal physical appeal that fuels Salome’s carnal instincts. Still, Ryan brought an oversize presence to the role and true star power to the evening.

Brian Jagde was luxury casting as Narraboth, a role that could easily have been assigned to one of SFO’s excellent young artists. Mr. Jagde has been singing Puccini heroes of late, and he brought that same full-throated vocal approach to the young Syrian soldier. He negotiates the dramatic outbursts with effusive tone, and he affects an appealing lyricism that underlies the Syrian soldier’s fatal boyish infatuation with the princess.

I have long admired Robert Brubaker’s heroic tenor and his rock solid technique. I wish I could report that the quirky, high-lying Herod was a good fit for this intelligent singer. On this occasion, I wondered if he might have been indisposed (there was a bit smoke in the air after all). Although no announcement was made, he coughed a couple of times and seemed to clear his throat.

Although the usual polished bronze tone was most often securely deployed, some held high tones were negotiated through sheer will. Herod is a tricky part with much angular singing, and leaps to sudden high outbursts. Mr. Brubaker also seemed hamstrung by the patrician, effete characterization that replaced the more unrestrained immoral despot.

As his paramour, Michaela Martens was an imposing Herodias. More dowager empress than aging adultress, Ms. Maertens nonetheless sang with a searing, ripe mezzo that rode the orchestra with ease. Her acerbic protestations had zing and dramatic import. Curious that at opera’s end, her Herodias was made to cross to the extra library chair, remove her jewels and wrap, and embrace Jochanaan’s pre-set jacket. All is forgiven?

Megan Marion sang most appealingly as the Page, Nicholas Brownlee showed great promise as the First Soldier, and Tyler Putnam sang with knowing power as the Second Soldier. The bickering Jews had a freshness and appeal, all of them being taken by Young Artists. Singing with accuracy and fire all five reflected great credit on the apprentice program: Christopher Trapani, Roy Hage, Cullen Gandy, Aaron Short, and Kevin Thompson. Not to be outdone, colleagues Peixin Chen and Adrian Kramer shone as the First and Second Nazarenes, respectively.

Salome was the first opera I ever saw at Santa Fe Opera, back in the day with no less than Josephine Barstow supported by John Crosby in the pit. There have been a lot of productions of it in between for me in places ranging from New York to Paris to Stuttgart. If this current, well-intended mounting had its shortcomings, its many strengths served to reinforce the enduring power of Strauss’s creation, and rekindle a lifetime of Salome memories.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Narraboth: Brian Jagde; Page: Megan Marino; First Soldier: Nicholas Brownlee; Second Soldier: Tyler Putnam; Jochanaan: Ryan McKinney; Cappadocian: Peter Tomaszewski; Salome: Alex Penda; Butler: David Bates; Herod: Robert Brubaker; Herodias: Michaela Martens; First Jew: Christopher Trapani; Second Jew: Roy Hage; Third Jew: Cullen Gandy; Fourth Jew: Aaron Short; Fifth Jew: Kevin Thompson; First Nazarene: Peixin Chen; Second Nazarene: Adrian Kramer; Conductor: David Robertson; Director: Daniel Slater; Set and Costume Design: Leslie Travers; Lighting Design: Rick Fisher; Choreographer: Sean Curran; Fight Director: Rick Sorde

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):