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 Reviews

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Salome</em>, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
10 Jan 2018

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

Salome, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Malin Byström (Salome)

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

Wilde had also plunged the depths six years earlier, in his play Salomé, originally written in French (to both evade the censors and acknowledge the influence of Flaubert), in which he transferred subversion from page to stage - peeling back the skin of Beauty to reveal lurid degradation and moral decay, even while his text aspired to ‘the decorative conditions that each art requires for its perfection’ (‘The Critic as Artist’).

Though Wilde professed, in De Profundis, that he did not ‘regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure’, he did recognise that alongside an image of ‘Pleasure that liveth for a moment’ one has to make the image of the ‘Sorrow that abideth for ever’, explaining that this was ‘one of the refrains whose recurring motifs make Salomé so like a piece of music and bind it together as a ballad’.

Richard Strauss’s Salome might similarly be considered an essay in the aesthetics of transgression. Indeed, David McVicar’s ROH staging revived here, for the third time (revival director, Bárbata Lluch), certainly lures us to some dark places. The ‘decorative’ is all too obviously sullied. Es Devlin’s art deco staircase may curve gracefully but it carries Herod and his court from the banqueting room - the split-level set affords just a glimpse of lavish luxury - to the basement, where stained ceramics, ugly latrines and languid naked bodies, all bathed in a green-tinged patina, reek of moral bankruptcy. We’ve slipped down a staircase from ‘civilisation’ and ‘culture’ to chaos.

One thing that struck me about this production, which I didn’t remark last time round, is just how ‘still’ this subterranean dystopia is. Soldiers, Jews, Nazarenes, elegantly pose, the mix of fascination and revulsion with which they evidently regard Salome’s increasing mania and vulgarity mimicking our own voyeuristic bewitchment and absorption. Even Herod and Herodias remain seated through Salome’s degenerate display. With Jokanaan constrained by chains and cell walls, the only figure who emanates a life force is Salome herself. A what a terrible force that is, one which, as it escalates, devours itself - until the cathartic release of Salome’s execution, when Naaman (Duncan Meadows) brutally snaps her neck at Herod’s hysterical command, “Kill that woman!” And, so, with Salome’s death, we have relief but also despair: those that remain are the living dead.

Bystrom 1.jpg Malin Byström (Salome). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

In the title role, Malin Byström conveyed not only Salome’s appalling moral degeneracy and self-consuming, obsessive desire, but also the grace and beauty which have so entranced Narraboth and Herod. Though pale, in a silver satin gown, she alone gleams in this underground abyss. Byström moves with physical eloquence: a litheness that somehow conveys both child-like unselfconsciousness and burgeoning sexual awareness. Even after her sudden recognition of her sensual and sexual self, this Salome remains a ‘child’ in her utter obliviousness of the moral consequences, to others and herself, of her actions and commands. When she holds the prophet's head aloft and entreats, ‘Why don’t you look at me, Jokanaan?’, we feel anger, frustration, despair and pity: she is utterly lost in her delusion. Byström does not have a weighty dramatic voice, though it is rich and luxurious in the middle, and she paced this performance sensibly. Perhaps in subsequent performances in the run, she might give even more during her confrontations with Jokanaan and Herod. And, if she does lack the power at the top that would capture the irresistible hypnotical assault of sensual indulgence then the relative lightness of her lyric soprano did initially lessen Salome’s vulgarity. She held nothing back in the terrifying final scene though, vocally or dramatically, as her fatal obsession consumed and destroyed her.

Jokanaan and Salome.jpgMichael Volle (Jokanaan) and Malin Byström (Salome). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

I still don’t understand the ‘message’ that McVicar’s ‘Seven Veils’ dance is supposed to communicate. As Herod followed Salome through a series of doorways and a video backdrop displayed a naked back, an exploding lightbulb and other seemingly disconnected images, I assumed as before that there was some Freudian intent. But, surely the stripping of the seven veils symbolises the shedding of appearances and illusions - Wilde’s ‘decorations’ or poetic ornamentation? That, in dancing Salome reveals for Herod the ‘self’ that she wants Jokanaan - who does not desire to know who she is, will not look at or listen to her - to be forced to acknowledge.

Michael Volle Barda.jpgMichael Volle (Jokanaan). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Tenor Michael Volle has a colossal voice and presence, both of which convey a sensuality of which the prophet is himself aware. This Jokanaan imposed his righteousness formidably and fearsomely, but we are aware of his fragilities too. His religious proclamations rang resonantly from his cell, almost as if he offered them as resistance to the desire which Salome had incited.

John Daszak successfully captured the conflicted king’s depravity and dismay, though he didn’t quite sail through the higher lying lines. The full-voiced Michaela Schuster was terrific as Herodias: singing with strength and smoothness, the queen was vulgar but not to excess, her horror at her daughter’s demise skilfully nuanced.

Daszak and Schuster .jpgJohn Daszak (Herod) and Michaela Schuster (Herodias). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

I confess that though they were sung with uniform competence, the minor roles did not make much of an impression. Partly this is a consequence of the lack of movement that I mentioned above. Even David Philip Butt, whom I greatly admired in Glyndebourne’s recent touring production of Hamlet, seemed uncharacteristically muted.

In the pit, Henrik Nánási prioritised lucidity over luxuriousness, initially at least. There was some wonderfully pristine delineation of Strauss’s coloristic poeticism, but it was not until the final thirty minutes or so that the score began to complement, or even drive, the surfeit of sensuality and sickness that erupts on stage. However, McVicar’s production again proved its power to stir up an odour of moral squalor and dissipation that lingers pungently and ineradicably.

Claire Seymour

Richard Strauss: Salome

Salome - Malin Byström, Jokanaan - Michael Volle, Herod - John Daszak, Herodias - Michaela Schuster, Narraboth - David Butt Philip, Page of Herodias - Christina Bock, First Jew - Dietmar Kerschbaum, Second Jew - Paul Curievici, Third Jew - Hubert Francis, Fourth Jew - Konu Kim. Fifth Jew - Jeremy White, First Soldier - Levente Páll. Second Soldier - Alan Ewing, First Nazarene - Kihwan Sim, Second Nazarene - Dominic Sedgwick, Cappadocian - John Cunningham, Naaman - Duncan Meadows; Director - David McVicar, Revival director - Bárbara Lluch, Conductor - Henrik Nánási, Designer - Es Devlin, Lighting designer - Wolfgang Göbbel, Choreography and movement - Andrew George, Revival choreographer - Emily Piercy, Video designer - 59 Productions, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Monday 8th January 2018.

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):