Posts Tagged ‘Salome’

Salome, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

1 June, 2012

With superb vocal power and control from Angela Denoke as Salome, and thrilling sound from the orchestra under the direction of Andris Nelsons, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The executioner with the head, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

This was the second revival of David McVicar’s production, first seen in 2008, and Angela Denoke’s second turn at the title role, since her earlier appearance in 2010. As the opera progressed she only got better, and after Herod has offered her everything … ending in desperation with the veil of the Tabernacle, the final repeat of her demand, “Gib mir den Kopf des Jokanaan” (Give me the head of Jokanaan) was hugely powerful. After she gets the head, her voice blended most beautifully with the orchestra. Beauty and horror combine, and following her final words that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death she lies down with the head. Duncan Meadows as Naaman the executioner sits with his back to the horror being played out, but finally he turns … slowly … in disgust, and when Herod gives the command he breaks her neck.

Herod, Herodias and others

There are some fine aspects to this production, and the blood is cleverly done. She first gets it on her dress by putting her arms round the executioner, but as she nurses the head there is more and more of it. And the moment when the prophet first comes out of the cistern, and is knocked over by one of the soldiers, is very well judged. But it is absurd the way one of the soldiers keeps aiming a rifle at him. He does this particularly when Jokanaan is trying to get away from Salome, yet no-one draws seems to care when she puts her head in his lap. Surely that is the moment of danger for the princess, if there is one. And should the gun go off when there is no immediate danger to Salome, the soldier is a dead man. Herod has given strict instructions the prophet is not to be harmed.

Salome and Herod, end of the dance

But the singing is glorious. Stig Andersen gave a wonderful portrayal of Herod, and he and Rosalind Plowright as Herodias were both excellent. Egils Silinš was a fine Jokanaan, his voice coming across very clearly when he’s in the cistern, though it seems to come from elsewhere. Will Hartman sang beautifully as Narraboth, but in this revival his death occurred quietly in the background, unlike the first revival, which was a pity. Scott Wilde and Alan Ewing both sang well as first and second soldier, Peter Bronder was superb as the first Jew, and Andrew Greenan came over well as the first Nazarene, describing the miracles of Jesus. It was a strong cast, working well as a team, and held together beautifully by Andris Nelsons, who drew enormous power and lyricism from the huge orchestra.

Diners upstairs invisible from the Amphi

The lighting was brighter in this revival, which was good, but from the front of the Amphitheatre only the legs of the upstairs diners can be seen, and the backdrops to the dance are barely visible. But go for the music and the singing — they’re terrific.

Performances continue until June 16 — for details click here.

Salome, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2010

4 July, 2010

The evening belonged to Angela Denoke in the title role, and Hartmut Haenchen in the pit, who drew a mixture of gentle lyricism and immense power from the orchestra. When Salome sings of kissing the lips on the severed head of the Baptist, the orchestra roars forth, and Ms. Denoke shows a sense of triumphalism rather than necrophilia in her tone and body language. I think this works, though I do prefer more of the mystery of Salome’s intense yearnings, expressed so well in the words Wilde puts in her mouth, that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.

A far cry from the first London performance, photo by Clive Barda

For those unfamiliar with the original 1891 play — very recently performed at several theatres in England — a reduced version of its text provides the libretto for the opera. Oscar Wilde wrote the play in French for Sarah Bernhardt, but during rehearsals in London the next year, the Lord Chamberlain’s office banned it, and it did not appear in Britain at a public performance until 1931. In the meantime the opera was performed, conducted by Thomas Beecham.  This was to be in a Bowdlerized version, with the action taking place in Greece rather than Judaea. Among various changes the silver platter containing the Baptist’s head was empty and covered in a cloth, and Salome’s claim of kissing his lips was converted to a desire to be his follower. Unfortunately for Beecham, the soprano forgot the changes and let rip with the original. I won’t repeat this well-known story, but refer to Beecham’s entertaining book A Mingled Chime.

photo by Clive Barda

In this 2008 production by David McVicar the action is set in twentieth century Germany between the wars, with the soldiers in Wehrmacht uniforms and Herod’s party in evening dress. The dance takes place through a series of moving doorways, and at one point when Salome puts on a long tutu, Herod dances with her. From the Amphitheatre the changing backdrops for the dance are only partly visible, which is unfortunate. One of these is a huge projection of a doll in a chair, matching the rag doll Salome plays with, and this is important because the doll imagery is recaptured at the end of the opera as the executioner breaks her body like a rag doll. He is there throughout the opera, but dressed in a cloak that he throws off when climbing down into the cistern to behead the Baptist, and once again Duncan Meadows performed this role to perfection, turning away in disgust during Salome’s performance with the head, while most of the cast simply stand and look on rather stupidly.

This revival was directed by Justin Way, and I particularly liked the way he made Narraboth, the captain of the guard, make desperate physical contact with Salome. His early suicide thus becomes more understandable than in other productions where he simply hangs in the background and kills himself. Here Andrew Staples plays him as a Shlemiel — I use the Yiddish term deliberately as the Jews are all dressed in kippahs and prayer shawls. There seems to me something rather unnatural about all this, and I dislike the gratuitous female nudity in a coldly lit basement. It does nothing to assist the warmth and obsessiveness of the music that speaks of a sultry night in the Middle East. Herod sings of the moon, yet the white light from above was very intense.

The Baptist grapples with Salome, photo by Clive Barda

The performance however was excellent. Johan Reuter sang the Baptist with emotional sincerity, grappling physically with Salome, and in this revival staying upright more than Michael Volle was permitted to do in the 2008 original. Gerhard Siegel was a fine Herod, showing impotence in the face of Salome, the same characteristic he showed as Mime in the face of Siegfried during his performances in the Ring three years ago. Irina Mishura looked gorgeous and sounded suitably imperious as Herodias, and I was particularly impressed by the bass power of Michael Courjal as the First Soldier. But it was Angela Denoke whose singing I found so strikingly good, and though I prefer a little more sexiness in the portrayal of Salome, particularly in the dance, this was a powerfully convincing performance. And then of course there was the huge orchestra, so brilliantly conducted by Hartmut Haenchen.

Performances continue until 16th July.

Salome, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

12 February, 2009

In this bizarre production the performers were dressed as clowns, in striped costumes, with upturned buckets, funnels, saucepans, and the like as headgear. They entered and exited through yellow doors in yellow walls, occasionally popping their heads up from behind these walls. Whether this would work for a stage version of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t work for a Strauss opera. Only Salome, right at the end, wore anything reasonable, namely a pink slip, and the evident intention was to show her as the only normal person in a world of lunatics. I felt sorry for Manuela Uhl as Salome, because she didn’t come over well until the final scene, and was given no dance. This high point of the opera started with two of the erstwhile guards dragging in a cleaning trolley and clearing the stage, after which they, along with the other four people on stage danced in a conga. Salome eventually took off her striped clown outfit, but there was no sexual allure whatsoever, and when Herod at the end of the dance sings, Herrlich. Wundervoll, you wonder why. As to the singers, Hanna Schwarz was excellent as Herodias, and Clemens Bieber sang Narraboth with power and incisiveness — what a shame he dies so early. Chris Merritt was a slightly underpowered Herod, Manuela Uhl a powerful but slightly screechy Salome, but they were all badly let down by Morten Frank Larsen as Jochanaan, whose voice was quite wrong for the part — powerful on the higher notes, but completely lost on the lower register. The absurd costumes and scenery were complemented by ridiculous staging, with the performers required to make stylized and nonsensical arm movements, and walk forwards and backwards in meaningless ways. The entire nonsense was attributed to an artist named Achim Freyer. But perhaps if one closed ones eyes and listened to the glorious music? No, that didn’t work either, because Ulf Schirmer as conductor seemed to have little control of the orchestra. In the loud passages they let rip, and in the more lyrical moments they were dull. Strauss’s music needs playing with restraint and emotional conviction. But this one-dimensional performance didn’t begin to do justice to what ought to be a highly charged musical rendering of sexual desire and religious fervour. What a let-down!