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ENO’s rolling good times 2018-2019

Good news, ENO seems to be powering on most cylinders. Some interesting things written in English:

Oct – Nov 2018 Porgy and Bess! How cool, I’ve always wanted to see it, so yay ENO.

Feb 2019 Akhnaten is back already! ūüėÄ I’m going twice again. Whoever wants to come along, please do, it’s a lot of fun. Maybe they’ll film it this time?

Apr 2019 Jack the Ripper – I wonder if it’s ok. I’ve always been in two minds about the subject – on the one hand unsolved mystery = yes, on the other serial killers = eh

May 2019 Dido (without Aeneas?) Dido and Belinda?

There’s also a new Salome¬†(but this Strauss has been seen around town in recent years so I don’t know), and a new¬†Merry Widow that could be fun.

Are you afraid of me, Jokanaan? (Salome at ROH, 17 January 2018)

what sticks in the mind above all is McVicar’s conception of Salome as a petulant pseudo-teen. She’s a riot of overwrought pouting, wheedling, sulking and foot-stamping. The gap between her mundane histrionics and her extraordinary desires could hardly be larger. РFlora Wilson for The Guardian

A pseudo-teen? Why, she’s supposed to be a petulant teenager, n’est-ce pas? There is no gap between her histrionics and her desires! Going for the extreme version of anything is exactly what a petulant teen would do.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Salome. She finds Jokanaan interesting because her elders are so scared of him. And when she – literally – possesses him, she scores the supreme goal against her parents. That’s quintessentially adolescent ūüėÄ

Salome: Malin Byström
Jokanaan: Michael Volle
Herod: John Daszak
Herodias: Michaela Schuster
Narraboth: David Butt Philip
Page of Herodias: Christina Bock
cast +1
Conductor: Henrik Nánási | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: David McVicar

This 2008 Salome is one of those good McVicar productions, it makes its point and doesn’t overdo anything. The stage has two levels but focuses on the lower tier, which is the seedy area underneath the banquet hall above, aka the dungeon. I liked that – at least from my seat in the gods (¬£19!) – you could only see the legs of those attending the banquet.

Hells, yea, that’s exactly what a girl like Salome would like, and she says that much when she descends: I like it here, it’s so breezy. I bet it was really stuffy upstairs.

I admit I didn’t get the dance of the seven veils scene, which was all intellectualised with no nudity whatsoever. In fact the nudity present in the production did not involve Salome at all. I don’t mind that, perhaps on the contrary. But I also don’t quite know what to say about the dance. With its threshhold and/or mirror it seemed to me like something having to do more with Herod’s boundaries rather than having us all part of the male gaze. If that’s what it was then good but I’m not sure; all of this is stuff I rationalised since, not something that hit me at the time.

But, as we all know, Salome’s interaction with Herod isn’t what makes this opera. Here¬†Bystr√∂m makes the boredom mixed with apprehension and uneasiness with Herod very apparent and comes alive (as Salome should) in her exploratory interactions with Jokanaan. He, rather than Herod, stands in for the unwavering, demeaning authority of the patriarchy, with his decrying of her mother’s debauchery and basically calling Salome an abomination by virtue of existing. She seems amused (and emboldened) by all this – as a teen would. She goes on to tell him she wants his various body parts and when he turns her down in disgust she says she hates the above mentioned body parts ūüėÄ I don’t know about others but I remember those petulant reactions so well (and so fondly, now that I have just turned into a “respectable” 40 year old).

Salome herself gets the ax in the end (from supreme local authority Herod’s order) but it feels perfunctory. The bourgeoisie/parents/male authority (both secular and religious) has been dully riled up and the opera is named after her.

I’m not necessary a Malin Bystr√∂m fan (my last encounter with her was as the Countess in Nozze, where she sang very well but came off very cold) but I liked her better here. Her embodiment of a willful teenager wasn’t bad from my faraway seat and her singing was good, her commitment even better. I guess I have a bit of a hard time warming up to her. Everybody else was good, no complaints from me, though not earth shattering. As far as Jokanaan, I really liked Samuel Youn a couple of years ago at the Proms and Michael Volle didn’t make a more interesting impression.

I loved Michaela Schuster as the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten and so I was thrilled to have her back here, though Herodias does not require much vocally beside shrillness. She still did a great job as a woman living her frustrations with the patriarchy through her rebellious daughter whilst realising she’s lost any grip on her. Points to Christina Bock who looked really cute and miserable as Herodias rather conflicted (and possibly bisexual) page. I also liked John Daszak’s Herod, especially his acting, as a very sophisticatedly depraved Herod.

I didn’t quite get Henrik N√°n√°si’s take, which was, in my opinion, low on drama. Perhaps, volume-wise, he let the singers come forward? But still there was the matter of tempi, which were super relaxed, especially in the dance of the seven veils (and that added to my confusion regarding that scene). The libretto is so edgy, you want the music to have some bite.

It was a good night, just short of great. There is a 2008 DVD of this production (different cast), if anyone wants to check it out (this run has just finished).

  1. 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 

ROH Winter 2017/18 tickets now on general sale

It’s bright1 and early here for dehggi, as the loot was worth it:

Semiramide with JDD/Barcellona/Brownlee/D’Arcangelo

Salome being Salome (even with McVicar’s vision); next year I’m spoiled rotten: two cool operas to choose from for an outing on my birthday! I predictably went with:

Il ritorno d’Ulisse because when Monteverdi calls one must answer, especially after the great success with L’Orfeo at the Roundhouse two years ago. Let’s hope they’ll livestream this one as well.

There was 0 pain getting in/booking this time. Good job ROH!

  1. actually, it’s rather foggy (but warm). 

Semiramide, Penelope and Salome in the not so distant future

I guess everybody knows by now that JDD had to pull out of the European dates of the Ariodante tour. But there will be plenty of JDD in London later this year, as Semiramide is finally taking place this November at ROH and she has two dates and a Masterclass scheduled at Wiggy at the end of that production.

ROH returns to the Roundhouse for Il ritorno d’Ulisse¬†(Christine Rice as Penelope) next January, which gives yours truly hope¬†that in a year or two we’ll see a Poppea at the Roundhouse as well ūüėČ you never know. The news about this Ulisse has somehow bypassed me thus far so it was very welcome today.

January is for once busy, as Salome is about as well. Can’t say I’m the biggest Bystr√∂m fan, but Michaela Schuster is Herodias. Now that I’m older and wiser I’d really like to see her again in Die Frau ohne Schatten. But I suppose she can do ornery as well ūüėČ

Salome at the BBC Proms (Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2014)

If you’ve ever wondered how Salome might sound from the Royal Albert Hall Gallery I’ve an answer for you: vocally muffled. On the other hand, the orchestra carried upwards to great effect, a delight for the Strauss fan.

Herod: Burkhard Ulrich
Herodias: Doris Soffel
Salome: Nina Stemme
Jokanaan: Samuel Youn
Narraboth: Thomas Blondelle
Herodias’s Page: Ronnita Miller
Jews 1-5: Paul Kaufmann | Gideon Poppe | Jörg Schörner | Clemens Bieber | Andrew Harris
Narazenes 1-2: Noel Bouley | Carlton Ford
Soldiers 1-2: Marko Mimica | Tobias Kehrer
Cappadocian: Seth Carico

Conductor: Donald Runnicles | Deutsche Oper Berlin
Stage director: Justin Way

Catch it on Radio 3 for a month.

I joined the Gallery1 day ticket queue, which was very well organised by Door 11. For those who don’t know, you’re given a queue number upon arrival, based on which (+¬£5 in cash only) you’re admitted into the hall about 45min before the start of the show. Apparently the queue was a lot less hefty yesterday than the one for Mahler’s 2nd the day before. In any case, it advanced¬†quickly.

I’d never been to the Gallery before but I liked the anything goes attitude. You can eat, drink, read, sleep etc. at your heart’s leisure up there, as it’s very much like a promenade. Most still dutifully followed the libretto. I took a walk sometime in the middle of the show, to try out different angles (you can walk from one side of the organ to the other) and out¬†of sheer pleasure of¬†strolling and listening to live music at the same time. For a while people kept the “windows” open for ventilation. Good idea, as towards the end of the opera it had started to get stuffy. I don’t know if the people in the Arena could hydrate but I was glad I could.

The downside was the muffled singing, but I’d say Nina Stemme was in good voice. I could even catch some of the softer singing on occasion and when she particularly projected there was no problem hearing her at all. Considering it was a concert performance (with some stage direction thrown in) she was very into it, as was Doris Soffel as Herodias in a satisfyingly evil red… dressing gown. Samuel Youn as Jokanaan also made a good impression even from half a mile away. I guess it’s not easy playing an overly hormonal teenager at 51 but Stemme wasn’t bad, especially when she made her entrance (she skipped onto the stage I’d say). Youn, in turn, stumbled. It wasn’t clear if he was doing it for the art or for real but it worked for me.

But the real treat was the very tight orchestra. With the voices turned lower I could focus on Strauss’s writing. I heard enough of his stuff by now to be able to catch favourite turns of phrase that he’d reuse or develop during his career, the way he transitioned from one mood to another, how he used the strings to support¬†the vocal line etc. The ending had all the panache you could hope for. I’ll definitely do the Gallery thing again, but I’ll invest in one of these first.

  1. There was also an Arena day ticket queue, by door 12, for those missing the rock concert feel.