Saturday, 3 October 2015

A bloodless Salome (BSO/Karabits)

Richard Strauss, Salome (Karabits cond. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, on tour at Symphony Hall)

Salome is not a long opera. About 1h45. And it takes a wee while to get going. Strauss is here at his most Wagnerian: there is something of the tone poems (where is that alpine water fall?) and of the Ring Cycle. I was expecting giants to arrive at any moment. Karabits seemed to take quite a while to build up the tension; after the seven veils it made for gripping entertainment. The BSO are a good outfit – the accounts of Eugene Onegin and Boheme at Grange Park this summer were lovely accounts.  
Joe Austin (director) had come up to Birmingham especially. This production was fully staged at the Lighthouse in Bournemouth, but now the moving around bits of the stage at Symphony Hall (were these spoken conversations across the back where one might find percussion and the front meant to be castle walls and ramparts?). Silly lighting (lots of red, naturally but blue and green too), just impeded things. Was it a disco? The staging was generally ambiguous or confusing. A few coups were pulled off: shadows cast up from the entrance to the ceiling were thrilling; the slow walk of the seven veils was effective enough; the tray worked very well. Austin was seen in the bar with the tray after the show, but alas lacked the panache to serve negronis or bloody Marys from it. 
Jean Brenner, Salome (1899). Public domain.
What was consistently impressive was the singing. Well suited to a symphony orchestra without a operatic chorus, the piece required rather a lot of principals. Herodes (Kim Begley) commanded a considerable presence on the stage, with the range to recoil vocally and visibly in horror at Salome’s request. Herodias (Birgit Remmert) was a literally hellish mother, encouraging her daughter Salome (Lise Lindstrom) to demand Jochanaan’s head on a platter: Salome may have looked like the woodbird, but had the killer instinct of Brunnhilde. Jochanaan (James Rutherford) had remarkable power and presence, a Baritone with the firepower of a Bass.He might be remembered as Amfortas in the sublime Parsifal Nelsons conducted in May. Narraboth (Andrew Staples) seemed to caution with every fibre of his being.  
Others supported this ghastly crew ell: Herodias’s Page (Anna Burford), the Jews (Hubert Francis, Paul Curievici, Alexander James Edwards, Alun Rhys-Jenkins, and Andri Björn Róbertsson), supported well; David Soar and Oliver Johnston as First and Second Nazaraenes, and Andrew Greenan and Alan Ewing as soldiers likewise were impressive. All the singers were of a surprising quality.
Yet for all of this power, something was missing, it never really came to feel the full force. The first half was lethargic, the staging was clumsy: pure concert would have surpassed it. The hints at the power of the piece shown towards the end left one feeling it had been a lost opportunity.

Overall: heads may have rolled, but blood didn’t really run.
Cast and credits
Lise Lindstrom - Salome
James Rutherford - Jochanaan
Kim Begley - Herodes
Birgit Remmert - Herodias
Andrew Staples - Narraboth
David Soar - 1st Nazarene
Oliver Johnston - 2nd Nazarene
Anna Burford - Herodias’ Page
Andrew Greenan - First Soldier
Alan Ewing - Second Soldier
Hubert Francis - First Jew
Paul Curievici - Second Jew and Slave
James Edwards - Third Jew
Alun Rhys-Jenkins - Fourth Jew
Andri Bjorn Robertsson - Fifth Jew & Cappadocier
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kiril Karabits - Conductor
Joe Austin - Director

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