mercoledì 16 agosto 2017

Sex and Blood in Jerusalem in Music and Vision 30 Giugno



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Ensemble
Sex and Blood in Jerusalem
GIUSEPPE PENNISI reports on the
new production of 'Salome' in Leipzig

I saw and heard the much-awaited premiere of the new production of Salome in Leipzig on Saturday 17 June 2017. The theatre was full and the audience dressed up.
As I wrote on 21 November 2014 about a new staging of the opera in Naples, productions of Salome tend to fall between two stools. Firstly, decadent stage setting and acting — it seems that Strauss picked up the subject after admiring a Gustave Moreau painting.
'L'Apparition' (1874-6), a watercolour painting by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) which shows Salome dancing in front of Herod, with a vision of John the Baptist's head
'L'Apparition' (1874-6), a watercolour painting by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) which shows Salome dancing in front of Herod, with a vision of John the Baptist's head. Click on the image for higher resolution
Secondly, a Hollywood 'peplum' movie of the fifties — William Dieterle's 1953 film Salome with Rita Hayworth as the protagonist and with a curiously happy ending, namely the conversion of the Princess to Christianity.
Poster for the 1953 film 'Salome', directed by William Dieterle and starring Rita Hayworth, Stewart Granger and Charles Laughton
Poster for the 1953 film 'Salome', directed by William Dieterle and starring Rita Hayworth, Stewart Granger and Charles Laughton. Click on the image for higher resolution
This production avoids both traps. Stage director Aron Stiehl, 'Rosalie' (the art nickname of the creator of the sets and costumes, who died two weeks before the premiere), and lighting designer Michael Röger set the action in present-day Jerusalem. Ulf Schirmer and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra provide all the fire required for a sex and blood tragedy.
A scene from 'Salome' by Richard Strauss at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof
A scene from 'Salome' by Richard Strauss at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof. Click on the image for higher resolution
The seven veils dance provides a psychological background that explains Salome's perversion. She had been raped as a child, and this has an impact on her behavior. She cannot accept the 'normal love' of Narraboth (Sergei Pisarev, a very good tenor with a clear timbre and a strong volume) and she develops a sexual passion for Jochanaan (the powerful baritone Tuomas Pursio). Jochanaan himself is not a chaste prophet; he lets Salome masturbate him in the main courtyard of Herodes' royal palace. This causes Narraboth to commit suicide.
Elisabet Strid as Salome and Tuomas Pursio as Jochanaan in 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof
Elisabet Strid as Salome and Tuomas Pursio as Jochanaan in 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof. Click on the image for higher resolution
On his own account, Salome's father Herodes (Michael Weinius, a high register tenor with a strong volume) is a Palestinian chief who has good relations with the Israelis: not only (following the libretto) are four elderly traditional Jews his guests, but Israeli soldiers are in and around his palace for his protection. His wife Herodias (Karin Lovelius) is just a perverted middle-aged woman who wants to please her daughter in any possible manner. The palace borders the Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Michael Weinius as Herodes and Karin Lovelius as Herodias in 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof
Michael Weinius as Herodes and Karin Lovelius as Herodias in 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof. Click on the image for higher resolution
Oscar Wilde's tragedy and Richard Strauss' one-act opera, on a libretto by Hedwig Lachmann, were conceived at the time when Sigmund Freud was starting to develop psychoanalysis in Vienna. This molds the production more than decadent atmosphere or old peplum movies. The protagonist is Elisabet Strid, a dramatic Swedish singer who began her international career in 2010. She is a Wagnerian soprano who has already performed at the Bayreuth Festival and at several major opera houses in Europe and America. She has a powerful voice and handles Strauss' dissonances very well. She is sexy (almost a requirement for the role) and acts quite well.
Elisabet Strid in the title role of 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof
Elisabet Strid in the title role of 'Salome' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2017 Kirsten Nijhof. Click on the image for higher resolution
After the curtain fell, there were ten minutes of standing ovations for both the production and the entire company.
Copyright © 30 June 2017 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy
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Women's Voices in Music and Vision 28 Giugno



Music and Vision homepageJenna Orkin: Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death - From the heights of greatness (the Juilliard School; musicians Rosalyn Tureck and Nadia Boulanger) via way-ward paths to the depths of wickedness these reminiscences will entertain and enlighten.

Ensemble
Women's Voices
'Die Frau ohne Schatten'
at the Strauss Festival in Leipzig,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI

Die Frau ohne Schatten is seldom performed outside the German speaking world because of the tremendous means it requires: twenty four principals, a huge orchestra (with violas and cellos in double sections as well as the violins, mostly quadruple winds, extensive percussion including glass harmonica, and offstage woodwind septet, a dozen extra brass, a wind machine and a thunder machine), a double chorus and a children's chorus. No less demanding are the staging requirements: eleven changes of set (in three acts, lasting about four hours), most of them without even a short intermission — there are seven intermezzi, all on the same leitmotif) and a series of special effects, including singers descending from an upper stage to a lower stage, fountains and waterfalls appearing on the stage, an earthquake, a fire, and one of the protagonists being turned into a statue.
Some thirty years ago, a Jean Pierre Ponnelle production for La Scala attempted to solve these problems by making use of highly stylized Chinese theatre. The production was also seen in Florence. A Yannis Kokkos production ('Difficult to Forget', 2 May 2010) followed very traditional lines; the production was difficult to forget for its splendor, but almost made the theatre bankrupt. An excellent production was seen at the Salzburg Summer Festival a few years ago ('Faith and the Devil', 22 August 2011). Only major houses, such as the Metropolitan Opera, where a Herbert Wernicke production has been running for a few seasons, can afford to stage it.
Leipzig Opera House, with advertising for Wagner's 'Ring'. Photo © 2016 Ida Zenna
Leipzig Opera House, with advertising for Wagner's 'Ring'. Photo © 2016 Ida Zenna. Click on the image for higher resolution
In Leipzig, the stage direction (Balàsz Kovalik), the sets by Heike Scheele and the costumes by Sebastian Ellrich follow quite closely the rather extravagant libretto: a mixture of Oriental fairy tales with a clear message to procreate children.
A scene from 'Die Frau ohne Schatten' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2014 Kirsten Nijhof
A scene from 'Die Frau ohne Schatten' at Leipzig Opera. Photo © 2014 Kirsten Nijhof. Click on the image for higher resolution
The opera was conceived after the 'useless carnage', as Pope Benedict XVI called World War I, in a letter to all governments involved in the conflict. The message is also valid now, especially in Europe where births are declining. The time of the action, however, is not set in a mythical Oriental world but in Germany at an undefined period: the Imperial Palace and dining room recall Bismarck's times, whereas the low cost housing seems to belong to the nineteen fifties. This blend fits the score quite well — a huge expressionistic picture with a few set pieces.
The protagonists are two women in search for child bearing happiness: One an ethereal spirit (The Empress) and the other an all too real woman (the Dyer's Wife, ie 'Die Frau'). Apart from their baffled husbands and the ambiguous nurse, the other characters provide only colors and celestial commentaries. In his old age, Richard Strauss, who considered Die Frau as his best and most beloved opera, attempted to compose a 'chamber music' version with a smaller orchestra, fewer characters but the same philosophical message. Nothing of this attempt survives.
Ulf Schirmer mastered the one-hundred-and-ten-strong orchestra quite well, with some moments for a few soloists (violin, cello and bassoon). On the evening I was in the theatre, 18 June 2017, one of the protagonists (Jennifer Wilson as 'Die Frau') turned sick just a few hours before the opera started. She was replaced by one of the world's best singers of this role, Elena Pankratova, who sang on the side of the stage because she did not know the staging. An actress played the part on stage.
Elena Pankratova. Photo © S Hoppe
Elena Pankratova. Photo © S Hoppe. Click on the image for higher resolution
Strauss had a special liking for women's voices. In Die Frau ohne Schatten there is a real apotheosis of women's voices in the three major roles: a dramatic soprano ('Die Frau'), a lyric soprano (The Empress, Simone Schneider) and a mezzo descending to the register of an alto (The Nurse, Karin Lovelius). The intertwining of their voices (and of twelve other women on stage) produced an excellent outcome, also thanks to the conductor Ulf Schirmer and the Leipzig Opera House acoustics.
In the men's group, I'm giving a special mention to baritone Franz Grundheber (Barak, the dyer) who is also a first class actor. In an engrossing manner he juxtaposes his simple and genuine suffering with the pains of the Emperor, at the moment when both believe that they have been betrayed by their respective wives.
Franz Grundheber
Franz Grundheber
The audience was enchanted.
Copyright © 28 June 2017 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy
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This Leipzig Balàsz Kovalik production has also been reviewed by Roderic Dunnett: Versatility and Intelligence, 7 December 2014. Earlier the same year, Alice McVeigh reviewed a Covent Garden production featuring Elena Pankratova in the title role: Exploration and Discovery, 24 March 2014.
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