United Kingdom Richard Strauss, Salome (concert version): Lise Lindstrom (soprano) and Kim Begley (tenor) and other soloists. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits (Conductor), Lighthouse, Poole, England 30.9.2015. (IL)
Salome: Lise Lindstrom
Herod: Kim Begley
Herodias: Birgit Remmert
Jochanaan (John the Baptist): James Rutherford
Narraboth, Captain of the Guard: Andrew Staples
Page of Herodias: Anna Burford
First Jew: Hubert Francis
Second Jew/Slave: Paul Curievici
Third Jew: Alexander James Edwards
Fourth Jew: Alun Rhys-Jenkins
Fifth Jew/Cappadocian: Andri Bjorn Robertsson
First Nazarene: David Soar
Second Nazarene: Oliver Johnston
First Soldier: Andrew Greenan
Second Soldier: Alan Ewing
How this lusty, highly sensual combination of the Christian ethic and the erotic and murderous must have shocked and titillated the audience at the 1905 Dresden première of Salome with a shocked Marie Wittich in the title role who threatened to go on strike saying “I am a decent woman.” Nevertheless, the première received 38 curtain calls and the opera was taken up by fifty opera houses over the next two years. All this in spite of outrage that denied a production of the opera in Vienna until 1918. Prayers were said in America pleading for its failure, and it was performed only once in New York before a scandalized public had it withdrawn. In the UK only a bowdlerized version was allowed on-stage.
This Poole concert version was well designed with the soloists placed behind and in front of the orchestra and often moving between for dramatic effect. Jonathan Burton’s surtitles allowed maximum audience understanding and involvement and the lighting emphasised the shifting moods; for example blood red lighting helped to heighten the horror of John the Baptist’s execution.
Strauss uses a large orchestra to telling effect to heighten the spectacle and seething emotions of this voluptuous and vicious melodrama. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra received a standing ovation, responding superbly to Strauss’s highly charged score. The orchestral interludes, rather like miniature tone poems, the most famous or infamous of which being the salacious ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ contrasted with the gentler palace garden music. Much of Strauss’s Salome music is based on a series of leitmotifs the most famous of which being that four note motif which becomes stridently sour and cruelly corrupt at the close of Salome’s aria as she kisses the lips of the executed John the Baptist served to her on a silver platter.
Lise Lindstrom in the title role rose magnificently to its very considerable demands including an extraordinary vocal range from extreme highs to lows, considerable stamina and strong projection. Her ineffective seduction of the Baptist was very well shaped alternating the obsequious with withering scorn. And the final scene of her perverted lovemaking (mimed) to the severed head was truly horrifying.
Kim Begley’s Herod was an equally compellingly ugly portrait of an elderly roué ruled by his lust for the beauty of youth rather than the extinguished flame represented by his wife Herodias and torn between his fear of heavenly vengeance for allowing harm to befall the Baptist and his overwhelming desire for young flesh – ultimately his lust turning to utter revulsion, enough to order his soldiers to kill Salome. Herodias (Birgit Remmert) was all vicious vengeance against her husband’s waywardness in support of Salome – like daughter, like mother.
James Rutherford as Jochanaan was strongly authoritative and all zealous outrage, determined that the abominations of Herodias and the corrupt Judaea court be cast down and of course totally immune to Salome’s increasing desperate blandishments. Andrew Stapleton’s put-upon, love-sick Narraboth was crawlingly obsequious enough to Salome’s enticements to make him release the Baptist from his prison and bring him before her.
The only ensemble piece – again finely staged and sung – was for the Jews arguing puerilely over religious minutiae while the two Nazarenes sang of the Christ’s wondrous miracles.
A truly memorable performance, deserving of the very enthusiastic response from a gratifyingly large audience.