Musically Brilliant Salome from Kirill Petrenko and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester

GermanyGermany Munich Opera Festival [3] – R. Strauss, Salome: Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 2.7.2019. (JMI)

Marlis Petersen (Salome) & Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Herod) (c) W. Hösl


Director – Krzysztof Warlikowski
Sets and Costumes – Małgorzata Szczęśniak
Lighting – Felice Ross
Choreography – Claude Bardouil


Salome – Marlis Petersen
Jochanaan – Wolfgang Koch
Herod – Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Herodias – Michaela Schuster
Narraboth – Pavol Breslik
Herodias’s Page – Rachael Wilson
First Soldier – Kristof Klorek
Second Soldier – Alexander Milev
First Jew – Scott MacAllister
Second Jew – Roman Payer
Third Jew – Kristofer Lundin
Fourth Jew – Kevin Conners
Fifth Jew – Peter Lobert
First Nazarene – Callum Thorpe
Second Nazarene – Ulrich Ress

The last time I saw this opera in Munich was during the July 2008 Festival, and it was one of the best Salome performances I have ever attended. Everything worked perfectly, from the great musical direction by Kent Nagano to an excellent vocal cast, led by the outstanding Angela Denoke, and a fine production by William Friedkin.

This time Kirill Petrenko was in the pit, and his musical direction was the highlight of the evening. The truth is that Petrenko’s conducting did not fall below the level achieved by Kent Nagano, and it was without a doubt the best part of the opera. Adding to his magnificent reading was the performance he drew from the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. This is a superb orchestra, but under his baton it is more than exceptional, one of the very best one can hear in a theater or in a concert hall.

Munich has commissioned a new production by Krzysztof Warlikowski, whose work made me remember with much nostalgia the Friedkin production. The action takes place in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, and the stage contains the library-dining room of a rich Jewish family: Herod, Herodias and Salome. This library opens up in the center of the floor for Jochanaan’s entrance and for the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. The costumes are appropriate, with Salome dressed all in red.

The opera begins with a few minutes of recorded music, where we hear a fragment of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. From then till later in the opera, things generally progress as expected, including a well-choreographed version of the famous dance done by Salome and a male dancer who represents Death.

Various ‘originalities’ are introduced by Warlikowski toward the end of the opera. In the final bars, the Nazis appear to be arriving, and the Jews, guests of Herod, all commit suicide by taking poison. It is supplied to them by none other than Narraboth, who had died about an hour ago – his supposed corpse has been on stage. At the final chords, Jochanaan is back on stage and alive, his head firmly on his shoulders, and sitting next to Herod. It was all too much for this simple reviewer.

Salome was played by soprano Marlis Petersen, who gave a totally convincing interpretation. Vocally, she is a lyrical Salome, far from what is often heard is this role, but much more in line with what was offered in the day of Richard Strauss – one should not forget that Salome is only a teenager. Her performance is worthy of being highlighted in vocal terms as well, although I missed more amplitude in the scene where she sings to Jochanaan’s head.

Baritone Wolfgang Koch as Jochanaan was good although vocally not at the level of a couple of years ago. Herod was played by the character tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, whom we have seen so many times in the role of Mime. He too did nicely. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster as Herodias had a broad and well-projected voice.

Tenor Pavol Breslik in the part of Narraboth was not the Chief of the Guard but rather a guest in love with Salome. Vocally, I think he is a luxury in the character – one who spent an hour lying on the stage. Rachael Wilson as Herodias’s Page left a positive impression, as did the Jews and the Nazarenes.

The theater was sold out, and the audience cheered the loudest for Kirill Petrenko and Marlis Petersen at the final bows. This wasn’t the premiere so the artistic team did not come out on stage, thus avoiding a repetition of the sonorous booing they got on the first night.

José M. Irurzun

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