Sunday, 19 June 2016

Strauss - Salome (Genoa, 2016)

Richard Strauss - Salome

Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa - 2016

Fabio Luisi, Rosetta Cucchi, Lise Lindstrom, Jane Henschel, Herwig Pecoraro, Mark Delavan, Patrick Vogel, Marina Ogii, Marcello Nardis, Alessandro Fantoni, Naoyuki Okada, Jason Kim, Alessandro Busi, Frano Lufi, Manuel Pierattelli, Roberto Maietta, Luca Gallo, Alessandro Busi, Beate Vollack

Teatro Carlo Felice Live Streaming - 25 May 2016

Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice production of Salome doesn't appear to offer any specific interpretation or modernisation of the work. If it seems to take a more generic approach that never strays far from the expected lines, it nonetheless captures the destructive and almost self-defeating essence of what is vital about Strauss's first great operatic masterpiece.

The source and the context of the creation of Strauss's version of Salome are highly relevant in assessing its importance, its greatness, its legacy, as in some respects it's emblematic of a time of great change in music and in modernist thinking. Strauss had seen Wilde's play in a fairly faithful German-language translation by Hedwig Lachmann and the play's ideas and sensibility clearly resonate with what was happening in turn of the century Vienna. The impact that the work made on him provided Strauss with a challenge to replicate it within the world of music.

As a source, and for what the work says, Oscar Wilde's scandalous play is far more important than the original Biblical tale. All Wilde's plays - even the drawing room comedies like 'An Ideal Husband' and 'The Importance of Being Earnest' - are subversive in one way or another, gently mocking Victorian mores and attitudes. 'Salome' however is a little more daring. Written in French, Wilde knew that the play would never be performed in England due to blasphemy laws that prevented Biblical characters appearing on the stage, and it freed him creatively to expand on the florid poetry that would twist the exotic Biblical setting into a taboo-breaking tale of forbidden lust and death. 

In some respects then, at a level above the purely textual, 'Salome' is about destroying conventional views; quite literally delving into the cistern of corruption that lies beneath the comfortable facade of respectable society. It's easy now to see what attracted Strauss to the challenge of putting this transgressive text to a new and more rigorous form of music. This was the kind of subject that would take the Liebestod philosophy of Strauss's idol Wagner one stage further in musical terms, break with convention and upset a few people. There wasn't much point in doing anything else and, up to that point, there would be nothing that pushed musical boundaries further than Salome.

So perfectly interlocked is the music with the text, the entire piece one continuous flow of intense poetry, that Salome really is a work that speaks for itself. In practical terms the set needs to be generally all-purpose for the locations of the continuous one-act opera and, like Strauss's subsequent opera Elektra, it needs to be focussed on establishing mood. The Carlo Felice production in Genoa takes a fairly generic approach then that is vaguely Biblical in look and feel, but perhaps actually looks a little more Greek tragedy. In fact, I'm sure they could use the same set just as effectively for Elektra with minimal changes, but there is at least a commonality between the treatment of the subjects in these two one-act Strauss tone-poem operas.

Salome, like Elektra, is about a corrupt or degenerate family (a nation, a way of life) that is being eaten up by its own descent into self-destruction. The facade of respectability is being stripped away to reveal decadence and dark lusts, and much of this is already there in the music and the poetry of the libretto. Tiziano Santi's sets provide a fairly conventional response to this, with a dark pit in the centre of the stage from which Jochanaan's warnings of the coming of a new way emanate. Salome dangerously flirts around this pit, the product of a corrupt union, trying to bend the promise of Jochanaan's visions to her own twisted will. Aside from the requirements of the stage direction and lighting to meet the drama, the only significant change to the set is to show the downfall of a royal line in the fracturing of the surrounding marble framework of the palace.

Fabio Luisi keeps a tight rein on proceedings from the orchestra pit, but like Rosetta Cucchi's direction, it doesn't really seem to plumb the dark depths of the work, although admittedly in a work as intense as this, that's difficult to judge from a live internet stream rather than from inside the theatre. Lise Lindstrom has that precise Turandot voice that matches Salome's requirements of meeting Wagnerian force with Puccinian high lyricism. The dynamic between her fluctuating states of reverie and fury isn't perhaps quite as pronounced as it might be but she has the voice and all the dangerous allure for this role. Herwig Pecoraro and Jane Henschel show their suitability and experience in the roles of Herod and Herodias. Mark Delavan is a fabulous deeply intoned Jochanaan.

Links: Teatro Carlo Felice Streaming