Review by Tony Watts
Not likely to be seen at your local Odeon on a Saturday evening, particularly as a silent film is not the most obvious medium for opera, this version of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s masterpiece stands out as an oddity in the composer’s output. Presumably conceived as another way of ploughing an already fertile furrow or as a publicity tool for the opera it is broadly a dramatisation of the story of Der Rosenkavalier and boasts a score for orchestra especially written to accompany this one hundred minute version with Strauss drawing on music from the opera, as well as his Couperin Suite and a rather brash newly-composed march.
Looking at Salome through a post-Weinstein veil
Ten years ago I saw David McVicar’s production of Salome. Back then it was brand new not only to the Royal Opera House and also to me. I was 23 years old, developing my knowledge of opera productions in London and working my way through a checklist of operas I wanted to see. Between now and then, I’ve seen Salome performed by Swedish soprano Nina Stemme in a semi-stage production at the BBC Proms and another performance by British soprano Allison Oakes at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I remember the production well for its strange stage design — a green, modern day tie store. (I didn’t buy it.) I also recall a small yet exceptional physical theatre production by Théâtre Libre at the Space Arts Centre. From these productions alone, I learnt that the character of Salome — based on the biblical text — most certainly symbolises seduction, power and lust.
Given Oscar Wilde‘s emotionally charged portrayal of Salome, his French play became a success de scandal in 1891. This was similarly the case for Richard Strauss‘s opera in 1905 in Dresden. The Lord Chamberlain banned the play and opera in London until 1907, while the Vienna State Opera was far more ruthless and didn’t perform the opera until 1918. In 1903, Strauss composed his novel, groundbreaking opera accommodating a 100-piece orchestra in Berlin, and in the space of two years it was successfully performed over 50 times after its premiere in 1905.
This month sees many operagoers heading over to Deutsche Oper Berlin for a Strauss extravaganza. Der Rosenkavalier, Die liebe der Danae, Elektra and Salome are a few of the operas scheduled in and I had the pleasure of seeing Evelyn Herlitzius as Elektra and Allison Oakes as Salome this weekend.
It was my first time at the oper haus and I learnt much about its individuality and uniqueness from its friendly staff, quality of productions and audiences. For a start, while I fretted over finding an English translation of the librettos for these operas, it really wasn’t needed. Deutsche Oper provides surtitles in both English and German – simultaneously! Not only does it make life easier for people like me who can’t speak or read German, it can be very appealing and encouraging for its international audience. The productions (having seen both Salome and Elektra on consecutive nights) were irrefutably modern and abstract, yet I’m aware that I’m limiting my judgement based on two productions only. And there’s no problems on the acoustics side either. Although it is large auditorium there was hardly any obnoxious echoes. Pretty solid sounds if you ask me.
Other things that added to my pleasurable experience at Deutsche Oper included the dress code which is practically nonexistent (not that I have a hard time deciding what to wear for the ROH OR ENO). Also, how easy it was to grab my jacket without having to worry about a stampede of fussy people, shoving and elbowing each other to get their belongings. In fact the cloakrooms are conveniently located at the entrance – it’s the first thing the staff attendant will bring your attention to. There’s also a decent bar on the first floor to grab a drink before the show. >>>
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