This is one of those rare occasions where I can’t let fandom win. Out of the many times I’ve seen Jonas Kaufmann perform on stage (be it at the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Opera, or Barbican), this was probably the most disappointing performance I had ever seen. The Barbican concert, to perform Strauss lieder with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under maestro Jochen Rieder, was first meant to happen on February 2017. But based on recommendations from Kaufmann’s vocal coach, he was advised to cancel the event altogether.
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.
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