Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Salomé : Amsterdam V. Paris 1:0

I had a privilege to see two different productions of Salome in only a couple of weeks. One is an old production (Paris Opera) and the other is new (Amsterdam Opera).

Paris show was old and tired, and simply nothing seemed to be in its place: this must have been the most uninspiring "Salome" ever. On the other hand the new production in Amsterdam was controversial, properly sung, and Konwitschny spurred the tons of boos (again)! The comparison sadly reminds us once again how terribly low the Paris Opera has fallen since past September.

Paris show

Alain Altinoglu    Conductor
Lev Dodin    Stage Director

Thomas Moser Herodes
Julia Juon Herodias
Camilla Nylund Salomé
Vincent Le Texier Jochanaan
Xavier Mas Narraboth

This must be one of the worst staged "Salome" in the history recorded so far. First time I couldn't believe it and thought I was too tired when I saw it. The second viewing confirmed my first impression and the whole experience was excruciating; almost made me dislike this fantastic opera altogether. Both the director and the conductor seemed incompetent for their respective jobs. I mean, the show doesn't look/sound amateurish. It's just completely off the target. A big fat flop!

The director (Lev Dodin) chose not to particularly emphasize anything written in the libretto. Any good student would be able to put up as good a show and be paid 10 times less for it. In short, nothing is happening on the cold, dark-bluish/yellowishly painted stage. I guess it was supposed to leave the floor to the singers and orchestra...

The Paris Opera orchestra is arguably the best orchestra in France, but the guy who was conducting it this time around simply lacked the Straussian fabric. He (Alain Altinoglu) conducted Salome as if it was one of the Gounod's operas [for which he is a specialist!]. This disastrous show was further spoiled by singers who are normally good enough, but on this occasion they were almost all miscast. Camilla Nylund is a great Elisabeth (Tannhauser) or Leonora (Fidelio), but she  fails miserably as Salome, both scenically and vocally. Her pathetic dance of the seven veils just makes you check your watch more often. It is THAT bad! Vincent Le Texier incarnates a lifeless and bizarre Jochanaan who seems to have given up the hope in life even before the show had started. Add to that his tired singing, you get the idea of the whole package.

With a vocal and scenic charisma of Karita Mattila in 2003 (when this abysmal production was premiered in Paris) this was maybe worth watching. Here is a hard proof (video from Operalou)

Amsterdam show

Stefan Soltesz  musical director
Peter Konwitschny director
Gabriel Sadé Herodes
Doris Soffel Herodias
Annalena Persson Salome
Albert Dohmen Jochanaan
Marcel Reijans Narraboth

First of all the singers were far better cast than in Paris, i.e. each singer seemed appropriate for the role he/she was singing. I liked Annalena Persson (yet another Swedish soprano!) as Salome, and I remain to be an ardent fan of Albert Dohmen, one of the truly a smashing Jochanaan's of our time. The orchestra was not great-great but hey! - after that dreadful orchestration in Paris anything was better.

Needless to say that the most important reason for me to go and see this show was the director, Peter Konwitschny himself.  I hated his "Tristan und Isolde", I liked his "Die Gotterdammerung", and I absolutely loved his "Lohengrin". What about "Salome"?  At first it IS shocking, it is altogether upsettingly disconstructing, it is daring... and for all that I'd loved it. On the other hand, however, he seems to forget that sex is not that big of a deal any more (in his prime it was - don't forget he's 65!); too much of it makes your first impression adiabatically change from shocking to nauseating.

What is then his "Salome" like? Well, Salome has sex with pretty much everyone on the stage. Herodes is an oversexed narco-weirdo. Herodias is screwing like mad too. When Salome wanted to have sex with Jochanaan, Narraboth got angry; Herodes shoots him and starts a necrophilic gangbang party. While this is happening Herodias has sex with Jochanaan. You get a clue, don't you!
That DOES get funny and please don't tell me you're not interested to know how it ends! OK, Herodias screws Jochanaan to death. When Salome sings to his head, she's approached  by --surprise, surprise!--  Jochanaan, who in spite of too much sex is is well and alive. Eventually Salome and Jochanaan walk off the stage as a happy couple. The production is full of ideas of theatrical expressions which is what you want to see in an opera house, but it gets over the top and at the end you are somewhat happy that it's all over. 

Of course Konwitschny got lustily booed, the singers were heavily applauded, and to me, all in all it was a good show. But that's me ;)

Here is a clip of the show (video taken from the DNO channel on YouTube)
N.B. The guy with a shopping bag over his head is Jochanaan! ;)

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