Monday, May 17, 2010

Salome from Heidelberg

Sam Shirakawa is still in Europe making the rounds of various opera houses. We were having some technical difficulties that prevented us from posting here for several weeks. So we are just now getting to post this review of Salome that Sam sent us from Heilderberg:

STRAUSS: SALOME
Heidelberg 23 April 2010

I’ve been present for numerous singers having a go at the title role in Salome, but only four remain vivid recollections: Helga Pilarzcyk, Birgit Nillson, Leonie Rysanek and more recently, Manuela Uhl. Now there’s a fifth. Her name is Justine Viani. She is Australian, has a couple of years before she hits 30, and she is taking on the Nasty Nubile in Heidelberg, of all places, for the first time in her young career.

This lassie seems to have it all: beauty, brains, stage allure, maybe even a husband and children. But it’s the voice that grabs you by the throat: captivating in soft passages, whiplashing at full-throttle. All the more hair-raising is the ease with which Viani ascends to the top of the staff and free-falls into her cavernous lower register. She may not be as wildly sexy in the Final Scene as Welitsch was in that 1944 broadcast, but Viani is hands-down sicker: the obscene inflection of her “es war ein bitterer Geschmack auf deinen Lippen... (that was a bitter taste on your lips)” could make you wince. No Student Princess she!

But what do you do with a talent like this? Elektra, Turandot and the three Brühnhildes for starters -- but is that all that remains for a singer starting off with all burners blasting? And the the possibility of untimely burnout is all too real -- once agents and managements get wind of this phenomenon.

Better maybe to cease lauding and let the lady grow.

Viani was surrounded on 23 April by surprisingly exciting colleagues, notably: Gabriel Urrutia Benet as a superb Jokanaan, Winfrid Mikus, pathetically lascivious as Herod, Carolyn Frank as a slim-figured but hefty-voiced Herodias, and Emilio Pons’ rich sounding as Narraboth.

Cornelius Meister led an astonishingly confident reading of the score. He is one of Germany’s youngest general music directors, but his command of Strauss’ score had on this occasion all the subtlety and sweep usually purveyed by seasoned veterans.

Aurelia Eggers mercifully spurned the trend and resisted turning her production into a “concept,” but she did change a number of explicit stage instructions with mixed results. Jokanaan, for example, is executed in full view of the audience, not in the cistern. The executioner refuses to kill him, so Herodias obliges by slitting his throat. Heady stuff, if you enjoy the Senecan imperative.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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