Parlando: The COC Blog

3/25/2013

Introduction to Salome

Salome

What's it all about?

Salome, the opera by Richard Strauss is based on the 1896 play by Oscar Wilde, but the story is much older. The original story is a Biblical tale about an obedient and unnamed princess (later known as Salome), her mother Herodias, her stepfather Herod, and their prisoner, John the Baptist. In the original story, Herodias bears a grudge against John the Baptist, Herod is infatuated with his stepdaughter, and Salome is a pawn. When Herod asks Salome to entertain him with a private dance, Salome obliges and requests the head of John the Baptist as a reward to deliver to her mother. 

In Oscar Wilde's play and Strauss's adaptation, Salome is the tale of an emotionally disturbed princess who falls in love with Jochanaan (John the Baptist), a prisoner in her stepfather's palace. When Jochanaan spurns her affections and insults her, Salome swears that she will kiss his lips someday. Herod proposes that Salome dance for him, and recognizing an opportunity for reward, Salome agrees. Once his request is satisfied, Herod promises to give her anything she desires, and Salome requests the head of Jochanaan. Herod obliges and watches, horrified, as Salome kisses the disembodied head. Shocked and superstitious, Herod immediately calls for her death.

THE PRODUCTION

What will it look like?

Renowned Canadian director Atom Egoyan brings a reimagined version of his production of Salome back to the Canadian Opera Company with returning set designer Derek McLane, projections designer Phillip Barker, costume designer Catherine Zuber, lighting designer Michael Whitfield, choreographer Serge Bennathan, and slides by renowned Canadian artist and photographer Edward Burtynsky. A new addition to the team is shadow puppet designer Clea Minaker, making her COC debut with Salome.

Who is starring in it?

Soprano Erika Sunnegårdh makes her COC debut in the role of the troubled princess Salome. The Swedish-American singer is well known for her performance as the damaged femme fatale, having sung the role at Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro Communale di Bologna, Welsh National Opera, the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, the New International Theatre in Tokyo, and Palm Beach Opera.

The role of Jochanaan is split between Alan Held and Martin Gantner. American bass-baritone Alan Held returns to the COC after performing the role of Kurwenal in our recent production of Tristan und Isolde, and the double-bill of A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi in 2012. Martin Gantner makes his COC debut in this role; the German baritone is a regular singer at Zurich Opera, Berlin State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Los Angeles Opera, and the Bavarian State Opera

Canadian tenor Richard Margison returns to the COC as Herod, after his celebrated performance as Tenor/Bacchus in our 2011 production of Ariadne auf Naxos. He performs regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie and Gran Teatre del Liceu.

German mezzo-soprano Hanna Schwarz makes her COC debut in the role of Herodias, Salome's resentful mother. Schwarz has sung for more than four decades throughout the world, from San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Royal Opera House Covent Garden. 

American tenor Nathaniel Peake sings the role of Narraboth. The 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Winner makes his COC debut as Arturo in our concurrent spring production of Lucia di Lammermoor.

THE HISTORY

Who is Richard Strauss?

Not to be confused with Johann Strauss II, Richard Strauss was a composer born into a musical family in 1864. His father was a horn player who often worked with Richard Wagner and raised Richard to appreciate music by Schumann and Brahms. But as Richard grew up, the influence of Liszt and Wagner took hold instead. After producing several tone poems and two unsuccessful operas, Strauss hit it big with Salome in 1905. His success continued with Elektra in 1909, Der Rosenkavalier in 1910 and Ariadne auf Naxos in 1916, and he continued to compose until just before his death in 1949. Learn more about Richard Strauss here.

When did Salome premiere, and why is it special?

This dark tale has long inspired painters, sculptors, and writers like Gustave Flaubert, and eventually, Oscar Wilde. The famous Irish playwright completed Salomé in 1891 and spent years fighting the London censors to release it, as they argued that it was illegal to portray Biblical characters on stage. Eventually the play found its way to the stage in 1896. 

After watching Wilde's play in 1902 in Berlin, Richard Strauss furiously worked to adapt it into an opera. In 1905, Strauss's Salome debuted, a shocking production that pushed the envelope with its subject matter and its music. Strauss famously described his lead as a "16-year-old princess with the voice of an Isolde", because the opera demanded that the singer portraying Salome would need to be strong enough to hold her own against an 100-piece orchestra. At the premiere, the opera received an astounding 38 curtain calls, and within two years it was staged in over 50 opera houses worldwide. Learn more about the historical significance here.

LISTENING GUIDE

What are the most memorable musical moments?

Jochanaan! Ich bin verliebt in deinen Leib - Salome sings to Jochanaan, praising his looks and his body in an attempt to seduce him. When Jochanaan refuses and spurns her, she swears that she will kiss his lips, one way or another. This clip highlights the lyricism in her flattery and the dissonance in her anger.

Sie ist ein Ungeheuer, deine Tochter - Salome sings a brief rhapsody about Jochanaan, which builds to a stunning climax and ends with a sudden dissonant chord, and Herod, disgusted by her actions, calls for her death.

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Photos: (top) Helen Field as Salome; (middle) Dancer Carolyn Woods; (bottom) Roger Honeywell as Narraboth and Helen Field as Salome. From the Canadian Opera Company's 2002 production of Strauss's Salome. Photos by Michael Cooper.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in 2012/2013 / comments (0) / permalink


Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001