Restricted view

My former music teacher and old friend, E, was coming to town and suggested we catch up before she went to see Salome.

I took the opportunity to snap up a restricted view seat before my already-planned attendance next week.  This should save me from having to crane my neck for the surtitles next time.

Across the wires (well, over the p.a. actually) the electric message came: “This evening’s performance in the Joan Sutherland Theatre …”  – That’s funny, I thought.  I knew such a renaming was afoot but I’d never heard it called that before.  Turns out I was right about that.

The production had been described to me in advance as set in an abbattoir.  I was only just aware of that when I went as the carcasses hung up in abbattoirial fashion are at the back of the stage which I had only glimpses of.

Salome is a punchy piece.  The libretto is great – it is based on Oscar Wilde’s play.  I suppose the play is cut down a bit, but not so much that the patterns (Herod’s requests of Salome: drink, eat, dance.  Salome’s adoration then rejection of John the Baptist’s  body, hair, lips – returned to in her final scene.)  and the echoes and more of biblical language and imagery don’t survive.  In this performance, the one bit which went on a bit (or so I thought) was Herod’s pleading with Salome to take something other than John the Baptist’s head in discharge of his oath after she danced for him.  That could have been because I was anticipating the final big scene and shock ending.

The orchestration has to be cut down a bit, mostly at the expense of the strings because there is a limit to how much you can reduce the wind and brass writing.  It is always a treat to see Johannes Fritzsch at the podium and hear the results.

For a short opera it has a surprisingly large cast, though they don’t all have a lot to do (and there isn’t a chorus).   David Corcoran made a strong impression as Nabaroth singing against a bigger orchestra than I recall hearing him do in the past.  I mean no discredit to the bit-part singers and Jacqueline Dark in the bigger dramatically than vocally part of Herodias to say that it mainly hangs on Herod, John the Baptist and, of course, Salome.

Of these, John Pickering as Herod was new to me.  He’s a barrel-shaped bloke who has had a long career overseas (he left Australia after winning prizes in the early ’70s).  He has sung for Opera Victoria.  It is a bit surprising that this was his Opera Australia debut.  I thought John Wegner as Jokanaan tired a bit at the end of his big sing about Jesus, just when he should be reaching a climax.  All of them acted well, and certainly not least Cheryl Barker, who really captured a sort of fractious teenage obstinacy as she insisted on getting what she wanted.  After that of course it was all stops out.

The famed dance was done with dancers  evoking various feminine (for-men’s-tastes) archetypes – the naughty nurse, the housemaid, the pole dancer, Marylin Monroe (this is apparently Barker), even the BVM (I suspect my Quadrantine former English lecturer, PS, whom I saw there, will have disapproved of that as he did for lewdness in Figaro earlier this year).

John Wegner’s fake head bounced round the stage without a sound, which suggests that it was made of some kind of foam – which is odd given the suggestion that an orchestral thud which Salome takes for the executioner dropping his sword is really that head hitting the floor down in the cistern where the execution takes place.  I also wondered about the degree of dexterity and strength attributed to Salome, who is made to rip Jokanaan’s tongue from his lifeless head shortly before the final kiss – surely it would be just too slippery to manage?

Salome is killed by having her throat slit rather than being crushed by the guards’ shields by the executioner who (as Nicholas Routley comments) appears to have wandered in from Turandot  if a slightly burlier and less burnished specimen.  I wondered if this is meant to be accompanied by some semblance of blood, but if so it wasn’t quite evident tonight.  If not, then it seems strangely bloodless.

The attendance was quite good if patchy around the back of the stalls and the upper circle.

You can read more about the production (with pictures) by some person from Limelight magazine who doesn’t seem embarrassed by the fact that she had “only seen the last 20 minutes of the dress rehearsal.”  The mind boggles.  Did she forget to switch over to summer time?

5 Responses to “Restricted view”

  1. wanderer Says:

    The ‘real’ Limelight review is here and what is it about me that makes me want to agree with it without even having been – yet? (I have forked out an outrageous sum despite having sworn off big nights out – Salome is an exception to most rules.) I thought, or rather hoped, we had left carcasses behind with that Elektra sometime last century. Anyway, C P in Limelight is less sycophantic than most, more credit to him. I like his style.

    • marcellous Says:

      W, I did read the ‘real’ review as well and I think it is all pretty fair comment if imposing a more exacting standard than I would myself.

      As you know, I’m not a critic and I wouldn’t have known if John Wegner fell short of a curse or two or not. I’m just pleased to see Salome at all. Not that I have any particular sense of what it all means.

      I agree with him about the guards’ costumes, but can’t say I was worried by either Herodias’s or Salome’s first act outfit. Perhaps because of my restricted view I was taking the visual element at a discount anyway.

      There is room for nitpicking. The “Christians” do the sign of the cross even though the crucifixion must surely still be a treat in store for everyone.

      Maybe Paget has a point about the dance – it’s more episodic than cumulative in effect, but it is reasonably inventive and makes some kind of a point.

      My headline about the production would probably be that Cheryl exceeded my expectations: specifically she was stronger and more dramatic (and less matronly) than I expected her to be. Good on her for that.

  2. Distant view – Salome 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] « Restricted view […]

  3. Lucia 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] I couldn’t resist going again, and I’m glad I did.  I picked up a front-row seat at the same time I got my first Salome ticket. […]

  4. I did not see her passing by | Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Catherine McCorkill, was indisposed. The newsletter announced that this went right back to Salome, last year, when CMcC played rather more E flat clarinet than she usually does. That’s the […]

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