Madrid, June 24, 2016.
The Orquesta Nacional de España (Spanish National Orchestra) is now closing its current season at the Auditorio Nacional, and the current production this weekend is Richard Strauss' Salome. In recent years, the ONE has been scheduling a big symphonic-vocal piece, mostly an opera, per year: Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer and Tristan und Isolde, Henze's The Bassarids, Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, or Strauss' Elektra. This year's opera is another one by Strauss, Salome.
Despite being today a big piece of the ABC opera repertoire, in its 1905 premiere it was seen as problematic. An adaptation from the controversial Oscar Wilde's piece of the same name, the subject was seen as inappropriate: an apparently candorous teenager who throws herself in a deadly, lustful and sick passion for a prophet, Saint John the Baptist (here Iokanaan), and bearing the indecent regards of Herod, her step-father. During the premiere, the soprano Marie Wittich refused to dance the 7 veils dance, and the opera was censored in many opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, where it was cancelled after its local premiere.
Strauss' music is musically rich, an authentic melodic ocean who starts warm, seductive, charming, to become lustful, erotic in its famous Dance of the Seven veils, and ending in the not less famous final scene, an acid test for the soprano, in which the music makes us feel the sick love and lust from the protagonist. In the early years of the 20th Century, Strauss flirted with atonalism, noticed sometimes here, but becoming more patent in Elektra. Though he didn't reach Schoenberg's level, and he soon left that adventure.
In Madrid, it had its premiere in the Teatro Real in 1910, with Gemma Bellincioni in the title role. In the last decades, Montserrat Caballé sang it in 1979, and Hildegard Behrens in 1986. In the modern Teatro Real it was performed in 2010, in an unforgettable staging by Robert Carsen, with Nina Stemme, Doris Soffel, Gerhard Siegel and conducted by the late Jesús López-Cobos, a great Straussian. Now it returns to the Spanish capital in a concert version at the Auditorio Nacional.
David Afkham conducted an orchestra in its usual state of grace, despite abusing a bit of the forte, which confirms the ONE as the main reference in Madrid for playing this repertoire. It sounded really spectacular in the interludes before and after the prophet scene, and seductive, frenetic, dense, sometimes a bit slow, but erotic at the end, during the famous Dance of the Seven veils, when it seems the world really stops. Not a breath could be heard! Strings sounded so warm and velvet-like during this point, and the flute with a clear, brilliant and eerie sound in the finale. Afkham conveys the exuberance of the score. This concert performance has had a dramatization by Susana Gómez, which has given some action to the limitations of concert versions, resulting in a great acting direction in the Herod and Salome scenes.
Lise Lindstrom returns to Madrid after her 2018 Elektra in this same venue. The American soprano has a resistant voice, and powerful high notes which can surpass the orchestra but she has to confront the high volume of the musicians as well as the unsuitable acoustics of the Auditorio for the voices. In the most tender moments in the first half of the opera, when she sings in piano she really sounds as a teenager. The low register is very dramatic and the almost-parlato when she demands Iokanaan's head for the last time is really scary as the princess in this point of the plot. In the finale, she proves herself as a dramatic soprano with her powerful high notes. In addition, her beautiness is an extra for this performance.
Frank van Aken returns to Madrid after his 2019 Tristan, now as an Herod sounding as a still vigorous heldentenor, in an accomplished performance, and as an actor portraying perfectly a drunk later scared man desiring his beautiful stepdaughter.
Tomasz Konieczny as Iokanaan impressed the audience, with his powerful, massive voice, which sounded generously through the 2200-seat hall. His Iokanaan has been really unforgettable, with a dark, strong, bass-baritone tone, portraying the strong but weakened, and at the same time energically mystic prophet.
Violeta Urmana as Herodias still has a beautiful-tone, now as a mezzo-soprano again, still able of great high notes like in her famous line "Ich will nicht haben, dass sie tanzt", and having an imposing presence.
The rest of the cast consisted in a talented Spanish team, with known faces in our opera houses, and definitely rising the already high level of the show.
Alejandro del Cerro, an emerging tenor who is usually singing belcanto and zarzuela repertoire, is here singing a nice Narraboth, with his shining, youthful-toned voice. The young bass David Sánchez has big voice, making it to be heard around the big venue, and a nice tone for the second soldier role, and the best comprimary singer in this cast. Pablo García-López, Tomeu Bibiloni, Lidia Vinyes-Curtis, David Cervera or Vicenç Esteve complete the cast with accomplished performances of their parts.
The delighted audience gave an outstanding ovation after almost two intense hours. Productions like this rise definitely the Madrid operatic offer as well as its level. Some foreign people was seen before the performance began, something great considering this was part of a symphonic season and still with the Covid travel limitations. This Salome will have another performance tomorrow Sunday 27, but it has already won the Madrid operagoers over.