Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Salome Opera-In-Concert

Richard Strauss: Salome (Based on the play by Oscar Wilde)
Franz Welser-Most, Conductor -- full cast list at the end of this

The Cleveland Orchestra is presenting its annual opera this year as an "opera in concert" breaking from the recent years "fully staged opera". Also a little different for this year the Orchestra is taking the opera on the road for two performances at New York's Carnegie Hall before returning to Cleveland with a final performance on Saturday, May 25th.

As opera in concert I wasn't sure what to expect, perhaps an "opera sized" orchestra with soloists on stage. Instead, The Cleveland Orchestra came out in full-force with a densely packed stage full of musicians and an usual platform for the singers projecting as a peninsula into the sea of musicians accessed by removing a section of the decorative organ pipes that typically grace the back of the Severance Hall stage.

This staging was visually satisfying -- in that it both elevated the majority of singers above the orchestra and lessened the gap between singer and surtitles -- but may have contributed to the one less than desirable  thing that both Rachel and I noted: The men's voices, particularly, tended to disappear in the musical expanse of the instruments--the "problem" didn't seem as pronounced with the women who typically clearly cut through.

The program note mentions that "Other observers were less concerned with the work’s alleged decadence or blasphemy than they were with the question: Is it an opera? Gabriel Faure was among the first, and certainly notthe last, to call Salome 'a symphonic poem with voices added.'" and certainly with this format it's easy to see how a listener would get that impression. And I rather liked it.

I typically have a hard time with fully staged opera because of how many moving parts are involved -- there's the set, the blocking (movements of singers and props), singing (along with reading surtitles if there's any hope to follow the plot), and music, and opera in concert really cuts to the core. You can listene to the singers and the orchestra while reading the surtitles and not have to worry about interpreting the set or the blocking or the costuming -- thus the closest I think I've come to truly following the story in an opera.

That said I was mostly there for the musical ride and Mr. Welser-Most certainly seems to be at home conducting opera. The opera runs just about an hour and a half of continuous music and is performed without intermission, but was never boring. The emotion -- which in many cases would be highlighted by blocking -- was clearly conveyed in the music.

The highlight of the evening for me, though, was Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils, though the story at the end of the opera kept me glued to the action.


The cast list:
Rudolf Schasching, tenor, Herod; Jane Henschel, mezzo-soprano, Herodias; Nina Stemme, soprano, Salome; Eric Owens, bass-beritone, Jochanaan; Garrett Sorenson, tenor, Narraboth; Jenniver Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, Herodia's Page and a Slave; Rodell Aure Rosel, tenor, First Jew; Matthew Plenk, tenor, Second Jew; Bryan Griffin, tenor, Third Jew, James Kryshak, tenor, Fourth Jew; Darren Stokes, bass-baritone, Fifth Jew and A Man from Cappadocia; Evan Boyer, bass, First Soldier and First Nazarene; Sam Handley, bass-baritone, Second Soldier; Brian Keith Johnson, baritone, Second Nazarene.

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