Thursday, January 17, 2008

Whose Dance of the Seven Veils?

Don't know what was scarier - the multitude of health and safety breaches on stage, or the thought of Salome (Sigute Stonyte) possibly taking off her clothes. Suspect, though, that Ms Stonyte usually Gets Her Own Way, and that Taking Off Her Clothes In Public is not one of them. Thank you for small mercies. Other singers have done it, Barbara Ewing in New York, and La Netrebko would love to do it...others might concur with that dream....This review talks about Salome as the 'teenage temptress'. 'Teenage', eh? Ms Stonyte has been an opera house soloist since 1985.

Salome, out of Oscar Wilde's pen and with Richard Strauss' stunning music, has a plot not for sensitive souls. Herod, her stepfather fancies her, so does Narraboth, a young army officer. She fancies Jokanaan (John the Baptist), but he only talks to God. Then there is a bit of confusion between the opera's actual plot and the Vilnius plot, but it, er, gets the plot again, and Salome uses the cracked record technique to get to kiss Jokanaan. In which she succeeds.

Ms Stonyte sang the title role very well indeed; could not understand any words (it was in German, I speak fluent German), but realised, when she sang the word 'eris' which should have been 'er ist' that she joins words together. It's a huge role, and the singing of the notes was awesome. Pawel Wunder, however, as Herod, outsang and out-acted everyone. I had not seen him before, and wondered who he was - we definitely need to hang on to him (I see he's from Kazakhstan). He was stunning! I understood more words, too. Johannes von Duisburg, too, as his namesake, was excellent, but he did not have that much to do - though he had plenty of behind the scenes singing. And young Modestas Pitrenas, the conductor, had nothing to be modest about - almost two hours of solid conducting of an extremely complex piece of music with not a break is a challenge, which he mastered well. The orchestra played well, too.

But the plot? Generally it was ok, but there were serious changes. Leaving aside the discrepancies of Salome singing to John the Baptist 'your body is whiter than any I have seen' (which might be realistic given he's been in an underground dungeon) but in fact he is covered in dirt, more seriously she also sang, basically 'I want your body'. Shame that the production made her stand in the middle of the stage, leaning away from him, and him clinging to the wall at the side of the stage. All she sang was about getting in the sack with him, yet her body, well wrapped in black, told a totally different story ('Keep away from me; jeez, don't you realise how you smell?'). Does no-one know about body language? Not sure about Ms Stonyte and acting 'sexy' though.

And then what was this thing with the 6 little girls on the stage, in frilly salmon-pink empire-type dresses (including Salome, also in knee high socks) while her mother, very amply built indeed, but belly dancers should be thus, did the dance of the seven veils? But then Herod had asked her to dance, and she said 'over my dead body'; in fact, she made him take off his clothes instead (almost all).

The set itself was a Soviet kind of place/palace, ca 1970, with the wallpaper and the (I am sure original) furniture to match. The opera has lots of parts with about 3 words each, and these were faithfully filled. The production was very gripping, edge of seat stuff (Salome's final aria - and there are not that many arias - was heart-breaking). I'd go again.

Health and Safety? Where do I start? The sloping stage with the ancient chair on which people stand and which they sing from, while holding on to a wobbly fake wall? The chap crawling across the stage, laying a cable, taping it down as he should, but the tape does not stick? The axe that slipped of the stage into the pit at the percussion end (no-one hurt)?