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Salome at NYCO


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#1 Farrell Fan

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:48 AM

Salome is a short, powerful opera by Richard Strauss that I've seen perhaps three or four times in my life. It has always left me stunned. The current New York City Opera production is no exception, but I do have a couple of quibbles. One is that yet again we have that tired cliche of operatic set designers -- a stage dominated by a huge staircase -- only this time it's a spiral staircase, increasing the possibility of falls exponentially. In fact, there were a couple, but they seemed intentional, signifying drunkenness and debauchery. The other is the ending. In NYCO's old production, when Herod ordered the guards to kill his stepdaughter, Salome, they crushed her instantly under their shields. This time they manhandled her, pushing and pulling her toward the cistern where Jochanaan had been imprisoned. A very messy job which appeared still unfinished as the curtain fell.

The Canadian soprano who took the title role, Eilana Lappalainen, seems to have made a specialty of Salome. According to the program, she has sung it "in ten cities in Japan, as well as Trieste, Dessau, Mannheim, Ottawa, Montreal, and Seattle." Nevertheless, the NY Times critic noted shortcomings in her voice. I didn't. Although she was drowned out by the orchestra a couple of times, very briefly, I found her singing musically and dramatically excellent, and her characterization of Salome unforgettable -- sexually voracious, petulant, and vindictive. My kind of woman. ;)

Apropos a recent thread about "Salomania," Lappalainen's "dance of the seven veils" was a good, honest striptease that started out with her in a long white dress. That dress, I suppose, is what led the Times critic to mention Rita Hayworth (Gilda?), but I found the comparison inapt. What was unprecedented about the dance, in my experience, was that I heard not a single embarrassed giggle in the audience while it was going on. I suppose credit must go to the choreographer, Sergio Trujillo and his assistant, Esperanza Galan. And to the Salome herself. Incidentally, in addition to being listed as a choreographer, Ms. Galan is still on the NYCO roster as a dancer. She's been there for decades. More power to her.

As Jocchanaan, Mark Delavan was as powerful as always. And the prop department did a Madame Tussaud-type job with his severed head, The evening as a whole was a great night at the opera. And in the latest instance of Salomania, when Lappalainen came out for her curtain call, wearing a white wrapper smeared with Jocchanaan's blood, a man behind me called out, "Take it off!"

#2 dirac

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 10:27 AM

How classy. These people should go to football games. Next thing you know, they'll be doing the wave.


Salome is a hard one, because visually you want a soprano who can convey youthfulness and sensuality, but vocally you want Birgit Nilsson, and it's very tough on the voice -- just ask Ljuba Welitsch. It sounds as if Lappalainen has the looks and is going to ruin her voice riding Strauss' orchestra. She may sound okay now, but just wait a bit. Oh well, it's her career.

#3 Ed Waffle

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 04:27 PM

Farrell Fan wrote: "...yet again we have that tired cliche of operatic set designers -- a stage dominated by a huge staircase"

While there are some opera where stairs are appropriate--"Lucia" for example, for the mad scene, "Romeo and Juliet"--gratuitous stairs have infested opera stages for a number of years. What seems to be replacing the stairs, though, are chairs. Hanging from the walls, from the stage ceiling, tipped over on the floor--chairs as symbols of something. But not chairs to sit on. Odd, but that's the world of oprera design in this century.

and further "What was unprecedented about the dance, in my experience, was that I heard not a single embarrassed giggle in the audience while it was going on."

The production team must have done an excellent job (not to mention Ms. Lappalainen)--or perhaps NYCO audiences are more sophisticated than in the past. Often when the Dance of the Seven Veils begins, one can hear a lot of emphatic "clicks" as wives shut opera glasses that husbands are opening for the first time that evening.

Regarding the artist who portrays Salome, Richard Strauss had imagined 'a 16-year-old princess with the voice of Isolde'. Since there aren't many of those paragons available, a dancer often substitutes during the Dance of the Seven Veils.

"Take it off" is better than a number of things that could have been yelled--"Put it back on" for example. Opera audiences seem to be more vocally demonstrative than others and for "Salome" especially. It is done as one huge, 80-plus minute act that begins at a very high dramatic level and goes into the dramatic stratosphere. The tension in the audience by the end (brimming bladders notwithstanding) is very high. The only other operatic experience that matches it is when "The Flying Dutchman" is given without intermission.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 04:37 PM

Wasn't it Lydia Sokolova who discovered that she actually had a good voice after she retired from Diaghilev, and Arnold Haskell was predicting that she might someday essay Salome? To my knowledge, whoever it was never did, but it's a fun thought - what if today's ballerinas discovered that they could hack opera. I wonder who would be good in what?;) (Heads for the nearest foxhole)

#5 Estelle

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Posted 13 October 2002 - 11:40 PM

Didn't Alice Nikitina become an opera singer after her career with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes?

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 October 2002 - 04:24 AM

I think both she and Sokolova went into musical comedy after they retired from the ballet stage. Sokolova mostly directed, but she did perform in the London production of On Your Toes; I believe that Nikitina was technically secure enough to perform Gilbert & Sullivan's Princess Ida in the title role. I have heard a recording of her singing "O Goddess wise", the hymn to Minerva, from that opera, on radio, and she sounded pretty good, even with the limitations on recording technology in those days. (Incidentally, that hymn is Jasper's Dance in "Pineapple Poll!:) )


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