Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Staatsoper Hannover: Salome

18 November 2017

When Richard Strauss was hesitating about composing Elektra so soon after Salome, Hugo von Hofmannsthal tried to set his mind at rest. The two plays—the former by Hofmannsthal himself, of course, the latter by Oscar Wilde—were completely different, he assured the composer in one of the earliest letters of their correspondence. 

Annemarie Kramer as Salome in Hanover (Photo © Thomas M. Jauk)
‘The blend of colour in the two subjects strikes me as quite different in all essentials,’ Hofmannsthal wrotein Salome much is so to speak purple and violet, the atmosphere is torrid; in Elektra, on the other hand, it is a mixture of night and light, or black and bright.’

Admittedly, Hofmannsthal’s descriptions were not entirely disinterested: he was determined that Strauss should move forward with his Elektra. However, I was reminded of his characterization of the composer’s 1905 shocker when watching Ingo Kerkhof’s production—distilled, abstract, cool.  

Annemarie Kramer (Salome) and Brian Davis (Jochanaan) (l.), with Simon Bode (Narraboth) (Photo © Thomas M. Jauk)

Inge Medert’s costumes put the cast in regulation dishevelled smart-contemporary, our Salome in a simple linen dress. In the first scene, everyone apart from her sings from the front seats of the Erster Rang, and characters keep popping up through other doors in the auditorium. Salome, appearing through a broad, slinky, smartly-lit metallic string curtain upstage, is the main attraction, the subject of everyone’s gaze.

The other main feature of Anne Neuser’s set is a wall of dull gold that descends intermittently to focus the attention, and to provide the background for some effective shadow play (lighting by Elana Siberski). Kerkhof offers an unusual take on the dance (choreographed by Mathias Brühlmann), in which the dinner guests stay on to don frocks and dance around themselves, while a blindfolded Herod is tricked into touching them up. 

Robert Künzli (Herod), with dancers (Photo © Thomas M. Jauk)
There’s some gore when Narraboth slashes his forearms to bloody effect, and kudos to the prop department for an impressive severed head, delivered wrapped in a cloth. That’s about it, though. Jochanaan (the impressively resonant and imposing Brian Davis) has no cistern to sing from, his voice emanating from somewhere on high. There’s no sense of time or place. 

Annemarie Kramer (Salome)
(photo © Thomas M. Jauk)
There’s little to be actively offended about in the production, but nor does it add anything. 

Or, in fact, it's worse than that, for the lack of any context precludes any sense of that torrid atmosphere Hofmannsthal described, or much sense of who the characters are. 

Strauss’s score calls out to be amplified by something more, in terms of staging, than we had here. I found myself neither moved or shocked by Salome’s final scene—and ideally one should, I think, be both.  

Matters perhaps weren’t helped by the fact that Ivan Repušić’s conducting, though certainly not without its powerful eruptions, charted a sensible, level-headed course. Highly musical and distinguished by impressive clarity of texture (and on the whole very well played by the Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover), it didn't offer anything extra to make up for the lack of anything on stage.

That's hardly the conductor's fault, though, and one can’t really fault the cast, either. Annemarie Kremer’s Salome, though occasionally failing to project sufficiently in her lower range, stayed the course admirably and acted with intensity: her scenes with Davis’s unusually suggestible Jochanaan, alternating disgust with a kind of desperate, intertwining intimacy, were a highlight. 

There was much to enjoy in Robert Künzli’s jittery Herod and Kathuna Mikaberidze's imperious, youthful Herodias. Among the smaller roles the young bass Daniel Eggert stood out as the First Nazerene. Simon Bode might have made more of Narraboth.

Ultimately, though, this Salome's lack of potency was down to the director. No one in the cast or in the pit could do much to bring colour and atmosphere to his underwhelming staging.

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