Strauss’ most intense and shocking opera, Salome, continues Opera North’s successful series of dramatic operas presented in concert.
Salome, the teenage step-daughter of King Herod, is an object of fascination and lust for the guard Narraboth, and for Herod himself. Agreeing to perform the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ for her step-father, she demands a macabre gift in return: the severed head of the man she herself desires, the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan (John the Baptist).
Every moment of the story unfolds with unflinching vividness, illuminating the darkest corners of a world that has lost all moral compass. Concentrated into just 100 intense minutes, this is opera at its most extreme.
Based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same title, Richard Strauss’ third opera Salome was an immediate, albeit scandalous, success when it premiered in 1905, its Biblical theme permeated with disturbing layers of violence and eroticism. The magnificently rich and intricate score, written for vast orchestral forces, is both ferociously exciting and surprisingly lyrical, building to a feverish climax that has never lost its capacity to chill the blood.
Distinguished British conductor Sir Richard Armstrong returns to Opera North to conduct these concerts of Salome, following a triumphant tour of Puccini’s Turandot in concert halls across England in 2017.
American soprano Jennifer Holloway makes her Opera North debut in the title role (excluding 5th May), a part she recently sang in Dresden, after moving from mezzo to soprano repertoire. Her most recent UK role was Adalgisa in Norma (ENO 2016), in Christopher Alden’s production which originated at Opera North; previous UK appearances include Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, and Musetta in La Bohème (both ENO); and Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel and Meg Page in Falstaff (both Glyndebourne Festival).
Belfast-born soprano Giselle Allen sings the role of Salome at Sage Gateshead on 5 th May. Among her many roles for Opera North she has performed as Freia, Gerhilde and Gutrune in the company’s award-winning Ring (2016); as Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana (2017) and as Míla in Osud (2017).
Dutch tenor Arnold Bezuyen makes his Opera North debut as Herodes; Swedish mezzo Katarina Karnéus, sings Herodias, while Jokanaan is sung by Robert Hayward, most recently seen as Wotan in Die Walküre (2016).
Following three concerts at Leeds Town Hall, Salome tours to Perth Concert Hall, Warwick Arts Centre, Sage Gateshead, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Hull City Hall.
It is the latest in a significant series of operas in concert presented by Opera North, building on the success of recent performances of Turandot, Billy Budd, and the 2016 Ring cycle, winner of both the RPS Opera and Music Theatre Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Opera 2017.
Thu 10 May 7.30pm @ Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
For tickets: 0151 709 3789 | liverpoolphil.com
Q&A with Jennifer Holloway who sings Salome:
When did you first start singing?
I’ve always enjoyed singing – right from when I used to sing along to cassettes in the car with my family to joining choirs at school and performing in lots of productions. As for discovering I could really sing, I suppose I am still a bit incredulous that I actually can. I love this job, but for every moment that I think I might actually know what I am doing, there are at least three more that remind me still I still have so much more to learn.
Why did you choose opera?
I studied Music Education at the University of Georgia which is when I was first asked to sing in an opera. I had never even seen one, but there I was performing in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and I fell in love. So I auditioned for the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and somehow got accepted. Those years were a whirlwind and the most wonderful gift.
You first performed the role of Salome in 2016 at The Semperoper in Dresden, the city where the opera premiered in 1905. How was that experience?
It was tremendous! The people in that iconic house know that piece so well, and every musician I met had at least some tidbit of special knowledge to impart. And then there is the orchestra. They feel the pride of ownership in this opera. They play from the original parts, which have in them
hand-written notes from the first conductor and from Strauss himself! As for me, I got to sing my first big German soprano role, in Germany, in German, in front of Germans, on the stage of one of the most respected German houses, and it all turned out pretty well.
How does it feel revisiting the role for Opera North?
This will be the fourth production of Salome I will sing this season, and with each one I have learned something new about the piece and something new about myself singing the piece, so I actually am beginning to feel very comfortable in the role.
Does the fact it’s a concert performance present any additional challenges?
One of the major differences with a concert performance is that it means I don’t have the orchestra and conductor in front of me. The conductor Sir Richard Armstrong has such incredible musical energy travelling through his hands and face while he conducts, and I definitely feed off of that. However, we manage to have an amazing connection even with our backs to one another!! The second most difficult part will be the extreme intimacy of being so close to the audience. On an opera stage, there is a separation. There are costumes, and a proscenium, and an orchestra pit, and a conductor between the singers and the audience. We can easily separate our world from the real one. One of the most difficult things to do is to look an audience member in the eyes and tell a story right to them. It becomes raw and very personal. I believe it is actually the most wonderful way to share a story, but for me, it is definitely the most challenging.
Over a century on, does the opera still have the power to shock and surprise audiences?
I think any piece of art the ability to open us up to a new, and often uncomfortable, way of thinking… sometimes about something that we thought wasn’t up for debate! In Strauss’s Salome, we have characters who we would normally judge as “good” or “bad” pretty quickly and easily: the mother who turns her head while he daughter suffers abuse, the paedophile step father, the unfairly imprisoned religious pacifist, or the murderess who kills an innocent man. But Strauss doesn’t allow it to be so clear cut.
This opera is only 1 hour 40 minutes long. In that time, we learn so much about every character. We witness so much suffering, and indecision, and also calm. We see so many sides of so many coins.
What part does the music play?
Strauss’s musical language keeps us all on the edge of our seats, but always learning more about the scene in front of us. Every chord is so lusciously stacked to give us just the right bite, every unequal phrase just off centre enough to make us wonder what the actual truth is, every changing metre perfectly placed to make us feel a little unsettled, every consonance just the right amount of exhale. Every moment in this score means something. The musical language is not something just for a music theory textbook, it gives us something visceral. This music goes right to the gut.