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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    A glorious dip in the grotesque


By and large, the production has shed none of its original eeriness. The substitution of Robert Tear, a perfectly cast Herod, for the highly capable but indisposed Robin Leggate, was an added bonus.

Jokanaan (Matthew Best). Photo: Bill Cooper

Dark, grim, its shadowy Topkapi windows casting a forbidding gloom ingeniously lit up by André Diot, this was a palace where laughter is forced and charity wafer-thin -- more a Bluebeard's den than the halls of a benign and lavish monarch -- and where John the Baptist's dungeon cries, as widely inspired as an Arkel or Titurel, sounded as ominous as a wild beast. Paradoxically, Salome caresses not Jokanaan's body, but the ragged greatcoat that envelops Matthew Best as he emerges, a haggard Elijah, from the gloom.

Salome (Eliane Coelho) with Jokanaan (Matthew Best). Photo: Bill Cooper

Rizzi's more cloudy layerings posed no problem for Best -- slim and statuesque, albeit not exactly ivory or alluring (he sings Wotan the Wanderer in Scottish Opera's new Siegfried at this summer's Edinburgh Festival) -- whose voluminous bass cut through the thickest textures, or for Brazilian soprano Eliane Coelho, a well-travelled Amelia (in Ballo in Maschera and Simone Boccanegra), Leonora and Desdemona, who slices through brass and woodwind to startling effect. Coelho has sung the role in Vienna and Munich : you soon sense this Salome is barking mad : so what if the ill-fated Narraboth's blackening blood flows chillingly across the flagstones? -- she has other schemes afoot.

The original WNO production: Herod (Robin Leggate) and Salome (Eliane Coelho). Photo: Bill Cooper

Robert Tear still makes a superb Herod, a sex-starved incipient geriatric, wheedling to his unbeddable stepdaughter with ill-omened fruit and viticulture to the pirriping of ironic woodwind, or leering with reedy and randy urgency ('Tanz fur mich') as she builds to the dance, revelling in Wilde's silvered words and honeyed cadences, and coaxing her faltering steps like an ageing Calibanesque faun. WNO regular Elizabeth Vaughan made a more than sufficient foil as a nagging Herodias. The Jew and Nazarene disputations all fared rather well, tenor pitted against tenor and baritone versus baritone (one possibly spuriously wheelchaired), a clutter of disorganised rabbinic, hermitic and hermetic opinions clawing at each others' hermeneutics.

If Strauss's score, like the wench, never quite danced sufficiently, some of the WNO orchestra's tinkling detail did make it through to delight the ear. Wheedlings of bass clarinet, bassoon and celesta (Schreker soon took up the idea for Der ferne Klang, just as Szymanowski borrowed others for Hagith and King Roger) as Salome teases Narraboth; clarinet, then soughing flute, as disaster nears for him; snarly trumpets as Jokanaan first rejects her; sinister (and here, soft) strings and sinuous clarinet cadenza as Herod embarks on his wooing; flute twitters preceding the fatal not-quite dance. What with Rieti's lunar eclipse looming through the rear windows, terrifying and blood-red as Wozzeck, it all made for a glorious dip in the grotesque.

Copyright © 5 May 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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