Opening season for Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden has a high visibility and interest among opera lovers, thus the season ticket sales opening night did not surprise: the demand was high, and many performances were sold out in minutes. I was lucky enough to secure two consecutive days with prominent directors – Tristan un Isolde by Tscherniakov and Salome by Neuenfels. The first night brought some disappointment, since orginal Tristan Andreas Schager cancelled and was replaced by Vincent Wolfsteiner, who had no stage chemistry with Anja Kampe, and production itself could not carry all the load of expectations put on it.
The second night was intriguing mostly due to Neuenfels, his frequently radical approach both to aesthetics as well as libretto promised surprises. This time the staging did not go far from his team’s typical signatory of black and white dominance with an accent of occasional red. The stage is timeless, symbolic phallic rocket serves as prison for Jochanaan, and the most innovative element is appearance of Oscar Wilde as a silent participant – or even puppet master of the night equipped with eye-catching silver testicles. Princess Salome is transformed from oriental princess into alter ego of Wilde, liberating her from stereotypes and providing with unlimited freedom to explore and express her sexuality. Wilde is the only one who has balls – literally and symbolically. The leitmotiff of the night is a quote from the libretto: the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. Thus The Dance of the Seven Veils transforms into desire supercharged game with the death, and 42 heads of anonymous Jochanaans at the final scene epitomise also fragility of love (shatted into shards, then pick it up and tell how strong your love is) and unavoidableness of death – end of physical presence of the body.
The drama was unfolding before premiere when designated conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, replacing originally scheduled Zubin Mehta, pulled out citing artistic differences, then Thomas Guggeis, just 24 years old rising star, assistant to Daniel Barenboim, freshly appointed kapelmeister of Stuttgart Staatskapelle took the pit. He was extensively introduced by member of the staff announcing cast change, and I believe I have witnessed the debut of the future maestro – the Staatskapelle Berlin played for him with full commitment, his tempi and clarity was supporting the stage well. The rapturous applause from the audience confirmed that the star is born, watch his name: Thomas Guggeis.
Singers were performing from good to superb, – taking into acoount that it was a premiere night, and for Salome it was also a role debut, Ausrine Stundyte excelled in her portrayal of the character and nuanced delivery. Her voice is not the best match for role demands, especially in the lower register, and at one occasion she was completely lost behind orchestra. Nevertheless, the individuals who booed her at the curtain call did obvious injustice to the performer who was wholeheartedly committed to the role: remarkable accomplishment.
Mayer as Jochanaan was fantastic both vocally and dramatically, his impressive and sonorous baritone becoming long-lasting musical prophecy.
Gerhard Siegel as Herod was imposing and artistically convincing, Marina Prudenskaya as Herodias did not manage to create lasting impression vocally, while both were a great match to role requirements acting-wise.
The audience expressed their appreciation as well as displeasure enthusiastically, as mentioned earlier, some boos towards Stundyte seemed unjustified, while split reaction towards creative team was predictable – at the same time, there were quite a lot of people who obviously enjoyed the concept proposed by Neuenfels. In general the performance was thought provoking and challenging the audience to rethink acquired stereotype who was Salome, while probably this is not a production I would like to attend again and again in order to find new layers of meaning. But – time changes tastes and perception, so never say never. Looking forward to Neuenfels reading of The Queen of Spades in Salzburg this August with Mariss Jansons at the pit – the ticket confirmation just arrived!
Richard Strauss. Salome
Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin
Premiere performance on March 4th, 2018
Performance photos by Monika Rittershaus
CONDUCTOR Thomas Guggeis
PRODUCTION Hans Neuenfels
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Philipp Lossau
SET DESIGNER, COSTUME DESIGNER Reinhard von der Thannen
BÜHNENBILDMITARBEIT Kathrin Hauer
CHOREOGRAPHY Sommer Ulrickson
LIGHT DESIGN Stefan Bolliger
DRAMATURGY Henry ArnoldRoman Reeger
HERODES Gerhard Siegel
HERODIAS Marina Prudenskaya
SALOME Ausrine Stundyte
JOCHANAAN Thomas J. Mayer
NARRABOTH Nikolai Schukoff
PAGEBOY OF HERODIAS Annika Schlicht
FIRST JEW Dietmar Kerschbaum
SECOND JEW Michael Smallwood
THIRD JEW Linard Vrielink
FOURTH JEW Andrés Moreno García
FIFTH JEW David Oštrek
FIRST NAZARENE Adam Kutny
SECOND NAZARENE Ulf Dirk Mädler
FIRST SOLDIER Arttu Kataja
SECOND SOLDIER Dominic Barberi
EIN CAPPADOCIER David Oštrek
EIN SKLAVE Corinna Scheurle
OSCAR WILDE Christian Natter