A World of Dreams: Salome at the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa

Strauss – Salome

Herodes – Jacek Laszczkowski
Herodias – Veronika Hajnová
Salome – Alexandrina Pendatchanska
Jochanaan – Jacek Strauch
Narraboth – Pavlo Tolstoy
Ein Page der Herodias – Magdalena Idzik
Erster Jude – Josef Moravec
Zweiter Jude – Krzysztof Szmyt
Dritter Jude – Mateusz Zajdel
Vierter Jude – Adam Zdunkikowski
Fünfter Jude – Tomasz Sławiński
Erster Nazarener – Tomasz Sławiński
Zweiter Nazarener – Mateusz Zajdel
Erster Soldat – Remigiusz Łukomski
Zweiter Soldat – Dariusz Machej
Ein Cappadocier – Dariusz Machej
Eine Sklavin – Katarzyna Trylnik

Orkiestra Teatru Wielkiego – Opery Narodowej / Stefan Soltesz.
Stage Director – Mariusz Treliński

Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw, Poland.  Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016.

Unfortunately, the Teatr Wielki has not yet made production photos available.  If they subsequently are, I will update the review with the photos.

Over the years I have been told by readers that the reason many visit this site is for an analysis of the regie of a staging as well as in-depth discussion of the vocal aspects.  I must admit on this occasion to be somewhat baffled by Mariusz Treliński’s production of Salome.  I enjoy seeing stagings that make me think, that make me question my preconceptions about a work but here, after a considerable amount of reflection I’m not completely sure I quite get what Treliński was aiming at.  This Salome was previously seen in Prague in 2014 and tonight was the second performance in Warsaw following yesterday’s opening with Erika Sunnergårdh in the title role and the rest of the cast was unchanged.  It’s a show that looks good and also uses video (Bartek Macias) in an intelligent way.  It was fluently performed – Treliński frequently uses darkness to initiate set changes which also allows for characters to suddenly reappear in a different place in the set as the lights go up.  This creates a dream-like atmosphere that leads me to conclude that the show is effectively Salome’s dream and what is presented to the audience happens inside her head and not necessarily what is happening in the narrative.  For example, we never actually see Jochanaan on stage.  His lines from the cistern emerge from the pit and when he sings onstage, he’s actually singing from the wings.  Instead, we see a shadowy figure who doesn’t quite take human form and appears randomly from time to time.  At the end Herodes and Herodias appear covered in blood – why? The reason isn’t made clear but I wondered whether in fact Salome murdered them rather than Salome being murdered by Herodes’s guards.  Narraboth is suddenly resurrected when Jochanaan’s words are heard from the cistern and in the dance, rather than seven veils we have four Salomes with the climax of the dance seeing Salome slit her throat.  Indeed, what is suggested by Herodes’s ‘tanz für mich’ is that Herodes actually has sex with Salome, implicated but not demonstrated.

For me this was the main issue with the staging, that we never got a real sense of who the characters were and how they engaged with each other.  In a way, it felt more like a stylized art installation rather than a living, breathing narrative.  The narrative felt fragmented, never quite creating a coherent argument.  Salome’s obsession with Jochanaan felt more of a concept that a tangible physical reality.  Despite that, once we got to the final scene something changed.  Perhaps this was inevitable with an outstanding singer-actor such as Alex Penda but she gave us a completely gripping personification of obsession and release.

It’s incredible to think that this fine singer was a stylistically impeccable Donna Elvira with a period band in Paris last year.  Tonight Penda became Salome just as she became Elvira then.  The voice isn’t the biggest but she had no problems being heard over the large orchestra and she was absolutely fearless in attack.  Indeed the way she hurled the word ‘Eid’ at Herodes was absolutely staggering.  The bottom of the voice held no terrors and the top soared wonderfully.  Perhaps the registers aren’t quite completely integrated but this really was a riveting performance.  Penda’s Salome was unhinged, scary and engrossing just as she should be.

She was surrounded by a very good cast, testament to the high standards that the Teatr Wielki holds.  Jacek Laszczkowski’s Herodes was sung in a warm yet sandy heldentenor with a good size.  His diction could have been slightly clearer but he threw himself fully into the character.  Veronika Hajnová’s Herodias sang her music in an attractive, quite youthful mezzo, certainly an improvement on some of the superannuated belters we often hear in the part.  The tone has an attractive duskiness and genuine beauty of sound.  Jacek Strauch was a Jochanaan with a voice carved from granite a big, rustic sound and he wasn’t afraid to shade the voice nicely when the score asked him to.  Pavlo Tolstoy, who I had the pleasure of hearing in the Kraków Król Roger, was a very fine Narraboth – rich, lyric but with genuine weight and a very handsome timbre.  The other supporting roles were cast with good singers who were certainly a credit to the house.

The other credit to the house is the excellent house band.  The quality of playing heard tonight was superb.  They really brought out the lunar beauty of Strauss’ scoring as well as fully highlighting the dissonances in the strings and brass.  It really was impeccably played.  Stefan Soltesz’ conducting I’m afraid I found seriously problematic.  While he certainly got the band to play well, his conducting felt metronomic and lacking in any sense of line or argument.  This may well have been magnified also by the production.  The dance failed to swing and throughout the piece there seemed to be no sense of forward momentum or sweep.  I longed for an interpretation that guided us through the structure of the score, I’m afraid that for me we didn’t quite get that tonight.

It’s perhaps hard to come to a conclusion about tonight’s performance.  Certainly it was dominated by a completely engrossing account of the title role by a singer-actor who totally inhabits any role that she sings and sang with fearless attack and dramatic conviction.  She was surrounded by a good cast and a superb orchestra.  Yet I wasn’t quite won over by the production that felt to me that it didn’t quite cohere although the final scene really did come to life.  Unfortunately it felt disappointingly conducted but is certainly worth seeing for a gripping performance of the title role.

Poster for Salome at the Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa © Teatr Wielki - Opera Narodowa
Poster for Salome at the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa © Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa

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