Neurotic Obsession: Salome at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna

Strauss – Salome

Herodes – Ian Storey
Herodias – Doris Soffel
Salome – Aušrinė Stundytė
Jochanaan – Tuomas Pursio
Narraboth – Enrico Casari
Ein Page der Herodias – Silvia Regazzo
Erster Jude – Gregory Bonfatti
Zweiter Jude – Pietro Picone
Dritter Jude – Antonio Feltracco
Vierter Jude – Paolo Antognetti
Fünfter Jude – Abraham García González
Erster Nazarener – Riccardo Fioratti
Zweiter Nazarener – Stefano Consolini
Erster Soldat – Gabriele Ribis
Zweiter Soldat – Luca Gallo
Ein Cappadocier – Francesco Leone

Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna / Juraj Valčuha.
Stage Director – Gabriele Lavia

Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Bologna, Italy.  Sunday, February 17th, 2019

This afternoon’s matinee of Salome marked my first visit to the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.  Built in 1763, and lovingly restored to its former glory, it’s a notable place to see a show.  The house presents both a lyric season as well as concerts with its excellent house orchestra.  Naturally, the other attraction of this performance was the presence of the most remarkable singing-actor, Aušrinė Stundytė in the title role, who is sharing performances of the run with Elisabet Strid.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi-Studio Casaluci

Salome has a long tradition of being performed in Bologna, with the first Bolognese performance in 1911, just six years after the premiere in Dresden.  Today, the house revived Gabriele Lavia’s 2010 production, here revived by Gianni Marras.  Lavia is a new name to me and this was a staging that kept very close to the libretto, for the most part.  The rear of the set was dominated by a moon, Narraboth duly slit his throat, and Salome most certainly danced for Herodes.  Costumes (Andrea Viotti) seem to set the work in an early twentieth-century military installation, possibly the time of composition.  There were six men with spears who perambulated in formation around the stage.  It was interesting that they seemed to grab them in excitement when Jochanaan mentioned the saviour, but that idea wasn’t followed through.  Lavia keeps quite a coup de théâtre for the final scene – the earth opening up to reveal a massive male head, on which Salome sang the final scene.  Personenregie was frequently perfunctory with much standing and delivering with outstretched hands – Doris Soffel’s Herodias seemed especially fond of reaching out in that way.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi-Studio Casaluci

And yet, even here, a singing-actor as exceptional as Stundytė will bring something special and this she most certainly did.  Her Salome was prone to obsession and Jochanaan may well have been the last of many.  Stundytė was tireless on stage, constantly moving, in addition to giving us a very active dance.  Her Salome was deeply neurotic, living on the edge, staring into the cistern as if it contained something that she desperately needed.  Stundytė once again proved herself to be an extraordinary actor, but here also, even more confirmed herself as an equally outstanding vocal actress.  The voice is unique, somewhat darker than one often hears in his music, but also very full, almost thick.  Intonation wasn’t always à point but Stundytė used this to completely illustrate Salome’s unbearable obsession.  Her outpouring of lyricism to Jochanaan was gradually built up, at first almost fragmented, later blooming into a long-lined expression of obsessive infatuation.  In the final scene, she pulled the tone right down to an almost breathy disembodiment at first, before opening up to soar over the orchestra in gory ecstasy, always singing fully off the text.  An extremely impressive assumption.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi-Studio Casaluci

Her Jochanaan was Tuomas Pursio and the smoking tension between the two was undeniable.  He had clearly been tempted by her, even if momentarily.  Pursio was also most impressive, projecting an absolutely firm column of sound in the house, completely even through the range with a massive, penetrating top.  Doris Soffel was a deliciously camp Herodias, a lady who clearly enjoys a drink or six.  Her juicy mezzo seemingly defies the passing of the years, the tone round and healthy and likewise, absolutely even throughout.  Ian Storey sang an insinuating Herodes, sung off the text even if his German is rather Anglophone in flavour.  His tenor was in good shape, absolutely secure, and sung with lyricism where so many others have just barked.  The quality of the diction in the remainder of the cast was most admirable.  Enrico Casari was a masculine and beefy Narraboth, while Silvia Regazzo was a warmly chesty Page.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi-Studio Casaluci

The Comunale orchestra was on phenomenal form for Juraj Valčuha, clearly a credit to the house.  The quality of the playing was absolutely exceptional – intonation was spot-on throughout and there wasn’t a single split note from the brass.  Valčuha focused on light, transparent textures, which meant that there was nowhere to hide, and the ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra rewarded him with playing of exceptional virtuosity.  Valčuha was sensitive to the needs of his singers, particularly when Pursio was singing from the cistern, always allowing the voices through.  He moulded the work with care and attention, building the climaxes up in a slow-burn.  I must admit, the overall effect felt overly cautious, lacking in dynamism where it really needed to push forward, although they did whip up a storm in the dance, and the final scene soared ecstatically.  Without doubt an orchestra that I would very much like to hear again.

Photo: © Andrea Ranzi-Studio Casaluci

This was a performance that was a credit to this august house with its remarkable operatic tradition.  Yes, the staging was conservative, but it did have several visually imaginative touches and certainly, as Jochanaan’s headless body was pulled up from the cistern, didn’t hold back on the gore. It was intelligently cast and sung off the text.  Above all, in Stundytė, it was notable for an astonishing account of the title role by a remarkable singing-actor who completely inhabited her role, a superbly-sung Jochanaan, as well as an exceptional orchestra.  A notable afternoon in the theatre, warmly received by the audience.

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