Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Komische Oper: Petrushka / L'Enfant et les sortilèges

19 February 2017

I should admit that I went to the Komische Oper’s new Stravinsky-Ravel double bill in the strange position of not having seen 1927’s earlier widely-travelled Zauberflöte—entirely my own fault, since it’s been around this season already, plus has a couple of further performances scheduled.

In a programme interview, though, Suzanne Andrade, one of the group’s masterminds, says that the Mozart took them back to an earlier stage in their development, while this new staging of Petrushka and L’Enfant et les sortilèges is rather closer to what they’ve been doing more recently.

Petrushka and Ptitschka in 1927's Stravinsky-Ravel double bill at the Komische Oper (photo © Iko Freese/drama-berlin.de)

Among that recent work was The Golem, which I did see at the Old Vic in London. Certainly much of what we saw here was reminiscent of that show: the wit, the imagination, the sheer theatrical spark and fizz, animations with a sort of Heath Robinson/Terry Gilliam sense of the absurd mixing cleverly with real-life action.

The big splash of colour and character conjured up at the start of Stravinsky’s Shrovetide Fair, with a heavy dash of Russian constructivism, was dazzling. The magician was represented throughout by large animated hand, prodding and poking the action as required.

Petrushka, played with puckish mischief by Tiago Alexandre Fonseca, becomes a clown. The original ballerina becomes the acrobat Ptitschka (Pauliina Räsänen), while the Moor is recast as Patap the muscleman (Slava Volkov).

It’s less a ballet per se, then, than a mixture of mime and acrobatics, engaging and entertaining, but also ultimately, I felt, a little inexpressive and, ironically for this work, lacking in humanity. Petrushka’s heartbreak and death counting for little among the visual razzle dazzle.

The Ravel struck me as a great deal more successful, not least because there we still had the expressive potential of the singing more or less intact, even if a number of the roles were delivered invisibly from offstage. Indeed, the Child begins life in animated form before, as the magic kicks off, appearing in the form of both the mezzo Ruzan Mantashyan (on mellifluous, stylish form) and a double, Martina Borroni: both are dressed in identical padded-out cub-scout uniform and swap over at various stages to keep the action fluid and the eye alert.

The other people, creatures and objects appeared variously as singers on stage, animations with voices heard off-stage or, as in the case of the brilliantly shrill Ivan Turšić’s M. Mathe, a mixture of both. The animation, meanwhile, allowed for the surreal action of Colette’s libretto—so brilliantly matched by Ravel’s witty and urbane score—to unravel with a trippy and enchanting unpredictability and humour.

A certain ambiguity, especially regarding the role of the Mother (the classy Ezgi Kutlu), was a result of the group's professed aim to underline the closeness between Petrushka's nearly omnipresent father figure (the Magician) and L'Enfant's nearly omni-absent Mother. This was compounded by a slight ambivalence when it came to whether or not the Child in the end really learnt from his escapades. 

The Child encounters M. Mathe in L'Enfant et les sortilèges (photo © Iko Freese/drama-berlin.de)

The extended cast, in a true virtuoso ensemble effort, was outstanding, and the Komische Oper’s orchestra played both scores with lucid flexibility for Markus Poschner. I’ll have to catch the Zauberflöte, but also am intrigued as to how 1927 might develop their aesthetic further to bring yet more to whatever operatic work they tackle next, and whether they can create something more substantial beneath the always glittering surface of their theatre. 

The Golem had had me wondering about what lay beneath, as here did PetrushkaL'Enfant, though, provided something more rewarding and spiritually nourishing. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Landestheater Coburg: Fidelio & The Cunning Little Vixen

Last week I took a little trip to Franconia. I was there to see the opera company of Landestheater Coburg perform two of its new productions under its dynamic music director Roland Kluttig. Having made his name primarily as a new music specialist, Kluttig was appointed Generalmusikdirektor at the start of the 2010/11 and is clearly bringing a new sense of ambition to this company across the repertoire.

Interior of the Markgrafentheater in Erlangen
First stop was Erlangen, where the Coburg company was performing their Fidelio at the town’s beautiful Markgrafentheater, the oldest functioning Baroque theatre in South Germany, Wikipedia tells me, but one that in the 300 years since it was built has undergone quite a few facelifts. The exterior is modern, and inside the boxes have been knocked through (if that's the term) and a fair amount of detailing has been smoothed over.

Still it’s a lovely little place, as is the town itself, centred around an elegant 18th-century university complex and a famous botanical garden (maintained by the university, but inevitably looking a little triste in mid February). 

The theatre produces its own plays, in the main building and couple of other venues in the town, as well as hosting concerts and Gastspiele from the Coburg—a 50-mile whizz up the autobahn. For me on this occasion it was Fidelio, in a production (new in the autumn) by Rudolf Frey, whose work in the UK has included a not-much-loved Maria Stuarda at Welsh National Opera in 2013.

There were a few textual novelties: the apparently ever-problematic dialogue was replaced by texts from Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte; and, unusually, we had Leonore III as the overture (performed with real vigour by Kluttig and the orchestra in the theatre’s tiny pit), chosen possibly in part so that its greater length could provide more scope for the dumb-show Prologue it accompanied.

This Prologue, as I read only afterwards (having assumed no need to revisit the opera’s synopsis), set up the premise for the production. Florestan is a journalist who has discovered some nasty secrets about his old friend, the prison governor Pizarro. Leonore passes the material to the Pizarro unawares, and he then locks Florestan up. Time passes, until Leonore, denied the opportunity to visit him in prison, discovers that Florestan has died. She ‘sinks down in shock and mourning,’ we are told, and ‘before her inner eye unravels the following story: …’.

Landestheater Coburg
I’m reviewing the production in opera so will essentially leave it there, only to add that it seems that Fidelio remains as tricky as ever, and this framing device, though freeing the production from certain burdens and responsibilities, also seemed to relieve it from the necessity to make a great deal of sense on its own terms—or, at least, to feel responsible for conveying that sense to those watching. I was left scratching my head much of the time.

The next evening’s Vixen (directed by Alexandra Szemerèdy and Magdolna Parditka, and sung in German) was a great deal more persuasive. It was a fiercely uncompromising reinterpretation that imagined the work as a dark, entirely unredemptive tale of human trafficking and prostitution, and which ends in multiple deaths at the hands of the Game Keeper. It paid little attention to Janáček’s score, admittedly, but had at least an impressive conviction and internal coherence. (Again, I'll be reviewing this in operaso will leave it there.)

Alexandra Szemerédy and Magdolna Parditka's Cunning Little Vixen at Landestheater Coburg
(Photo © Henning Rosenbusch)
Sitting across the Theaterplatz from the imposing and beautifully preserved Schloss Ehrenburg (whose 1810s façade was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel), the Coburg theatre is delightful. A 550-seat gem of sober classical lines, it opened in 1840 and built up a reputation as a Wagner theatre throughout the second half of the 19th-century; its resident set-painter Max Brückner was recruited, along with his brother Gotthold, by Wagner for Bayreuth, not far down the road.

Landestheater Coburg
Recently it has started to re-establish its Wagner repertory, having had something of a hit, it seems, with its 2014 Lohengrin—Kluttig told me that Wagner outsells everything in the theatre, opera, plays or musicals; he is constantly getting stopped in the street, on the other hand, by people asking for more Brahms in the concert series he runs with the theatre’s orchestra. 

After other successes with Der Rosenkavalier and, particularly, Pelléas et Mélisande, the decision was made to stage Parsifal too, which will therefore be seen there in April.

Later this season the theatre also stages a double bill of the first German performance of Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven and Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. That, the productions I saw, and the fact that the beginning of the season they revived another double bill, this time of Dido and Aeneas and Riders to the Sea, give an idea of quite how adventurous this operatic arm of the theatre is.

I hope to return soon, not least to see the wonderful town in slightly less wintry conditions.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Lohengrin

Buoyed by the Deutsche Oper’s rejuvenating and invigorating Tannhäuser, and still buzzing from the Semperoper’s terrific Siegfried, I perhaps in retrospect went into this Lohengrin with expectations set rather too high.

Kasper Holten's Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Marcus Lieberenz)

Some of the casting, on paper at least, had a couple of surprises. But not, of course, in the title role: Klaus Florian Vogt performed with the seraphic mien, boyish tone and apparently tireless stamina we’ve come to expect from him. It seems increasingly that this is a marmite voice and technique: some love it, others hate it. He remains unique, though, and certainly impressive as Lohengrin, the role to which he is possibly best suited.  

Sung Ha, a late replacement, showed off a lovely smooth bass voice, if not the requisite authority or gravitas, as Heinrich. Dong-Hwan Lee was an impressive Heerrufer and John Lundgren a forthright if somewhat relentless Telramund (he lost some of his vocal bite as the evening progressed).

There can’t be many, meanwhile, who can sing Ortrud as well as Elena Pankratova (last heard by me as a fearless Elektra in Dresden, as well as an outstanding Fäberin in the Royal Opera’s Die Frau ohne Schatten). Pankratova’s voice is unusually beautiful for these roles, never really running the risk of souring or fraying, it seems, and she sings with a bel canto-like musicality.

I wondered, in fact, whether she might have made a better job of Elsa than Manuela Uhl, a utility Straussian (last year I saw her at the DOB as both Salome and Danae) whose qualities include stamina and a large jugendlich-dramatisch basic sound, but do not extend, alas, to much vocal beauty or stability in terms of intonation—pre-requisites for Elsa.

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She seemed more at sea dramatically than many of her colleagues, too, in what were already rather choppy under-rehearsed waters. In addition, she made very little of her words and tended to drag things down, in pitch and often tempo, at many of hear appearances. She’s a very useful singer, but this was not wise casting.

Donald Runnicles and his forces—so compelling a week previously in Tannhäuser—were having an off night, too. The conductor’s tempos dragged in the first two acts (the second act given in a very full version), but then tended to rush in the third. The playing only intermittently found sheen and polish, the choral singing was often rather raw and untidy.

In the circumstances it seems unfair to judge Kasper Holten’s production. Of his Personenregie, one suspected, there remained little trace in this hastily thrown together revival (the 22nd performance since it was new just under five years ago), making a poor case for his ideas. Nevertheless, even factoring in such theatrical atrophy, it still felt worryingly confused, and an in-depth programme interview did little to help unravel its knotted strands.

Holten had directed the work in Moscow four years before this staging opened and seems to have brought certain ideas from that production (a thinly-veiled allegory of Putin’s rise to power, by all accounts) while adding several new ones. We have Lohengrin as dubious media savvy politician, then, and choreographer of his own rise to power, but we are also in the aftermath of war—not a war, but just war in general—with the male chorus as soldiers from a variety of eras.

Kasper Holten's Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Marcus Lieberenz)

One of the more interesting ideas involves Elsa as guessing at what this Lohengrin is up to before anyone else, suspicious of his motives from the start—although little of that remained in this performance. But the attempt to create a sense of transhistorical universalism left us rather with a sense of jumbled-up, unrelated specifics. And the stagecraft, particularly during a clunky Act 2 that sent us unexpectedly into false-proscenium meta-theatrics, was also at times worryingly shoddy and ill thought through. 

In the end, while I had come away from Tannhäuser newly convinced of its glories; this performance made me think that Lohengrin (admittedly probably a far less interesting work) was worse than it is. And that’s never a good thing. 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Semperoper Dresden: Siegfried

29 January 2017

This was the final individual Ring instalment to be presented by Christian Thielemann at the Semperoper ahead of his tackling the whole lot next season (in January and early February 2018). Die Walküre was last January (or at least that’s when I saw it) and Das Rheingold in the Autumn.

It’s a shame that there won’t be a chance to experience Götterdämmerung individually ahead of the complete cycles, not least because judging by Thielemann’s approach—grandly conceived, bold, often almost fierce in its sheer sound—I suspect it will be something properly shattering.

Stephen Gould (Siegfried) and Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde) in Siegfried at the Semperoper (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

 His Siegfried certainly points that way, since it was it’s most successful in the post-Tristan ardour and pre-Götterdämmerung portentousness of Act 3. It was there, too, that we were allowed to witness the thrilling spectacle of a totally secure Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme) and Siegfried (Stephen Gould) soaring over the Staatskapelle in full flow. At this point Willy Decker’s production—a co-production with Madrid and first seen here in 2003—opened up as well to reveal blue, cloud-specked skies.

Before that, the action had often felt rather hemmed in, with the meta-theatrical conceit of the production, clearly and often cleverly presented in the first two instalments, becoming somewhat muddled. The recurring motif of theatre seats—and associated emphasis on the idea of spectatorship—turned up only at a late stage.

Here, instead, we had Mime giving lessons on a blackboard, Siegfried bringing a teddy bear in from the forest, a pretty unimpressive staging of the forging of Nothung and a confusing young Siegfried double as the Forest Bird—clearly his unconscious on one level, but also, it seemed on a rather more banal level, his dogsbody. One clever touch, though, was Fafner, Mime’s crude chalk drawing of which of a dragon coming to life impressively.

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Musically many things were excellent in the first two acts, with Thielemann managing to get detail as well as grandeur and gravitas from his players. Dramatically things could have been tighter, though, and Gould is more persuasive as Siegfried abandons jolly japes for more serious undertakings; the voice is rock solid throughout, and, though perhaps a little utilitarian in timbre at full tilt, is capable of some lovely honeyed phrases in more reflective moments.

He had a more than worthy vocal adversary in the first two acts from Gerhard Siegel’s Mime, whose finely focused tenor would give many a Siegfried a run for his money (though happily not this one).

Gerhard Siegel (Mime) and Stephen Gould (Siegfried)  at the Semperoper (Photo © Klaus Gigga)

Albert Dohmen was a powerful Alberich, and one who, as a former Bayreuth Wotan, rather put Markus Marquardt’s Wanderer in the shade. Marquardt did a decent job as a smoothly sung Walküre Wotan, but lacked true vocal authority and presence here, as he had done in the Rheingold. Christa Mayer and Georg Zeppenfeld made up the cast impressively.

It’s the rapturous second half of Act 3 that will stick in the memory, though—the unspeakably tender winding violin line as Siegfried ascends to the Walkürenfels in particular (a match, as far as I remember, for Barenboim and the other Staatskapelle down the road at the Proms), and the stunning burst of orchestral warmth at Brünnhilde’s awakening. Moments like that—and much else we've heard so farsuggest the whole cycle could be something special. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Tannhäuser

27 January 2017

This Tannhäuser performance marked the start of what will be a drawn-out mini Wagnerthon in Berlin. I plan to catch the Deutsche Oper’s Lohengrin next week, then the final revival of its Götz Friedrich Ring and (at the Staatsoper im Schillertheater) Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Parsifal at Easter. Add in the Komische Oper Meistersinger and the Deutsche Oper Parsifal I saw before Christmas, and it means in six months I’ll have seen all the mature Wagner’s operas bar one, Der fliegende Holländer, here in the Hauptstadt—with Parsifal twice.

Tannhäuser (Act 2) at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Matthias Horn) 

It will be interesting to see how the messages of these works take on new significance as the world—the Anglophone world, specifically—continues its sudden downward spiral into intolerance and insularity. Does feasting on such riches represent escapism, or a small-scale act of resistance, sticking up for art in a world in which it is increasingly threatened?
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It’s difficult to say, and in any case Tannhäuser probably has less to say about politics than the other works I shall be seeing; certainly Kristen Harms’s 2008 production doesn’t probe in that direction. By contrast, the website blurb for Kasper Holten’s Lohengrin, awash with mentions of Putin, promises a ‘timeless political power struggle’. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop myself, on the day of their joint press conference, wondering about a staging of Tannhäuser with Trump as the errant minstrel and Theresa May as Elisabeth. Perhaps Teresa-without-the-h May could be Venus.

Bad idea: Tannhäuser is hardly one of Wagner’s most likeable characters, but that’s still to do him an enormous disservice. Maybe I should stick with an earlier idea for a Salome with Trump as Herod, Melania as Herodias and Ivanka as the Judean Princess.

Either way, this was a spiritually restorative evening when such a thing was sorely needed. The firm foundation was provided by Donald Runnicles’s conducting (of the Dresden version), instinctive, grand and often viscerally exciting; the flexible, burnished playing of the Deutsche Oper orchestra; and the thrilling singing from the massed chorus and extra chorus.

I failed to catch these forces when they brought this same opera to the BBC Proms in 2013, but couldn’t help draw comparison with the far less solid musical standards at the Royal Opera’s revival of Tim Albery’s production at the end of last season. There really is nothing like an orchestra, such as the Deutsche Oper’s, that plays this repertoire regularly, and under a conductor, such as Runnicles, who has such a natural and instinctive command for the music. And the programme revealed a remarkable statistic: this was the 35th performance of the work at this house since the production was new in late November 2008—a Traviata-esque figure. 

Tannhäuser (Act 1) at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Matthias Horn) 

There’d been a bit of chopping and changing in the cast, which ended up being led by Robert Dean Smith’s Tannhäuser, reliable and often even elegant in his phrasing—the former quality always a relief in this most taxing of roles, the latter a real luxury. Dramatically he can seem a little tentative, but I suspected his performance here was further held back in that regard by lack of rehearsal—especially in his interactions with Camilla Nyland’s voluptuously sung Venus, where the production also went a little thin on ideas.

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There was a generous, pleasingly round-toned and intelligent Wolfram from James Rutherford, and Ante Jerkunica’s Herman was impressively resonant and imposing, even if I prefer my Wagner basses with a little more granitic focus. The other minstrels were excellent, and Nyland, doubling both lead female roles, was also a moving Elisabeth.

Such double casting has its obvious advantages—pragmatic and dramatic—but Harms’s production didn’t help clarify things when her prostrate Elisabeth simply stood up at the close to sing as Venus. Before that point, there was no shortage of memorable and moving visual spectacle, making use of some highly atmospheric lighting (Bernd Damovsky was responsible for lighting, as well stage and costume designs).

Magical appearances from the bowels of the stage and from the flies are a major feature, effects that are often choreographed with a very good ear for what’s going on in the music. The staging of the Venusburg music, during which a Tannhäuser in armour is lowered into a writhing group of buxom maidens in what might be a vast bubble bath, is probably one of the most successful settings of that music I’ve seen on stage (not, admittedly, saying much), and was all the better for the hint of humour it suggested.

Elsewhere things felt less successful: the arrival of Herman, Wolfram & Co at the end of Act 1 on some very noisy horses on wheels, for example; the questionable comedy medieval hats given to guests for the song contest; the decision to confine Act 3’s chorus to hospital beds. As with Philipp Stözl’s Parsifal at this house, though, nothing actively mitigated us forming our own interpretations, and, importantly, much in the staging served to underline and amplify the extraordinary power of the music—what a fabulous score Tannhäuser is!and the musical performance.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Staatsoper Hamburg: Otello

17 January 2017

It’s not been a great couple of weeks for Calixto Bieito after the Met in New York pulled the plug on his Forza del Destino. His Otello has, however, made its transfer the stage of the Staatsoper in Hamburg in one piece, having been unveiled in in Basel in late 2014. I’m afraid this seemed to be a similar sort of affair to his Forza, though, with a handful of Bieitoisms somewhat half-heartedly applied to Verdi’s final tragic masterpiece.

Calixto Bieito's Otello at Staatsoper Hamburg (Photo © Hans Jörg Michel)
The main prop—a vast harbour-side crane—will arguably have had greater resonance for the Hamburg audience than for that in landlocked Basel, but otherwise neither it nor the rest of Bieito’s ideas seemed terribly well tailored to Otello (although, I should note, it was all strikingly lit by Michael Bauer). 

The chorus became a kind of semi-imprisoned mob, often stumbling to the front of the stage, in dirty tracksuits and amplified by a few semi-naked extras, to stare us down. Otello was a sort of gangster boss, I think, Iago one of his deputies and Desdemona his moll, understandably miffed at having to appear repeatedly at the dockside in a series of her fanciest outfits.  

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Otello’s otherness and nobility were nowhere to be seen, so key threads of the drama—the shocking dissonance between his military prowess and his social insecurity, the sources of Iago’s envy—were missing. Desdemona’s whiter-than-white innocence, a pre-requisite for the tragedy, was never even hinted at, while the director’s now standard recourse to misogynistic violence—though still often theatrically powerful—left a slightly bitter taste. 

And the horror of Desdemona’s treatment at the hands of her husband is already so powerfully portrayed in the work that it’s very difficult for a director to try and underline it without actually undercutting it.

In the first three acts, then, this Otello felt like a bit of a hodge podge, markedly short of the conviction that was always such a Bieito trademark, regardless of what else one thought of his decisions (it was unclear whether he’d been on hand to supervise rehearsals). 

Yet, as the drama itself achieves its most searing focus, Act IV was a great deal better. Svetlana Aksenova, a little frayed and unyielding in the earlier acts, came into her own in Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria, delivered with real intensity from a platform half way up the crane: first she threatened to jump off, and then, broken, sank down in desperation.

Nadezhda Karyazina (Emilia, left) and Svetlana Aksenova (Desdemona) (Photo © Hans Jörg Michel)

Bieito also had one final trick up his sleeve, as Otello climbed the structure and was then swung out over the orchestra for his final moments. This was a coup, but a pay-off arguably not worth the price of having the whole rest of the drama play out in the thing’s shadow (there was an audible tut when the curtain rose after the interval to reveal nothing had changed on stage; ‘gute Abwechslung,’ someone behind me muttered sarcastically). 

Here, in his final moments, though, was where Marco Berti’s Otello was at his best, his acting honest and heartfelt (an unfortunately unconvincing ‘Urgh!’ as he expired notwithstanding). Before that, his performance was frustrating: loud, unlovely and lumpily phrased. It’s a terrific voice in many ways, trumpety and ringing, just a shame this performance remained musically and dramatically so rudimentary.

Claudio Sgura (Iago) and Marco Berti (Otello) (Photo © Hans Jörg Michel)

There was something a great deal more sophisticated from Claudio Sgura’s liquid-toned and sly Iago, even if the baritone didn’t quite command the stage as the production clearly wanted him to—and he was, perhaps unsurprisingly, out-belted by the force-12 Berti in ‘Si, pel ciel’. 

Markus Nykänen made a strong impression as Cassio, but the chorus occasionally sounded underpowered, and Paolo Carignani’s conducting was often disappointingly lukewarm—not a great deal of fuoco di anything coming from the pit. And ultimately there was far too little fire in the belly of Bieito’s production too: he pulled it back somewhat for the finale, but too much of the rest just felt rehashed and reheated.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Salome

22 November 2016, Deutsche Oper Berlin

I was left somewhat baffled by Michael Schultz’s new Salome in Dresden last month, which took into a young girl’s nursery for the opening scenes—with Narraboth memorably starting off as an oversized teddy bear—and gave us six burlesque artists choreographed by Koko La Douce rather than seven veils. (My review is forthcoming in Opera.)

Salome at the Deutsche Oper (Photo © Monika Rittershaus)
Claus Guth’s nearly-new staging at the Deutsche Oper—it opened in January—offers interpretative challenges of a different sort. Again, it seems to be very much taking place in the young princess’s mind, at least before the entrance of her parents and during her final scene. It’s a place filled with suited men, or reanimated mannequins (and a couple of actual child mannequins) and young doubles, the latter coming into play especially in the dance, which turns into a re-enactment of various stages of Salome’s troubled relationship with her step-father.

Although I think it at that stage it might even have been Jochanaan dressed up as Herod: another feature of the production was some confusing cross-dressing—between characters rather than genders. In the first scene we got little help, given the heterogeneous costuming and shady lighting, in telling who was singing when. Guth is such a skilled director that this can only have been a deliberate strategy, a desire to blur lines of identity and reality, to leave us unsettled.

The costuming also played into the main set, revealed as Herod and Herodias made their entrance: a vast tailor’s shop in Guth’s characteristic veneer-clad mid-century style (costumes and sets were by Muriel Gerstner), with suits arrayed by the dozen and ‘Massanfertigungen’ emblazoned across the back wall in stylish font. The revivified shop mannequins become shop assistants. There’s a great deal of the fussing and rushing about that one gets in this sort of place.

Jochanaan’s role in all this is a little unclear. He appears first, thrusting an arm and then a leg out of a pile of clothing, in just his underpants. He is then dressed by the young Salome doubles—presumably projections of her own will. Now, clad in suit, shirt and tie, he is a full member of this strange society. As such he also, of course, begins more and more to resemble Herod.

For his final reappearance he turns up as an actual mannequin, from which Salome herself tears the head. Everything she does to it—nothing remotely erotic, it should be noted—seems then, as if this mannequin is some sort of voodoo doll, to affect Herod (as with much here, it’s difficult to be sure). The final minutes have nothing of gory triumph about them, ending with anti-climactic, disturbing emptiness

Amidst all the dreamlike illusion, all these projections (in the psychological sense), all the deliberate confusion and elision, one is left with a feeling of deep discomfort and uncertainty. There’s no final clarification as there is with Guth’s Frau ohne Schatten, coming to the Staatsoper here in the spring: we are left to draw our own conclusions. Whether or not you think that constitutes a cop-out on the director’s part, will be up to each individual viewer.

This was the 10th appearance of the production and musically things were pretty much as one would expect several months down the line. There were a few rough edges in the orchestral playing, and some slightly boisterous brass, but Jeffrey Tate held it all together skilfully, and paced the evening well. Manuela Uhl’s voice sits high and projects well as Salome, although the slight acidity to the colour is not always welcome. John Lundgren was a stentorian Jochanaan. Burkhard Ulrich and Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet were outstanding as the royal couple – he pernickety and fussy, she striking a fine balance between imperious and grotesque.