Salome … Bullock/Mackerras [Chandos Opera in English]

0 of 5 stars

Salome – Opera in one act to a libretto by the composer after Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name [sung in an English translation by Tom Hammond]
Salome – Dance of the Seven Veils [concert version]

Herod Antipas – John Graham-Hall
Herodias – Sally Burgess
Salome – Susan Bullock
Jokanaan – John Wegner
Narraboth – Andrew Rees
Herodias’s page – Rebecca de Pont Davies
First Jew – Anton Rich
Second Jew – Wynne Evans
Third Jew – Colin Judson
Fourth Jew – Alasdair Elliott
Fifth Jew – Jeremy White
First Nazarene – Michael Druiett
Second Nazarene – Robert Parry
First Soldier – Graeme Broadbent
Second Soldier – Alan Ewing
Cappadocian – Roger Begley
A Slave – Gerald Strainer

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Recorded 16-18 & 20-22 December 2007 in The Colosseum, Watford

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: December 2008
CHAN 3157 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes



There are many recordings of “Salome” that are excellently cast and performed, so any newcomer has to make a pretty big splash. For anyone enthusiastic about having opera sung in English (irrespective of the original text), however, there is no dilemma as the present release is the first available in that language.

The real stars of this recording of “Salome” are the musicians of the Philharmonia Orchestra; they get completely under the skin of the score and present it with all its nervy sinuous colour, relishing the lush Romantic moments just as much as the more Expressionistic and dissonant sections. Under Mackerras’s sure and flexible conducting there is a lot of ‘tingle factor’ to be found here, particularly in the way certain instruments seem to suddenly rise out of the melee for a brief moment to shine before retreating just as quickly. The oriental exoticism of the writing is very much present too.

On paper the cast is a strong one. In the title role we have Susan Bullock. She is perhaps more suited vocally to Elektra, that vengeful princess, than this younger version who gradually awakens in the corrupt environment of her stepfather’s court. Early in the opera she does not always seem able to float the high-lying parts of the role with the lightness of touch required, for example when Salome first views Jokanaan and becomes fascinated by him. She gets better interpretively as the more wilful side of Salome emerges. There also seem to be certain notes where her tone loses focus and become a little bit effortful in production. The close recording of the voices perhaps makes this more apparent. However, she does deliver a very strong final scene with Jokanaan’s head – and you certainly get a vivid projection of the translated text. Other recorded Salomes (Hildegrad Behrens and Inge Nielsen, say) have managed to capture the transformation of the character rather more vividly.

Similarly John Wegner has some stiff competition as Jokanaan – notably from Bryn Terfel in his two recordings under Sinopoli and Dohnányi. Interpretatively it is rather a stock performance, if not lacking in charisma, but his tone is not the most interesting and in the more reflective passages, such as that describing Jesus and his disciples in Galilee, it is not a steady as it might be.

John Graham-Hall with his white and penetrating tenor voice provides a vividly neurotic and vacillating Herod, and through careful projection of the text brings Herod’s lecherous nature to the fore. As Herodias Sally Burgess does what one can with this ungrateful part which essentially requires vituperative contradiction of Herod’s every utterance and unsuccessful attempts to control her daughter’s erratic behaviour. In the smaller roles Rebecca de Pont Davies’s sensitive Page is an asset, as is Graeme Broadbent’s first soldier. Andrew Rees lacks the fluidity of tone for a truly successful Narraboth, but the five Jews are excellent.

In some ways the singers are saddled by the translation which seems to lack the poetry of the German (or Wilde’s French text) and occasionally sounds rather tortuously prosaic. An example might be the beautiful passage for the first Nazarene when he sings of the wedding at Canaan. In the original German this is a wonderfully poetic passage whereas in the English there seems to be a struggle to fit all the consonants in. The net result is a lack of fluidity that mars the beauty of the musical line.

Those following Chandos’s “Opera in English” series will find this a welcome addition, the clear and resonant recording capturing the complex interplay of Strauss’s orchestral palette. Mackerras and the Philharmonia make a potent team – and the ‘bonus’ track on disc 2 of ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ with its concert ending, shows them at their best.

Ultimately, though, there are other recordings of “Salome” that have stronger and better matched casts. As always with Chandos the discs are beautifully packaged, the booklet including photographs of cast and conductor, a complete English text and some good notes.

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