Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons – Richard Strauss’s Salome with Gun-Brit Barkmin

Strauss
Salome – Opera in one Act to a libretto by the composer based on Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde [concert performance; sung in German with English surtitles]

Herod – Gerhard A. Siegel
Herodias – Jane Henschel
Salome – Gun-Brit Barkmin
Jochanaan (John the Baptist) – Evgeny Nikitin
Narraboth – Carlos Osuna
Herodias’s Page – Renée Tatum
First Jew – David Cangelosi
Second Jew – Alex Richardson
Third Jew – Dominic Armstrong
Fourth Jew – Jason Ferrante
Fifth Jew – Walter Fink
First Nazarene – Nathan Stark
Second Nazarene – Michael Meraw
First Soldier – Keith Miller
Second Soldier – Ryan Speedo Green
A Cappadocian – Robert Honeysucker
A Slave – Abigail Fischer

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 March, 2014
Venue: Symphony Hall, Boston

Andris Nelsons. Photograph: www.bso.orgSince the start of this season, concertgoers and opera-lovers in and around Boston had been eagerly anticipating this performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome. In this one-night-only event, Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Designate Andris Nelsons returned to Symphony Hall to lead a stellar cast through a sweeping and compelling version of this path-breaking 1905 score. Five days earlier Nelsons had conducted a concert performance of it at Carnegie Hall with forces from the Vienna State Opera. All but one of the principal singers for that event traveled from New York up to Boston for this performance.

Gun-Brit Barkmin. Photograph: Florian KalotayThis powerful account delivered all that was expected, and then some. Nelsons, a master of this score, conducted with tremendous authority, passion and sweep. And all the members of the enormous orchestra, especially the woodwinds and the brass, were in superb form, responding rapturously as they accentuated the psychological undercurrents within Strauss’s highly innovative score. In the most famous orchestral section, the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, Nelsons seemed to be almost jigging as he tore into the music with grand gestures in a finally shaped reading that completely conveyed the music’s lasciviousness.

The cast was outstanding. The stunning soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin was triumphantly successful in the title role, delivering a thrillingly dramatic performance. Her huge voice was chillingly beautiful in her attempted seduction of Jochanaan and full of passion and malevolence as it soared above the BSO in her unrelenting cries for his head. Only at the very end did her voice show some stridency, making her appear all the more convincingly wicked, while she managed to project the impression of a character still very young.

As Salome’s stepfather, Herod, the Tetrarch of Judea, Gerhard A. Siegel gave a wonderfully alive and characterful performance, conveying all the role’s depravity and hysteria with his flexible and commanding tenor. Jane Henschel gave a strong and well-characterized performance in the comparatively ungrateful role of Herodias, mother of Salome. Evgeny Nikitin was a young and noble-sounding Jochanaan (Hebrew for John the Baptist), his beautiful voice commanding attention as he sang offstage to represent the cistern in which he is imprisoned. Carlos Osuna in the smaller role of Narraboth, Captain of the Guard and infatuated with Princess Salome, displayed a clear and firmly-placed tenor, and in the relatively small role of Herodias’s page Renée Tatum made a particularly striking impression.

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