Thursday, June 25, 2009


Some more on Angela Denoke's Salome:

Kupfer’s production is set in a concrete prison of graffitied walls, steel walkways, mezzanines and stairs. The look is sordid contemporary, guards with rifles, costumes across time and the few props, a chair here, goblet or vomit bowl there, anchoring the story in its origin.

It could well have been inspired by Berghain which the Berliners we've been taking notice of think is far and away  THE club in their city, the city of clubs, and by extension, the world. Outside an old disused power station, a massive concrete building in former east Berlin, in an industrial wasteland edging toward urban renewal, hopefuls wait for hours in the early morniing chill only to be turned away at the door. We had been well advised (when to arrive, the look, what not to say, namely anything in English) and were fingered in quickly. The only hint of menace was the steely glint of an oversized septal spike holding the gate man's nostrils permanently flared.

Inside, dimensionless concrete vaults and spaces brilliantly (and I don't mean brightly) lit, filled with techno music just this side of the pain threshold, were crossed by steel ramps and stairs, spliced by mezzanines, and black apertures took you to somewhere else and whatever it was you sought.

Back to Unter den Linden. This was, by virtue of performance and direction, really only a two person show.  The Herod of Reiner Goldberg was devastatingly good, a vocally unstrained secure and sustained performance delivering a syphilitic/Parkinsonian wreck of a human, an impotent on the edge. The most telling theatrical moment came when sliding backwards to the floor he was barely kept upright with his arms over the necks of two attendants, whose bald skulls he stroked as if erotic spheres, his search for gratification reflex and endless.

The more I think about Angela Denoke's Salome the more complex and satisfying it becomes. Certainly vocally I can't imagine anyone better out there today. It is a warm and womanly voice with none of the steel often assocaited with this role. And I liked it for that. She had, most surprising of all, engaged my sympathy from the very beginning. I never thought her girly or stupid or debauched or bad. She was a female raised in the worst of households who when confronted with what was beyond her understanding did what she had beeen brought up to do. Want it and get it, with a voice which could turn to animal snarl when called for. She had a wonderful way of supporting her top, carefully but not hesitantly placed, and when secure in her pitch would lift herself up on her toes, as if to fly, arms slightly out, up, up, and swell out this gorgeous tone over floods of sound from the pit. 

That James Rutherford's Baptist was vocally a bit underwhelming didn't seem that much out of place, reduced as he was to not much more than a lightening rod for Salome's self-destruction. And she played it as knowing this was her fate from the moment of his first eerie ascent to the stage.

In a refreshing change from the often overly sordid stage craft between Salome and the head, this Salome, after a brief but intense clasping of it to her chest, lay the head in front of her, knelt before it, and sang the hell out of the part, the muscial and dramatic climax coming as she took off its blindfold and stepped back away, aghast at what she had done and withdrew slowly, exhausted (and voice tiring a little and yet it seemed so appropriate) upstage to virtually await her execution.

Predictable as it was that she would be shot, and as much as I was wishing it wasn't going to happen that way, when it did it was still a shock, and was perfectly timed so that the orchestral thuds we're not irrelevant but sounded like some dreadful echo of the rifle shots.

There was a recent interview with Simon Rattle talking about working with the BPO and music making in Germany. He makes the point that the Germans are deeply emotional but contained, and when it is released, it is volcanic. Well, the Spaniard Pedro Halffter Caro certainly lit that fire, and volcanic is exactly what we heard from the pit. We sat close and the percussion and brass were overwhelming, whether by direction or acoustics I can't say, but I can say again, this was a Salome that left me completely drained.

It was, by the way, sung without surtitles. It was the better for it. I used to think that defenders of the no-translation school were defending the indefensible, but in this case, and by inference therefore others, I now wonder if it is sometimes the better course. Anything else here would have diluted the impact.

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