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Monday, February 18th, 2008

Time Event
1:28p
Opera Weekend
One of those "everything happens at once" weekends: we have our season tickets to the Milwaukee Florentine Opera, and this weekend was their production of Richard Strauss' "Salome", as well as the Metropolitan Opera's HD simulacast of Giacomo Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," for which we also had tickets--fortunately not on the same day.


"Manon Lescaut" was Saturday afternoon, and the Met Simulacasts allow you to make the most of what is good in this show: gorgous music, lovely singing, and beautiful costumes. I won't bore you with the plot: full synopsis here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manon_Lescaut_(Puccini)

Evidently, the original 1731 novel "L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut" by the Abbé Prévost was considered wildly romantic by 19th century opera composers, since it was adapted three times, by Jules Massenet ("Manon") and the French composer, Daniel Auber, (also "Manon Lescaut", in 1856). I just find both Manon, and her lover Des Grieux, both to be feckless and foolish.

Conductor James Levine handled the Opera orchestra superbly and gave the singers the support they needed to express the character's passions. Karita Mattila as Manon and Marcello Giordani as des Grieux sang wonderfully and acted the melodramatic roles with expression. If you are an opera fan at all, we are finding these simulcasts to be excellent value, both for the close-ups of the singers and for the backstages glimpses you get between acts. The Met's web site has links to find theatres near you, and there are still several broadcasts left this season. Times are noon on Saturdays and the local cinemas are having a repeat showing Sundays at 2PM.

Still, there's nothing like being there live, and that is what we had Sunday at the Marcus Center. We were very pleased with Erika Sunnegardh when we saw her in the Florentine's "Fidelio," and expected good things when we heard she had been cast as "Salome." We were not disappointed.

The Strauss one-act opera is adapted directly from Oscar Wilde's famously scandalous play, which in turn is based on the biblical history of the death of John the Baptist. Wilde imbued the story with dark passions, which Strauss expresses uninhibitedly in his powerful music. Sunnegardh has a powerful voice that easily fills the large hall and gives her presence to rule the stage no matter how many kings, prophets, and soldiers fill it. She lit up the stage with fire as the wilful, spoiled, and passionate girl.

She was very ably supported by the other principals. Mark S. Doss as Jochanaan (John the Baptist) has the unenviable job of singing from under the stage for much of the opera, but when brought into the light, gave us a combination of unworldly mental state and impressive physical presence that justified Salome's fixation on him. Joel Sorenson played the role of Herod Antipas, Salome's step-father, with a subdued debuachedness that was quite effective, as he seeks to play Lolita-like seduction games with Salome under the nose of Herodias, his wife and the girl's mother. Herodias (Joyce Castle) shows us an insecure queen grown shrill and shrewish, who is quite ready to egg Salome on to demand Jochanaan's death, in revenge for the manifold insults the prophet has heaped upon her. The smaller roles of Narraboth (Eric Johnston) and Herodias' Page (Katherine Pracht) were also very well done: in fact, hardly a flaw could be detected in the supporting cast of soldiers and citizens. Maestro Joseph Rescigno had the orchestra well in hand, and the stage direction by John Hoomes, costumes by Richard St. Clair, and sets by Boyd Ostroff were all first rate, as was a very effective and atmospheric lighting design by Noele Stollmack.

Od course, no consideration of "Salome" is complete without the "Dance of the Seven Veils." Sunnegardh spent months working with choreographer Katheryn Posin to be able to present a dance that was believeable as the improvisation of a talented young girl that also made good use of the stage setting. A particularly clever creation was that some of the "veils" were not part of Salome's costume, instead being pieces of fabric that had been preset around the stage. This not only allowed a greater range of action and movement in the dance, but also kept the audience guessing as to how far the dance would eventually go. We thought the performance was very effective, and note that, although this was Sunnegardh's first "Salome", she is scheduled to reprise the role at the Welsh National Opera and Barcelona in months to come.

The audience gave the cast a prolonged and well-deserved standing ovation.

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