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Strauss: Salome (Concert Performance) , Soloists, Orchestra of Opera North, Richard Farnes. Hall 1, The Sage, Gateshead 10.2.2006 (JP)


Susan Bullock: Salome
Anne-Marie Owens: Herodias,
Peter Hoare:Herod
Leonardo Capalbo:Narraboth,
Philip Joll:Jokanaan


This was the first concert performance of an opera I have experienced at the Sage and well worth attending it was too. Normally in Newcastle upon Tyne, opera is brought to the city's Theatre Royal, with annual visits from Scottish Opera, Opera North and others, providing the city with quite substantial fare. But with Opera North currently having its home revamped, the company has taken to visiting various alternative venues around the country and giving concert performances until the refurbishment is finished. Concert performances have their own virtues of course; they allow audience and artists alike the opportunity to concentrate on the music without the distraction of 'significant' (but often impenetrable) modern productions.


And so it was on Friday. There were no sets or props of any kind; only plasma screens to the right and left of the platform displaying an English translation of the German libretto. Nor costumes either, since all of the singers wore evening dress.


Susan Bullock, a well-established Wagnerian (Isolde, Brünnhilde) and something of a Strauss specialist too sang Salome, and a superb job she made of it, with clear diction and none of the  disfiguring vibrato which so often afflicts dramatic sopranos these days. And the artistry did not stop there for we were also treated to a show-stealing dramatic performance in which her character's complicated and confused emotions were plainly visible. By the end of the work, she was noticeably fatigued by the effort of the role, and the audience (sadly not as large as it might have been) responded enthusiastically to Strauss's masterpiece.


Although I have concentrated on the principal soprano, all of the other primary roles were performed to a similarly high standard. Peter Hoare sang Herod - perhaps an equally difficult role to Salome especially in an unstaged performance -  with great style, catching the edgy madness of overwhelming lust and the horror caused by Salome's demands equally ably with fine vocal flexibility and characterisation. Philip Joll (standing in for this one performance for Daniel Sumegi) was a strong and noble Jokanaan. The more minor roles were good too, although as might have been expected their vocal strengths were less evident than the principals.


Aware of the difficulties of this score, I went to the concert expecting to be slightly disappointed with the orchestral contribution but I am happy to say that all was well in that department too. Opera North's orchestra, directed by, Richard Farnes, brought Strauss’s music to life with commendable accuracy, drama and panache so that The Dance of the Seven Veils (the bit that everyone knows but which is more difficult to bring off than it seems) swirled and swayed as sensuously as anyone might wish for.


All in all then, a wonderful evening and a superb concert. My only disappointment as it happened, was to realise that Tynesiders have to wait until 12th May for the next one. How the management at the Sage can expect to develop a regular and loyal audience with such infrequent performances is completely beyond me.


John Phillips




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