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Finnish National Opera January Strauss Weeks (I): Salome: Soloists, Finnish National Opera Orchestra, conductor: Alberto Hold-Garrido, Helsinki 19.1.2006 (BK)


Esa Ruutunen (Jokanaan) and Cynthia Makris (Salome)

Conductor: Alberto Hold-Garrido
Direction and Lighting Design: Claude Naville
Sets: Juha-Pekka Kiljunen

Costumes: Taru Liipola

Video Projection: Pirjo Honkasalo

Salome: Marion Ammann / Cynthia Makris
Herod: Arild Helleland
Herodias: Sari Nordqvist
Jokanaan: Esa Ruuttunen / Juha Uusitalo

Narraboth: Ari Grönthal

Finnish National Opera's two January Strauss weeks presented four operas (revivals of Salome, Arabella, the brilliantly staged Rosenkavalier from 2004 and a new Die Frau ohne Schatten) and five recitals, including one by Nina Stemme, a firm favourite in Helsinki over the last year or so.

The Salome production dates from 1995 when it was staged and lit by the late Claude Naville. In his view the work represented a critical flashpoint between the two cultures of Paganism and Christianity, in which the young Salome's confusion over Jokanaan's message and her resulting sensual attraction to him, accidentally fired an uneasy peace into civil war. 'Perhaps she (Salome) imagines,' he wrote, ' that she could find a solution to her uncertainty (ie, how to dissociate herself from a decadent world) through passion. She does not know that passion is destructive and leads to death. John (sic) however, does not follow her uncompromising love; he accepts physical death rather than defeat.'

Eleven years on, the production comes over as rather fussy. With a video-projected backdrop of the moon, at first blood red and then progressively eclipsed, the entire action is set in the courtyard of Herod's palace. To the left of the stage however, at the top of a rampart wall from which soldiers inexplicably abseil (and then climb) the short drop to the ground instead of using a perfectly serviceable staircase, the luckless Narraboth is seen to be accompanied by an unnamed woman - evidently not Herodias's Page. After agreeing to Salome's demands to bring Jokanaan from his cistern, Narraboth observes the subsequent events impassively and then kills himself virtually unnoticed because of other stage business. When Herod gives the order that Salome should die, the woman companion blinds herself: she may stand for 'Everywoman' or the Israelite nation I suppose, unable and unwilling to witness further horrors to come, but her self-mutilation adds little to the drama.

...Which was otherwise wholly compelling. Guided skilfully by Alberto Hold-Garrido, the score was remarkably powerful, sensuous and decadent by turns, exactly as it should be. The Swiss soprano Marion Amman was an attractive and vocally strong Salome, able (just for once) to convince us that Herod's lust for her was understandable and at her absolute best in her crucial scenes with Jokanaan. Herod himself, sung by Norway's Arild Helleland, was also in fine voice, fully able to cope with Strauss's demands, and every inch the crazed but not wholly insightless monarch and stepfather.


Finnish National Opera is particularly fortunate in having two splendid bass-baritones among its principals, both of whom sang Jokanaan in this production. In this performance, it was Esa Ruuttunen's turn and a very fine job he made of it. Sonorous, dignified and compassionate even to the instrument of his own downfall, Mr. Ruuttunen portrayed nobility with a grandeur of sound and characterisation that would be difficult to match anywhere. His contribution (together with those of all of the other principals) made this Salome memorable: a fitting prelude to Die Frau ohne Schatten on the next evening.








Bill Kenny



Picture © Finnish National Opera

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