I’m talking about the Canadian Opera Company’s revival of Atom Egoyan’s production of Salome, which I saw on Saturday (April 27) afternoon at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre.
In the previous stagings, Egoyan’s Salome was presented in the cavernous Hummingbird Centre (now known as the Sony Centre). Seeing it again at the smaller Four Seasons Centre seemed to enhance the production’s virtues: it is sombre but not drab, austere but not cheap, simple but hardly simplistic.
Moreover, Egoyan has been tinkering with the production – especially with the inserted film clip that’s projected during the “Dance of the Seven Veils.” In this film, Egoyan has created a “flashback,” taking Salome (and the audience) back to an invented abusive childhood. It’s a brilliant touch – a directorial intervention that makes sense of the troubled adolescent who dominates the opera.
And, in the title role, soprano Erika Sunnegårdh did just that. Sunnegårdh is blessed with many resources – and she drew them together to create a Salome who is fragile yet manipulative, tightly focused yet totally out of control. Vocally, she soared with unerring accuracy and effective dramatic phrasing. But she remained girlish in all the details of her performance, playing distractedly with her hair as she repeatedly demanded Jochanaan’s head on a platter.
Martin Gantner brought his stentorian but vibrato-laden baritone to the role of Jochanaan (John the Baptist). He proved a determined and convincing foe to Salome. Yet, like her, this Jochanaan was a complex figure, inward looking and painfully detached from reality.
It was a masterful stroke of casting to engage tenor Richard Margison as Herod. Vocally, he was on top of his game – and his whole performance was marked by a vainglorious egotism entirely consistent with Herod’s crazy-dictator style of governing. Opposite him, mezzo Hanna Schwarz was an imposing Herodias, using her fulsome voice to bluster and hector relentlessly.
The COC Orchestra was a sexy beast in the hands of conductor Johannes Debus. He emphasized the vivid and contrasting aspects of the score, yet never allowed his players to swamp his singers.
With Salome and Lucia di Lammermoor both currently in rep at the Four Seasons Centre, the COC must be going through fake blood by the bucketful.
© Colin Eatock 2013