Cher Public

salome (met) 9/23/2008

I was there in the house and it was a good night.  I still think that Mattila and the production were fresher in 2004 with a wider range of colors and dynamics.  However, she didn’t sound frayed or at the end of her rope.  Some of the louder high notes can get a blanched quality but they were dead on pitch and held for a good while with no wavering.  She looks good but definitely a woman of a certain age and the girlish, kittenish business looks calculated now.  Its a well kept body but definitely spreading a bit in places.   Supposedly Mattila was the one suppressing the 2004 taping since she disapproved of some of Flimm‘s choices (Salome being drunk was one).  Well she was still doing some drinking (perhaps less this time) and really there weren’t that many changes from the last time that were crucial.  The Dance of the Seven Veils is like an outtake from the Showgirls pole dance scene.  I don’t think that kind of obvious tackiness was what Strauss had in mind.  They need to put out the 2004 filming which is really superior on DVD and bypass Mattila’s objection.  However, Gelb will probably want his product, his HD filming on the market so that will never see the light of day like the Ariadne with Voigt and the Wozzeck with Struckmann and Dalayman.

Joe Kaiser sounded fine and looked like he took off some pounds from last season.  German suits him better than French to my ears.  Begley and Komlosi were good as the Herods.  Big letdown: Juha Usitalo – ordinary timbre, hollow small tone – when he was amplified in the cistern he wasn’t impressive and he was definitely underwhelming when he emerged.  Fat man with little stage charisma – basically made a hole on the stage.  Morris Robinson came out as the first Nazarene and that sounded like the voice of God.

BTW: I am coming to the conclusion that there is less to “Salome” than meets the eye.  It all is very effect driven without great profundity underneath and all the characters are basically monsters or concepts without a core of humanity underneath.  I like Elektra so much better.  Elektra seems to get better every time I see it whereas I really find Salome silly and meretricious in some ways. — Gualtier Maldè

  • Thackeray Gnomey

    Behrens’ accident was, I believe, showcased in an audio file here on Parterre some time ago -- it can probably be found with a search (not quite sure how, though -- probably under ‘filth’).
    It was from, if I remember rightly, Elektra’s ‘Allein, weh, ganz allein’ and she completely fell off a top note. Car-crash listening.

    On quite another matter, I’d be interested to know what the Parterre Boxers think of this Rossini …

  • Thackeray Gnomey

    Ruth Falcon is certainly Sondra Radvanovsky’s teacher. I saw her a couple of times, as Kaiserin and Chrysothemis -- nice, slightly soft-grained sound (a bit like Alessandra Marc, maybe?), though not a big personality.

  • marshiemarkII

    TG, I think you are wrong here with respect to the “accident”, although the two events are probably related. The real accident happened in the second Ring in 1990 when at the end of the Immolation scene, the Gibichung Hall demolition began too early and the entire Hall fell on the poor diva who had just finished singing the most breathtaking Immolation to date. Both the first and second Rings were “rehearsals” for the video that would be filmed in earnest at the third Ring a week later. As it was, what you see today in the DG DVD is the first performance UNTOUCHED, and while still Behrens-fabulous, especially Act 2, not on the level to what she did on that fateful night, and presumably what she could have done still, with one more performance. It is one of the great regrets of “what could have been” left for posterity, but I assure you that second night was INSANE unforgettable singing. She spent the next two years trying to pull herself back together, the London Gala was just a couple of months later, and shorlty after she had had a terrible psychotic episode……

    It all culminated with the “train-wreck” of the Elektra prima in 1992, a new prodution mounted for her. She was feeling sick from the first rehearsal and never sang a single rehearsal, she “acted” the final dress while Daner sang from the pit, and the ENT Dr had the terrible judgement to tell her that her throat “looked OK” that morning, so she could go on for the prima, the pressure was beyond intense from all sides of course. The results were disastrous. What is remarkable is that Elektra has destroyed more than one healthy voice, and here the great Behrens sang the full opera with no vocal resources at her disposal, but still managed to finish, she ended up cancelling the remainder of the series, and at least psychologically, the blow could have been enough to be career ending, yet she went through a major reconsideration of everything, changed her diet, and other things, and was able to return to the same production, on the same stage, two years later, and have the greatest triumph of her life, because no one who was in theater that noght will forget what she did, as everything was working perfectly for her. The telecast planned for the 1994 revival had been cancelled after the 1992 disaster, and was promptly re-instated, and it is the greatest testament to the triumph she had that night. Why it still has not been released by DG is one of the most infuriating things I can think of.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Good heavens. So, MarshimarkII, if I understand this correctly, after the set fell on her she had what could be described as a phobia of performing (quite jutifiably -- sounds v traumatic)? Have I understood right -- there was nothing actually wrong with the voice at any point, she just had psychological problems as a result of the set malfunction?

    Huge credit to Behrens for getting it back together. I watched bits of the 1994 Elektra on YouTube this weekend. I’d certainly buy it if it were available. I DID buy the 1981 one with Nilsson, and prompty took it back to the shop after I heard how dire she was.

    Do you have any insight into my question about the random interpolated a-flat in the Elettra aria?

  • marshiemarkII

    Cocky, she was seriously injured physically as the largest beam (you can see it in the video) fell on her forehead (foam covered with heavy glue thus still VERY heavy to a delicate forehead), thus luckily stopping a flight that could have landed her into the guts of the stage machinery, so yes it was BOTH physical and psychological. She spent three weeks bedridden as she had suffered a head-injury. The next Ring was in her San Francisco debut in July 1990. She pulled herself together and managed to deliver a pretty magnificent Brunnhilde (in a gorgeous production by Lenhoff) until Act 2 of GD, but by the Immolation she sounded like a different person, started to mix-up the words (” im WASSER leuchtend” instead of “im FEUER leuchtend”), took the torch and promptly put it out into the water bucket, instead of brandishing it fearlessly as she always did, it was one big mess…… The critics who had given her fabulous reviews for the previous two, wrote that she sang a stunning Act 2 but unfortunately spent all of her resources and had nothing left for the all important Immolation……. what did they know!. After that, she had classic post traumatic stress disorder, manifesting in a terible psychotic episode that eventually manifested physically in a horrible infection, so by the London Gala she was “physically” very spent, as at that point the phycological had become physical problems. And so it went for the next two years, pain, lack of sleep, fears, which ended up with frequent colds, etc. So by the Elektra in 92, she was physically very ill, and didn’t even realize it until that horrible night of the prima, not to mention the pressure from all sides to be the great Behrens in her brand new production mounted especially for her.

    Sorry Cocky, I do not have any special insights into your Elettra question. I have heard many versions of the aria, with lots of different interpolations including one that ends in a high C (is it Dame Joan?) but I think Behrens sounds the most “correct” to my ears, probably because is the one I listen to most frequently. I will ask her next time I talk to her.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    MarshimarkII, many thanks for giving us such an insight. It sounds like a nasty episode, but she sure bounced back -- all my cherished memories of Behrens are from after that dreadful incident and its repercussions.

    Re the Elettra aria, if you’re in a position to ask, that’s great! I’m pretty sure the standard score has no a-flat. It definitely doesn’t have a c, and I’ve heard that interpolation -- I don’t think it suits the aria or the mood at all. I’m wondering if the a-flat comes from Richard Strauss’s tampering, an authentic source, or the conductor and/or Behrens.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Incidentally, did she sue for all she was worth, or just get assurances that they’d stand by her and give her major engagements in the future? Or am I descending into nosey gossiping at this point?

  • marshiemarkII

    Cocky she did not get any “special” major engagements in the future. The 92 Elektra she had earned after the stunning Carnegie Hall performance with Ozawa in 88, it was the first time she could choose the stage director, and she wanted Ingmar Bergman, who declined because he felt too old to travel outside of Sweden. It could have been something, right?. By the time of the accident she had nothing more at the Met than the new Elektra in 92 and the revival in 94 with telecast. It was only after the stunning 94 return that she was offered the Ring again in 97, and Wozzeck in 99, which unfortunatley were her last Met appearances, despite being in breathtaking voice for the Wozzeck. The beautiful Mark Lamos Wozzeck production was very congenial to the voice, and she sounded immense, the high notes in the Bible scene like volcanos…..This year she was invited as a guest of honor for Franco Zeffirelli’s 85th birthday party at the Waldorf Astoria, she declined……….

    Re: Idomeneo, no I don’t think it’s the Richard Strauss mucking around. I actually saw that version with Alessandra Marc and the sublime Inga Nilssen as the most beautiful Ilia I had ever heard until 1991, when a certain unknown soprano was hired by the Boston Symphony at the last minute, to replace Carol Vaness, in order to avert the cancellation of the whole production for Tanglewood, the summer of 1991. Well that soprano was no one less than….. the Beautiful Voice. And that night she was truly magnificent. One day maybe I’ll share my breakfast with her, at the Lennox Inn, the morning of the final dress…….

  • kashania

    What do people think of Marton’s Faiberin? I recently saw it on the Solti DVD and liked it alot.

    Cocky: The Nilsson Met Elektra is not dire. She’s in remarkably good voice for a woman aged 62 and has all the stamina the role needs. Yes, the voice is somewhat frayed and he pitch isn’t always dead on but it’s still a great performance overall, with Leonie’s Chrysthemis and Dunn’s Klytemnästra. And the curtain calls at the end are almost worth the price of the DVD alone. All in all, this is definitely more than an interesting document of Nilsson’s Elektra. It is a genuinely satisfying performance.

  • marshiemarkII

    kashania, I was wondering how nobody has mentioned Marton in the context of the current Gioconda. Now that was another of the early 80s nights at the Met never to be forgotten. She was quite simply sensational, singing incomparably better than in the recording, or the later video from Vienna, and in my opinion never rose to that level of fabulousness again, with the exception of the Ortrud in 84 that was also out of this world. But the Gioconda was the perfect combination of great singing, acting, everything, it was enough to put her in the Pantheon of greatness for that alone. I think Marton was a strange phenomenon, because the voice was unquestionably a great instrument, yet she would tire very easily. The Leonore in 84 with the great Klaus Tennstedt, was already very subpar, and had to be replaced one night by the great Behrens on very short notice, though we ended up having for once Behrens-Vickers-Tennstedt Fidelio, greatness beyond all imagination! Also for the Salome, the night I saw Marton at the Met new production for her, she took down the very last high note (G? on deine) in “gekusst [B natural] deine Mund”. Salome is not that long, nor nearly as strenuous as Elektra or Brunnhilde. She also bowed out of the Met new production of Hollander that was also meant to be mounted for her. Of course it is well-known that Senta and Leonore are immensely difficult, because they were not written voice-friendly (Beethoven was writing for and “instrument”, and Wagner was too young).

    Of course I am grateful that Marton took over the Turandot in Vienna, when Solti asked the Vienna Opera to release Behrens in May of 1983 so she could learn all three Brunnhildes for the Bayreuth Festival Centennial Ring in July. The rest is history as they say, Marton went on to become the reigning Turandot, and Behrens became Brunnhilde.

  • Grimgerde

    Kashania -- you are spot on about Nilsson’s Elektra; I love it. I have no problem with the bits of pitch that go off ’cause she knows her way around the part. The stamina is amazing and it is a unique take on the role. Which I think was Marton’s weak link -- a formidable instrument and huge commitment to the task in hand, but often the words just get lost and the tone hardens, combining so much that is great with so much that is often frustrating in terms of dramatic delivery. And I wouldn’t be without either!

    Thanks Marshie for your insights in to the lost Hildegard years; I knew she had been traumatised by the Met incident, but wasn’t aware of the extent. I thought that the voice was going through the process of wear and tear because of singing the more strenuous roles quite a while before that Gotterdammerung -- for instance, the difference between the Munich Rings in 87 then 89 is quite marked.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Kashania, to me it is dire. Nilsson is an artist I admire, but not one I have affection for. It might well be very good for a lady at 62 years of age, but I would rather it was just very good. And it isn’t just the intonation that marrs the singing, the middle is sounding vapid, and it is also the fact that many of the high notes don’t vibrate, and in my book, a high note which isn’t vibrating is a scream. I’ll take a scream from Callas, Jones, Rysanek, Behrens, but not an artist like Nilsson who for me was about great singing and adequate interpretation. When the singing isn’t great anymore, it doesn’t leave enough to recommend it, in my opinion. I’m sure people who saw Nilsson live would feel very differently about the whole thing, or people who have developed the kind of affection for her that I have for Callas and Jones, but I’m afraid I was very surprised at how bad Nilsson sounded before she retired.

    I have no strong wish to bash Nilsson, but if you are going to correct me in no uncertain terms, I am going to tell you in no uncertain terms why I don’t agree.

  • I must have missed all this, and it’s fascinating. Could hardly believe the bit about the possibility of a Bergman Elektra -- do you think he would have been persuaded by an artist of HB’s calibre had he not wanted to leave Sweden? Yes, indeed, it would have been something.

    Well, I think I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I did for the one and only time catch Birgit at 62, Proms bits -- the Strauss songs were pretty dire and for the Isolde Liebestod she, as Edward Greenfield tactfully put it, ‘warmed up’ to the first note after the Prelude. But ‘Barak, mein Mann’ was overwhelming and touching, and the encore ‘Hoyotoho’ when she ran off the Albert Hall platform brandishing an invisible spear rightly brought the house down -- and the notes were all there for that.