Cher Public

She sang a mouthful

Soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs sings the final scene from Salome in the Stefan Herheim production for Den Norske Opera.

  • phillyoperalover

    I don’t understand the ending.

    • havfruen

      It’s a Norwegian joke.

  • MontyNostry

    Wasn’t this the production already seen in Salzburg?

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      Ciao Monty! The production was created for Osterfestspiele Salzburg in 2011, where Simon Rattle conducted the Berliner Philharminoker. Salome was Emily Magee. I think I was the only person there who liked it. There is a rather conservative and disgustingly rich audience for this festival, which is largely sold through subscriptions to several days of concert plus an opera; I think the top price for a single ticket for the opera -- if you could get one -- was over €500. But Rattle/Berlin bolted for Baden-Baden when Salzburg wouldn’t/couldn’t give him more than one staged opera production per festival and more concerts (thus ending the tradition which von Karajan began in 1967), so the 2012 “Carmen” was their last show there. Christian Thieleman and the Dresdner Staatskapelle have now moved in and, I believe, the ticket prices have been somewhat reduced. This year was the insanely horrible production of “Parsifal,” and 2014 will bring a new “Arabella” with Fleming and Hampson.

      • MontyNostry

        Jungfer -- many thanks for the lowdown. You are obviously a chaperone par excellence!I have never been to the Osterfestspiele, though I did go regularly to the Sommerfestspiele for work for a period some years ago. I saw some superb opera and concerts there (as well as some very dreary stuff too), but I generally thought the audience looked like a parade of waxworks. Maybe it has loosened up a bit since.

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

          Thank you for the compliment, Monty. Given your observation about the Salzburger Festspiele, I have to share with you one of my favorite moments, which, for me, sums up the entire festival. It was, I seem to recall, the premiere of “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” about a decade ago (longer?). Outside the Großes Festspielhaus before the show, there was the usual crowd of People Only There To Be Seen and the usual paparazzi. I found myself being shoved aside so that a photographer could get a clear shot of an ancient couple. The man, bald, bored, and sweating in a Frack in the middle of an August heat wave, supported his wife, a petite woman with skin that looked like Vuitton luggage holding a glass of Sekt, who was dressed in this silver sort of gown which had a top and bodice made in the classic dirndl pattern, but its skirt continued down into a long train. I took in the image and then noticed the crowning touch: the end of her train landed squarely in a pile of horse shit from the Fiaker which carry tourists around the Old Town.

          • MontyNostry

            I bet the Dame in dem silbernen Dirndl felt a total old Fiaker after that. Marvellous!

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            Monty, the best part was that she seemed completely oblivious to it!

      • oedipe


        Since you are so interested in contemporary stuff, are you going to have a recording of this week’s SAMSTAG aus LICHT in Munich? Also, I would be interested in hearing the Morton Feldman you said you’ve got.

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

          As far as I can tell, only excerpts (Mitschnitt) from the München Stockhausen performances will be broadcast on BR according to its Web site, and that won’t be till 20 July. Have you seen the structure of this thing? It’s kind of like attending a “Ring” Cycle in four different locations. Only certain sections will be given on certain days, so there is no one complete performance of it on one day. Too bad. My only opportunity to experience “Licht” (to date) was one act of “Donnerstag” at Wiener Festwochen a few years back, which I liked very much.

          I shall post for you on my Mixcloud site (do you still have the address?) Morton Feldman’s “Neither,” performed by RSO Frankfurt with the incredible Sarah Leonard. It will be posted within the hour. I saw it staged in Stuttgart in 2005 (albeit not with Leonard) and totally loved it.

          I did get to see Leonard in Lachenmann’s “Das Mädchen mit dem Schwefelholzern” and was totally blown away by the opera. It’s considerably longer (about two hours, as opposed to 50 minutes for the Feldman), but do let me know if you have any interest.

          I also have a live recording of just a few minutes of Beat Furrer’s take on the Orpheus legend, “Begehren,” another underrated new opera (2003), just enough to suggest the “language” of the composition.

          • oedipe

            Thanks Jungfer. Sure, I would also be interested in the Lachenmann and Furrer, you made me curious. And do re-post the link, if you don’t mind, it would save me searching for it.

          • Regina delle fate

            Mitschnitt means taping or recording. Auschnitt or Querschnitt means excerpt. So unless it is a Mitschnitt of Auschnitte, I guess it’s complete!

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            oedipe, I have now posted Feldman’s “Neither” along with the complete (87-word) text by Samuel Beckett at my Mixcloud site.

            The address is:

            (You may recall that the account name is misspelled due to my oversight and the fact that T & Z are next to each other on German keyboards; it is too late to go back and change it, so I am stuck with this!)

            I will get the Lachenmann up soon, too. Unfortunately the Beat Furrer disc contains only a six-minute extract from “Begehren” (out of a two-hour work), so I am not sure if this is enough to warrant uploading it, although it does offer a good impression of the compositional style.

            If you are interested in contemporary music that falls a bit easier on the ears, I enjoyed much of “Lacrimae Alexandri Magni” (“The Tears of Alexander the Great”) by young Czech composer Tomás Hanzlik with a libretto in Latin drawn from an epic poem by an anonymous 17th century Piarist monk (!). Hanzlik describes his style as “baroque minimalism,” sort of Philip Glass meets Vivaldi. It’s got an all-male cast, with two countertenors (one in the title role), and some very strange sections bookending the opera spoken in Czech (one of the performers is mezzo-soprano Sona Cervená, now in her 80s and still performing).

            I am so happy you are interested! I mean, what is the point of having all this stuff if not to share it?

          • oedipe

            Thanks a lot, Jungfer, I am definitely interested.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            Perdonami la mia Regina: sorry to take so long to respond but I couldn’t access Parterre Box for several hours and then it wouldn’t let me log in. It is very late and when I looked at Mitschnitt it registered as Ausschnitt (which also seemed more logical given the length and logistical complexities of the work). It does appear to be a complete recording, with broadcast on BR starting at 18:05 on 20 July. But it seems to be just a radio broadcast, not a Webcast. Since I am in Wien, you might do better to try and find one of unserer bayerischen Freunde to record it.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            oedipe: Feldman’s “Neither,” Lachenmann’s “Das Mädchen mit dem Schwefelhölzern” and Hanzlik’s “neo-baroque minimalist” “Lacrimae Alexandri Magni” are now all posted at

            I look forward to your reactions!

    • Ms. Blancke-Biggs writes via Facebook, “Stefan re-staged the whole show for me, so it it was very different from Salzburg-- much more dynamic and craaaazy. We all had a blast!”

      • MontyNostry

        I must have a listen to that Final Scene. I hear she was pretty damn impressive.

      • A director who restages a production. Imagine that!! Most people don’t realise that a production can actually be improved in a revival if given the right time and attention.

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

          Kashania, I must say that, for me, Herheim is among the most intelligent and caring directors of our time. I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer at Bayreuth where we talked at length about his now-legendary “Parsifal” (sadly, the TV broadcast was so badly filmed I doubt if it will ever be released on DVD). I saw the production for each of the five years it was shown, and noticed changes every year.

          But that is pretty much the norm at Bayreuth. All directors are invited back to make any changes they want, and most of them do, with the exception of Christoph Marthaler, who never came back after the first year of his deathly dull “Tristan.” Even 80-something-year-old Tankred Dorst came back to touch up his (insipid) “Ring” Cycle.

          My admiration for Katharina Wagner grew as I saw how thoughtfully she changed her “Meistersinger” each year to fit new cast members, eventually changing virtually the entire production in its last two years, as she found herself not only with a considerably different Beckmesser (Adrian Eröd taking over for Michael Volle), but also with a 38-year-old Sachs (James Rutherford), which considerably altered the relationships among Sachs, Eva, and Walther, as well as Beckmesser and Sachs. She also got rid of the worst excesses (like the sex dolls in Act III) when she realized which parts of the production were overkill. Hans Neuenfels, too, has rethought and restaged huge portions of his “Lohengrin,” making if far more palatable than in its premiere season.

          Unfortunately, that is the exception. At houses which maintain insanely huge repertoires – like Wiener Staatsoper, which puts on about 50 different operas each season – directors never have the chance to touch-up productions when they are revived, as they are either far away or, more likely, there simply isn’t enough rehearsal time, so that any offending sections are simply removed.

          A prime example is the “Parsifal” directed by Christine Mielitz, which in its premiere season featured Kundry (Angela Denoke) with one bare breast and one high heel in Act Two getting plowed by Parsifal when he sings about “die Wunde.” How, we wondered, would this be handled in the production’s second season, when the cast would be Waltraud Meier and Plácido Domingo? Simple: they just cut all the provocative business and stood there and sang to the house.

          • That’s really good to hear (how things are done in Bayreuth). I know that at the Met, revivals are practically done on auto-pilot — very disappointing.

            For example, I think David Alden has a really promising Ballo on his hands at the Met but the production is far from perfect. I would love to see him return to stage a revival, making adjustments, editing certain parts, changing the staging to accommodate the strengths of new cast members, etc.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            From what I know of the Met, revivals are basically handed over to house stage directors with prompt books created while productions are in rehearsals for their first seasons. I have begun to notice on the Met archives Web site (I haven’t been to the Met in a decade) production credits listing “Production By” (person who created the production) and then “Stage Director” (staff member who directs revivals). At Wiener Staatsoper, it is quite common after a few years (and we still use the 1957 “Tosca” created for Tebaldi!) to see only the credit “After a production by XX.”

          • Hippolyte

            I believe these hypotheses about what goes on at the MET are outdated. In the past it was nearly always the case that a revival was handled by a staff stage director; however, since Gelb took over that happens considerably less often.

            Whenever possible the original director returns to supervise the revival--Damrau spoke about how she was able to work with Decker for this year’s Traviata, for example, and Mayer was even there for the 2nd cast of Rigoletto, but Hytner didn’t return for Don Carlo for example. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but directors have even returned to revive productions that pre-date the Gelb administration: Zambello came back to redo her Troyens, Del Monaco remounted Fanciulla and Moshinsky redid his Makropulos Case for Mattila, etc.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            Hippolyte, that’s good to hear. As I said, I haven’t been to the Met since 2003, and am pretty much out of the loop as to how the house operate these days, except for what I read on Parterre Box (probably the most accurate and trusted source), the NY Times, Opera News, etc.

  • This is an impressive performance with a fearless use of chest voice. But I would have preferred more sensuality in the singing. This is a very forcefully sung Salome.

    • antikitschychick

      ITA. The phrasing is somewhat monotone, though the voice itself is impressive…but I don’t like that blonde wig she’s wearing…the production isn’t horrible but it doesn’t match the grandiosity of the music, although I do think it probably looks better in the house as the video is a very static long shot of the set.

  • Camille

    This notice should make Our Own Quanto Painy Fakor VERY happy, as he is always putting in a good word for EB-B.

    Heard her only once, and only over the Sirius broadcast of a Tosca, in which she was a last minute substitute for…somebody…was it Dessì…I dunno.

    It was a good, solid voice, without any trashy tremorous quality that so many feel they can get away with in this work.

    • MontyNostry

      Mentioning no names, nadjurally.

      • Camille

        Funny, that the first thing that sprang to mind, nadjurally enuf, was that HIDEOUS experience, miserabilissima in extremis of sitting through THAT WOMAN’s Salome in San Francisco a few years ago. Between THAT and Botha’s mammouth, marmoreal, manmeat Otello, I decided to leave that city, no matter how fair she might be. Horrors, the both. At least Botha has a beautiful voice and knows how to use it, I should hasten to add.

        • oedipe

          So, Camille, you were turned off by Beauty and the Beast, I take.

        • MontyNostry

          Botha does indeed have a beautiful voice, but no charisma at all.

          • Camille

            To be precise, it is sottozero charisma—whatever in the world THAT is!!!!

    • Regina delle fate

      She was an excellent Minnie for Opera Holland Park a few years back…

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        That was 9 years ago now -- how time flies! It’s funny, I always assume US singers do Holland Park to get noticed here with the intention of returning to sing at more respected companies, but it seldom seems to work out like that.

  • Batty Masetto

    Without the lead-up, this scene feels disjunct and uninvolving to me – the punchline without the rest of the joke. No clue what she’s doing most of the time, or why. There are certainly some impressive visuals. But what the hell is all that business down front with Herod and Herodias? What’s she to Hecuba or Hecuba to her?

    Perhaps all becomes clear with the full background. I do recall Herheim saying that the moon was a central metaphor. Apart from the breakage at the end it’s hard to see how that fits in here.

    I’m grateful that she’s actually singing the role and neither shrieking nor flailing around the stage, though the dark sound of the voice makes me feel as though a seasoned cougar has done away with teenage Salome and stolen her identity. Interesting to hear somebody for whom the low G-flat at “das Geheimnis des Todes” holds no terrors. But how I wish English-speaking singers would learn how to pronounce a German “ch” correctly – it’s really truly not that hard, and “Ish laybe nosh” not only grates on the ear but arouses irrelevant visions of lox and bagels.

    Salome was once just about my favorite opera, but it may be that The Unspeakable Nada’s grotesque display here in San Francisco has done something to me that even repeated exposures to the memorably unmemorable Gunilla af Malmborg could not: killed the ability to enjoy the thing at all.

  • bang_bang_bang

    If anyone’s interested, Herheim speaks about his Salome concept here:

    • antikitschychick

      fun and interesting interview…I like his approach to the piece…thanks for posting it bang_bang.