Canadian Opera Company, Richard Strauss, Salome, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
The Canadian Opera Company's 2013 spring season marks the return of celebrated Canadian director Atom Egoyan with his searing, critically acclaimed COC production of Richard Strauss's Salome.
At the opera's 1905 premiere, the audience and critics were shocked by its subject matter and erotic themes; Salome's world of voyeurism and sexual abuse still elicits an equally visceral response today.
COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts his third opera of the season for the company when he leads the COC Orchestra through Strauss's intoxicating music. Sung in German with English surtitles, Salome runs for eight performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on April 21, 27, May 1, 4, 7, 10, 16 and 22, 2013.
Adapted from Oscar Wilde's play, the opera recounts the ancient story of Salome, who demands the head of Jochanaan (John the Baptist) in return for performing the Dance of the Seven Veils. Salome lives in a hedonistic royal court, with her perverse and shameless stepfather, Herod, and her imperious mother, Herodias. Salome's desire for the imprisoned Jochanaan is mirrored by a soldier's tortured infatuation for her, and Herod's own lust for his stepdaughter. Consumed by passion, the family is inevitably torn apart by its destructive obsessions.
Renowned Canadian filmmaker (The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) and director Atom Egoyan brings some of the original erotic shock value back to Strauss's Salome. The setting of the opera is moved from a first-century palace in the Holy Land to a foreboding and abstract environment, stripping away the markers of an affluent environment to focus on the characters themselves. Multi-media elements, such as film and video, as well as shadow puppetry and lighting effects, further serve to heighten the opera's impact and emphasize the perverse natures of Herod, Herodias and Salome.
Acclaimed American set designer Derek McLane, projections designer Phillip Barker, costume designer Catherine Zuber, lighting designer Michael Whitfield and choreographer Serge Bennathan all return for the revival of the COC's Salome. Shadow puppet designer Clea Minaker makes her COC debut.
Among the variety of film, video and photographic projections designed by Barker for the COC's Salome are works by CanadIan Edward Burtynsky, who, since the 1996 premiere of the production, has achieved international recognition for his large-format photographs. Burtynsky is responsible for many of the still images that appear in Salome.
COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts seven of Salome's eight performances with COC resident conductor Derek Bate taking the podium on May 22. They lead a 106-piece orchestra through a lush and exotic score that seethes with the emotions, neuroses and unspoken drives of the opera's characters.
In Swedish-American soprano Erika Sunnegårdh, the COC has a Salome who can meet the role's challenging vocal and physical demands. Since her critically acclaimed operatic debut in 2004 in the role of Turandot at Malmö Opera, Sunnegårdh has established herself as not only one of the most versatile and exciting sopranos on the world stage, but also earned a reputation for fearless and emotionally nuanced characterizations, with performances at Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Welsh National Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Oper Frankfurt, Metropolitan Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin, among others. Sunnegårdh makes her COC debut in the title role.
Celebrated Canadian tenor Richard Margison, last with the COC for 2011's Ariadne auf Naxos, makes his role debut as Herod. Hailed for his ringing top notes and spine-tingling power, Margison is one of the most critically acclaimed singers on the international stage today. He performs regularly in many of the world's leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie and Gran Teatre del Liceu. Cast opposite Margison, as Herodias, is one of the world's greatest mezzo-sopranos, Hanna Schwarz. She has sung under the batons of classical music's greatest conductors, including Sir Simon Rattle, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Lorin Maazel, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Christoph von Dohnányi and Leonard Bernstein, and her international career has brought her to San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Royal Opera House Covent Garden. The role of Herodias marks Schwarz's COC debut.
Rounding out the impressive cast is a line-up of familiar and new opera stars.
Sharing the role of Jochanaan are two internationally renowned singers: German baritone Martin Gantner (April 21, 27, and May 1, 4), in his COC debut, and American bass-baritone Alan Held (May 7, 10, 16, 22), whose recent COC performances in Tristan und Isolde and the double-bill of A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi have won him the admiration of Toronto audiences and critics alike.
American tenor Nathaniel Peake, a 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Winner who makes his COC debut in the COC's 2013 spring production of Lucia di Lammermoor, sings Narraboth, the captain of the guard. Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani, praised for her "big, voluptuous sound" and "vigorous stage presence" (The San Francisco Chronicle), makes her COC debut as the Page of Herodias.
British tenor Adrian Thompson, recently with the COC in 2011's Nixon in China, sings the First Jew. Singing the Second, Third and Fourth Jews, respectively, are three graduates of the COC's Ensemble Studio: tenors Michael Colvin, Michael Barrett, and Adam Luther. The Fifth Jew is sung by American bass Jeremy Milner, who makes his COC debut. American baritone Craig Irvin, recently seen in the COC's 2012 production of Gianni Schicchi, sings the First Nazarene. Ensemble Studio tenor Owen McCausland is the Second Nazarene. American bass-baritone Evan Boyer, who can also be seen this spring in the COC's Dialogues des Carmélites, makes his COC debut as the First Soldier. American bass-baritone Sam Handley makes his COC debut as the Second Soldier. COC Ensemble Studio members, bass-baritone Neil Craighead and soprano Claire de Sévigné, sing the roles of a Cappadocian and a Slave, respectively.