Salome, BBC Prom 58, Royal Albert Hall, RAH, 30 August 2014


How many people know that London and Berlin are twin cities? I didn’t, but it helps explain why Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle came to the Proms with the Ring last year, and Runnicles and Berlin’s Deutsche Opera with Salome this year. Yet it was more than just the city of Berlin that was common to both — after her superb Brünnhilde last year, Nina Stemme returned this year to give a glorious performance of Salome. From her expression of teenage fascination for The Baptist at the start to an obsessive desire to kiss his lips at the end, this was a performance of that fully brought out the passion and lyricism in Strauss’s music.

So did Donald Runnicles who produced effortless power from his superbly controlled orchestra. In this concert performance the Dance of the Seven Veils was an entirely orchestral interlude, played with a gentle sultriness, and the other orchestral passages carried a wonderful dramatic punch.

As Herodias, Doris Soffel’s stage presence, elegant costume and commanding mezzo gave a hugely dramatic feel to this blue-blooded queen wedded to the son of a camel driver, and Burkhard Ulrich as her husband Herod sang with a suitably sharp edge to his voice showing a passionate obsession that descended into a bundle of nerves and uncertainty as his step-daughter ambushes him with her unexpectedly defiant request. We never see the decapitated head of The Baptist, but Ms Stemme’s voice and the music make everything clear.

In Justin Way’s low-key staging the voice of Jockanaan from the dungeon came from the organist’s space behind the orchestra, where Samuel Youn’s voice showed suitable anger but rather lacked gravitas. Excellent passion however from Thomas Blondelle as Narraboth at the start, and a very strong bass from Marko Mimica as first soldier. At the end, Herod delivers the final line, “Man töte dieses Weib” (Let them kill this woman) from an exit ramp, and before the final bar emerged from the orchestra one or two audience members were unable to restrain their applause. Pity.

The wonderful orchestral performance and superb vocal portrayal by Nina Stemme makes this a highlight of this season’s Proms, and I eagerly look forward to Elektra tomorrow. I shall report again — review now on this link.

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