Opera Reviews
27 September 2023
Untitled Document

Gun-Brit Barkmin scores a triumph as Salome

by Moore Parker
Strauss, R: Salome
Vienna State Opera
16 September 2017

Željko Lučić’s first State Opera Jochanaan was the impulse behind attending this Barlog/Rose production in its 229th showing - but ultimately his performance proved to be the damp squib in an otherwise exciting evening.

With the intensity and precision of an opening night - not in small measure thanks to the unplanned presence of Simone Young in the pit, who led a taught and immensely-detailed performance - this repertoire performance testified to the quality of Vienna’s potential everyday fare and ensemble. 

Gun-Brit Barkmin returned to the house in the title role - announced as suffering from a cold - but turning in a performance to rank with the finest these sets have seen. Her progress from the cool and collected young princess through spontaneous and frustrated passion to her ultimate perverted triumph was superbly scaled and impacting. Barkmin’s full-toned, malleable soprano, exemplary diction, interpretative focus throughout - in addition to a most compelling dance - earned the German soprano a well-deserved reception. On the basis of this performance she also deserves a higher profile among today’s so-called “stars.”

Željko Lučić may tower in physical stature, but disappointed in his rather aloof reading - murky diction, and lack of the necessary  brilliant harmonics in his timbre to cut through Strauss’ hefty score, despite an essentially generous upper range. Furthermore, the energy radiating from his mostly-crouched posture and stock gestures failed to elevate this character into realms beyond the decadence of Herod’s profane court.

Untypically youthful and sprightly, Iris Vermillion’s Herodias and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Herodes presented interesting foils for each other as well as the cast at large. The former - long-limbed and towering above her spouse - revelled in her physique and its campy-comical assets, while producing hoots of cavernous utterances to contrast with Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s bright tenor. The lady’s intensity and detail culminated in stealing some of Salome’s show during the dance - while Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Herodes is undoubtedly one to endure future decades - wonderfully paced, technically secure, and full of character.

Carlos Osuna’s Narraboth made his mark, as did Thomas Ebenstein’s Erste Jude, to compliment the company’s sterling ensemble.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
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