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Subject: All hail for HERODIADE at Washington Concert Opera (11-20-16)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:15:21 -0500

text/plain (85 lines)


Washington Concert Opera continued its amazing 30th Anniversary season with Massenet's HERODIADE, which I doubt has ever been performed here in DC before, which would mean it took 135 years to get to our nation's capitol!  At any rate the stellar cast was a reason for anyone to present this super work:

Michael Fabiano-John the Baptist

Joyce El-Khoury-Salome

Dana Beth Miller-Herodiade

Ricardo Rivera-Herod

Wei Wu-Phanuel

Aleksey Bogdanov-Vitellius

Shannon Jennings-Un jeune babyloneinne

James Shaffran-Un grand pretre

Frederic Rey-Une voix

Conductor-Antony Walker

I had heard this work only once prior at OONY (also in concert) over 2 decades ago with another stellar cast, but the memory was so far, it was like reliving the experience for the first time. Massenet uses instruments in his large lush orchestra so perfectly to set the mood from the harp and cello in the overture then going to an almost Star Wars-like royal march ultimately hinting at the Manon to come. A huge chord of discord abruptly breaks the setting and Mr. Wu enters after a choral introduction breaking up the crowd's bickering with his huge bass voice that would indeed break up any crowd and gain attention.

I had sadly only heard Joyce El-Khoury sing once prior in the Manon duet with Mr. Fabiano at the 2014 Tucker Gala, and I was so sorry not to have followed her more often. She enters to sing one of the more famous excerpted arias, "Il est doux, il est bon..." in what was her Washington debut with such lushness and gorgeous floating notes with a final "prophete" that filled the house. Who could not be won over right away?

We had another DC debut in Mr. Rivera, whom I had previously heard and noticed in two small roles at OONY, but he has clearly entered the big times and his voice has grown as well to handle this difficult role. His "Salome" intonation is indeed so haunting and one of my favorite phrases in the opera.

Ms. Miller was a last minute replacement just over a week prior and came in with an evil facial snare at Jean in her hateful introduction; she was owning this part totally. "Herode, ne me refuse pas" was sung with force and deep colored pleas of mezzo-dom, every low note radiating to surround us. Her final calls of "Herode" rose chillingly before her plea went soft.

The scenes finale has Jean begging to be killed on the spot and Mr. Fabiano only gave us a taste of what was to come later with his ringing "Jezebel" filling the house in the final trio. It was agitated, exciting and tense all at once with huge bolts of electricity between the three leading to a quick climax.

The next scene for Salome & Jean is almost a love duet, but "Ce que je veux, o Jean!" also has Jean advising this Salome, a young innocent (not your Strauss/Wilde Salome!), to "love him as one loves in a dream" and banish profane love. Mr. Fabiano's "Regarde cette aurore!" filled the house with his warm tenor on what was easily the coldest night in DC this fall! Their insieme singing that ended the act was so in unison and together, you could not believe it was not a love duet.

Act II brought Ms.Jennings debut with "Maitre, bois dans cette amphore..." a nice little ariette that leads to the baritone aria, "Vision fugitive..." and I, as a long retired sax player, have a special affinity for the instrument when it appears in operas. Mr. Rivera's intensity on "Je donnerais mon ame," had me thinking he was going to tear out his heard and die right there; the intensity was amazing.

This is followed by an intense scena between Phanuel and Herode where the former rebukes the king prior to the entrance of the Roman consul. There is grandeur and discord in the music as the crowd first declares praise to Herode along with cheers of freedom and the downfall of the Romans. Historically, of course, Herod was a Roman puppet and lived his life in their grand and almost hedonistic style. It is odd to see that the crowd hails him here. Mr. Bogdanov does not get a lot to sing, but his beautiful baritone was just right for this royal declaration. The finale starts with the chorale "Hosannah!" while Herode leers at Salome and his wife sneering at Jean as he declares amidst the chorale background, "La justice vient de ciel" full well knowing that he may die, but Herodiade's day will come as well.

While the role of Phanuel already had some plum parts, his "Dors, o cite perverse!...Astres etincelants..." that commences Act III is a tour de force scena and a great basso showpiece that sadly doesn't work as an audition piece or concert piece out of the opera; I am sad, because Mr. Wu knocked the audience over with his rendition. This leads into a duet with Herodiade where she implores him to tell her what is in the stars. Her "je veux tout connaitre" (I want to know all) offered Ms. Miller some awesome belting opportunities as she yearned to seek out her lost daughter (in this version, Salome has been lost by her mother and neither knows the other's identity). The end of the scene has Phanuel telling her that Salome is her daughter, but she refuses to accept that her daughter is also her rival for Herode's affection as Phaneul curses her "Va! tu n'es qu'une femme...une mere jamais!"

Salome sing of the magic of the days when she knew her mother, "Charmes des jours passes..." in an urgent plea for pity but in the end declares that she wishes to die with Jean, "laissez-moi mourir!"

Herode  offers to save Salome if she will give in to his advances in a really misogynistic aria, "Salome! Demande au prisonnier..." that echoes those gorgeous calls of "Salome" from Act I in an almost trance-like refrain., but she repels him in a climactic duet that follows.

A short musical interlude was so worthy of great musical interludes that we have so many of such as Manon Lescaut, Cav/Pag, and more that I thought a concert piece of these Herodiade interludes would really make a great symphonic work! A tenor voice intones "Sh'mah Yisrael" (Hear O Israel) as the male chorus sings offstage and great credit goes to Mr. Bruce Stasnya, the chorus master for this chorus, as always, was simply beautiful throughout the long work which contains so many choral selections. And their Hebrew came of f very well indeed! Mr. Shaffran's priest calls the people to prayer and I have to add that this wonderful local talent often gets some of the smallest parts, but always shines in them!

Salome sings to Jean amidst the choral and quintet background, "C'est Dieu que l'on te nomme" implying that he is God. Ms. El-Khory's floated highs showed she was firm in her belief in Jean as the sections builds and then drops to an eerie silence. Herode condemns her as she seems to sing higher and higher declaring her faith. Herode realizes he cannot have Salome's love and finally condemns her & Jean to die.

Act IV has yet another gorgeous musical prelude followed by Jean's aria of destitution, "Adieu donc, vains objets..." which was imbued with such great feeling as if he were going to his death with pleasure. The monstrous swell of "M'envelopper d'eternite!" garned him frenzied applause from the audience that seemed to go on indeed for an eternity.

The ensuing duet for him and Ms. El-Khoury is indeed now a love duet where he admits his love for Salome, which of course would never have happened from a truly religious man devoted to his faith alone (haha--even many of today's self-proclaimed evangelists have fallen prey to this!). Salome want to die with jean and the music repeatedly swells and climaxes before Jean is led off to die.

Salome continues to plead for him, "Qu'il vive!" as her mother cries, "elle a maudit sa mere" almost spitting it back as a curse herself as Ms. Miller's voice towered above the quartet and chorus in a rollercoaster of notes I didn't think could exist on one page!

As the crowd declares that Jean is dead, Salome turns to Herodiade to kill her as it was indeed her wish that caused this to pass. Herodiade begs for mercy and asserts that she is her mother, "Grace, je suis ta mere!"  Salome then turns the knife on herself, "Reprends ton sang et ma vie!" in magnificent lows as she kills herself and the opera ends.

It's just too rare that we get the chance to hear all this magnificent music and I am sorry I could not see the one production decades ago in San Francisco that this opera has seen in recent years in the USA; hopefully it is up for a revival, as this is surely the perfect cast. What a spectacular night at the opera!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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