Simon Rattle conducts “Salome”

  • Richard Strauss
    Salome concert performance (1:54:30)

    Stig Andersen Tenor (Herod), Hanna Schwarz Mezzo-Soprano (Herodias), Emily Magee Soprano (Salome), Iain Paterson Bass Baritone (Jochanaan), Pavol Breslik Tenor (Narraboth), Rinat Shaham Mezzo-Soprano (Page), Burkhard Ulrich Tenor (First Jew), Bernhard Berchtold Tenor (Second Jew), Timothy Robinson Tenor (Third Jew), Marcel Beekman Tenor (Fourth Jew), Richard Wiegold Bass (Fifth Jew), Reinhard Hagen Bass (First Nazarene), Andrè Schuen Bass Baritone (Second Nazarene, Cappadocian), Gábor Bretz Bass (First Soldier), Wilhelm Schwinghammer Bass (Second Soldier)

Easter is almost upon us, and once more the Berliner Philharmoniker take on the role of an opera orchestra at the Salzburg Easter Festival. This time the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle and an exclusive ensemble of singers will explore Richard Strauss's Salome. Before then, the musicians present a concert version preview to audiences in the Philharmonie and in the Digital Concert Hall.

"I'm sorry, I like him otherwise, but with this he will do himself a great deal of harm." - this was the reaction of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who like so many of his contemporaries, could not deal with the dark eroticism of the work. The audience at the premiere, however, thought differently, with their jubilant applause resulting in no less than 36 curtain calls. This hysterical discussion for and against has long overshadowed the wealth of nuance contained in the opera, from the finely balanced orchestration to the multifaceted character of the eponymous heroine.

For the Berlin performance, the American soprano Emily Magee makes her role debut as Salome. She is particularly well-known in the great opera houses of the world, from the Royal Opera House in London to the Bayreuth Festival, as a singer of Wagner and Strauss. In addition to the male leading roles - Stig Andersen as Herod and Iain Paterson as Jochanaan - the singer in the role of Herodias will also be someone to look out for: Hanna Schwarz, one of the most outstanding mezzos to emerge in the last decades whose work with the Berliner Philharmoniker goes back to 1973.

“…a meteor, the power and brilliancy of which commands the attention of everyone…”

Richard Strauss’s Salome

“I must convey to you the thrilling impression your work made on me when I read through it recently”, wrote Gustav Mahler on 11 October 1905 to Richard Strauss. “It is your highest achievement so far! Nothing you have done before can compare with it....Every note is in the right place. It’s what I’ve always known: you are a born dramatist!...You have my word that I will leave no stone unturned and never slacken in championing this incomparable, thoroughly original masterpiece.” Mahler’s unusually enthusiastic pronouncement – the Vienna Court Opera director was typically rather reserved in his judgements – had its validation only two months later. At its premiere in the jam-packed Dresden Court Opera on 9 December, Salome was an overwhelming success. The 41-year-old composer from Berlin and the ensemble conducted by Ernst von Schuch were fêted at the end of the performance with 38 curtain calls.

Many contemporaries were plunged by Salome into a sea of conflicting emotions. Gripped by Strauss’s hyper-expressive music, they experienced it as a drama of “salaciousness and horror”, which in its decadence and wild sensuality was disturbing, repellent or even harmful. While Mahler, in the letter already quoted, diplomatically remarked, “I must confess that it is only thanks to your music that I have understood Wilde’s play”, Romain Rolland (“Your work is a meteor, the power and brilliancy of which commands the attention of everyone, even of those who don’t like it.”) made no bones of his aversion to the choice of subject: “Oscar Wilde’s Salomé is unworthy of you”, he wrote to Strauss following the Paris premiere.

Wilde’s version of the tragedy exudes the decadent perfume of the fin de siècle. Inspired by the literary treatments of Salome by Flaubert, Mallarmé and Huysmans as well as the paintings of Gustave Moreau, he wrote the one-act play in French during a 1891 visit to Paris, concentrating the action on the highly charged relationship between Salome and John the Baptist, which reaches its mighty climax in the beautiful princess’s perverse love-play with the prophet’s severed head. In doing so, Wilde made the motive of erotic desire into the driving force of the entire action. Rehearsals for the play’s 1892 premiere in London were halted by the Lord Chamberlain on religious and moral grounds; it finally received its first public performance in Paris four years later. The first German translation, by Hedwig Lachmann, appeared in June 1900, a few months before the notorious Irish author’s death.

It was Anton Lindner, the Viennese lyric poet and publisher of Lachmann’s translation, who brought the text to Strauss’s attention, but before setting it to music, the composer needed to be convinced with his own eyes of the play’s effectiveness on stage. In November 1902, he attended a preview of Salome at Max Reinhardt’s “Little Theatre” in Berlin, and this experience probably influenced his new approach in adapting Wilde’s tragedy – the creation of the first German-language literary opera.

Rather than continue the collaboration with Lindner, who had already begun developing a traditional opera libretto, he decided to rework the literary text himself. Although he altered the wording of the German translation in only a few places, Strauss cut nearly half of the drama, thereby eliminating – along with illustrative passages and some secondary characters – all dialogue recounting the background of the action and placing the story in its historical context. The effect of these interventions is a tautening of the plot that emphasizes the tragedy’s timeless aspects and concentrates the spectator’s attention on the development of the main characters.

This breathless unfolding of the action, one of Salome’s most compelling features, is thus already evident in the libretto, “a dramatic crescendo from beginning to end. And the music has the same qualities. It is not only always alive and brimming over, it moves towards an end, it flows towards the climax like a river to the sea” (Rolland to Strauss, 5 November 1905). The form of a modern one-act play makes an ideal basis for this uninterrupted unfolding of tension, and the specific spatial and temporal shaping of the musical drama further intensifies the effect. The entire plot takes place at a single site – a great terrace in Herod’s palace – during a banquet in which the portrayal of events on stage more or less corresponds to real time.

The work’s extraordinary dramatic power is palpable at once in the famous highly charged opening. Eschewing an overture or prelude, Strauss plunges into the midst of the action. A shimmering clarinet scale immediately transports us to that moonlit night during which the tragedy will run its course. In the following bars, gliding through shifting chords, the music visits varied realms of sound and expression, disorienting the listener with chromatic harmony as the most remotely related keys are pressed together in the tightest proximity.

The novel strains heard right from the first bars of the music drama are the product of Strauss’s virtuosic handling of the orchestra, beginning with its size: more than 100 musicians. Woodwind and brass are at least quadrupled, with the oboe family augmented by a part for the recently invented heckelphone (now usually played on a baritone or bass oboe) and the clarinet group increased to six players. To balance this massive wind apparatus, the score calls for at least 60 string players. In addition there is an extensive percussion section as well as two harps, a celesta and offstage harmonium and organ.

Strauss developed the unmistakable orchestral sound of Salome in intimate connection with the stage action. Among the dramatically motivated innovations are numerous new instrumental combinations and the employment of unorthodox playing techniques. One impressive example can be found in the bars leading up to the violent dispatching of Jokanaan: above a foreboding tremolo on low double basses and a muffled bass drumroll, a gruesome noise of incredible power is emitted at irregular intervals. A glance at the pit or the score reveals that this “peculiar high sound” is being produced by a solo double bass.

In short, the orchestra plays a central role in the unfolding of the dramatic events. This becomes particularly clear in the extended interludes framing the great duet between Salome and the prophet as well as in the “Dance of the Seven Veils”. In these instrumental passages, we encounter a further heightening of the complex manipulation of leitmotifs which are associated with characters, emotional states and situations and which comment on the plot.

Tobias Bleek

Translation: Richard Evidon


Stig Andersen, born in Copenhagen, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus and at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in his hometown. He is a member of the Royal Danish Opera where he sang many lyric and spinto roles before becoming an internationally much in demand Heldentenor. The tenor has performed Wagner roles such as Lohengrin, Erik, Tannhäuser, Siegmund, Siegfried, Stolzing, Parsifal und Tristan, as well as Florestan, Otello, Hermann (The Queen of Spades), Herodes (Salome), Albrecht (Mathis der Maler) and Peter Grimes at leading opera houses all over the world, including Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Zurich, London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Buenos Aires, working with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Neeme Järvi, Marek Janowski, Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Franz Welser-Möst. In the concert hall, Stig Andersen’s repertoire includes works by Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Szymanowski and Schönberg. A ‘Kammersänger’ of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, he has also worked as a director since 2006, and will be making his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in this series of concerts.

Marcel Beekman, born in the Netherlands, is much in demand as an interpreter of opera and concert works ranging from the Baroque to the present day; his repertoire includes compositions by Claudio Monteverdi as well as stage works by Isidora Zebeljan and Peter-Jan Wagemans. The tenor’s performance at the world premiere of Calliope Tsoupaki’s St. Luke Passion was one of the highlights of the 2008 Holland Festival. Marcel Beekman has performed at, among others, De Nederlandse Opera, Theater an der Wien, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, the ASKO|Schönberg Ensemble and Les Arts Florissants; he has worked together with conductors such as William Christie, Reinbert de Leeuw, Iván Fischer and Yakov Kreizberg. His solo festival appearances include those at the Nederlandse Muziekdagen, the Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht, the Festival de la Chaise-Dieu, the Festival d’Art Sacré in Paris, the Bregenz Festival, the Fadjr Music Festival in Teheran and the Saito Kinen Festival in Japan. With these concerts, Marcel Beekman makes his debut with the Philharmoniker.

Bernhard Berchtold studied at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg with Horiana Branisteanu and Hartmut Höll. A winner of many international competitions, one of his first engagements was at the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, and the local Badisches Staatstheater has been his base since the 2003/2004 season. He has also made guest appearances at La Scala in Milan, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Theater an der Wien. Bernhard Berchtold’s artistic activity has been shaped by Mozart roles in particular, but also by oratorio and lieder, taking him to many European opera houses and concert halls as well as to leading festivals, for example his participation in the Mozart cycle at the Salzburg Festivals of 2006 and 2007. The CD release of three Schubert song cycles was the culmination of his three-year residency at the Ruhr Piano Festival, and he also performed these as part of the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg. Bernhard Berchtold, who as a concert soloist has worked with conductors such as Semyon Bychkov, Marcus Creed, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sebastian Weigle, now makes his Berliner Philharmoniker debut.

Pavol Breslik studied initially at the University for Performing Arts in his hometown of Bratislava. In 2002 he won the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in the Czech Republic and subsequently continued his studies at the CNIPAL opera studio in Marseille. He also attended masterclasses with Yvonne Minton, Mady Mesplé, Mirella Freni and William Matteuzzi. From 2003 to 2006, Pavol Breslik was a member of the ensemble at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin where he sang roles in works by Mozart, Donizetti, Mussorgsky and Janáček, and where he continues to make guest appearances. Now as a freelancer, he can be heard in many of the world’s leading opera houses (Brussels, Paris, London, Munich, New York) not only in his many Mozart roles, but also in operas by Beethoven, Donizetti, Strauss and Tchaikovsky. He also appears at the Festivals in Glyndebourne, Vienna, Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence. As a concert soloist with major European symphony orchestras and specialist ensembles (for example le Concert d’Astrée) , the tenor has worked under the direction of conductors such as Sir Colin Davis, Emmanuelle Haïm, Kurt Masur and Riccardo Muti performing a broad repertoire of works ranging from Handel to Matthus. This will be Pavol Breslik’s first appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Reinhard Hagen studied at the University of Music Karlsruhe. An award winner of many international competitions, his stage career began at the theatre in Dortmund. He was brought to the Deutsche Oper in Berlin by Götz Friedrich in the 1994/1995 season, where he has since performed the great roles of the basso profundo repertoire. Moreover, he has made guest appearances at leading opera houses all over the world (e.g. in Munich, Hamburg, Brussels, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles) and at festivals (Bayreuth, Salzburg, Glyndebourne and Tanglewood) as well as with the world’s major orchestras. He made his Berliner Philharmoniker debut in a series of concerts of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in February 1998 (conductor: James Levine). He subsequently performed with the orchestra on many occasions, most recently in concert performances of the Brecht-Weill ballet The Seven Deadly Sins under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle in June 2007.

Emily Magee studied at Indiana University with Margaret Harshaw and has won a number of competitions. She made her stage debut as Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She attracted international attention with her first performance on a German stage in a new production of Lohengrin at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. As a result, she was invited to take on the role of Eva in the Meistersinger at the Bayreuth Festival in 1997. With a repertoire which, in addition to Mozart and Wagner, includes a wide range of roles in operas by Verdi, Tschaikovsky, Dvořák, Gounod, Puccini, Strauss, Janáček, Korngold, Martinů and Britten, Emily Magee has since performed in many leading opera houses, such as those in Hamburg, Munich, Zurich, Milan, Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet), London (Covent Garden), San Francisco and Tokyo, as well as at the Salzburg Festival. She has worked with major conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, Riccardo Muti, Antonio Pappano, Jeffrey Tate and Zubin Mehta. These concerts will be Emily Magee’s first appearance as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Iain Paterson studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and made his debut as Biterolf in Tannhäuser with Opera North in Leeds. In the course of a career which has taken him to the world’s leading theatres, including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Teatro Real Madrid and the Opéra de Paris, as well as to the Festivals in Glyndebourne, Edinburgh and Bregenz, the bass roles in the operas of Richard Wagner have formed a major element of his operatic repertoire. At the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2007, he sang the role of Fasolt in the production of Wagner’s Rheingold with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle. Just recently he made his New York Metropolitan Opera debut as Gunther (Götterdämmerung) conducted by James Levine. Further recent performances include Don Giovanni at the Chicago Opera Theatre, Amonasro in Aida and Figaro at English National Opera. On the concert platform, he lately made his debut with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Oleg Caetani singing the bass solo in Shostakovitch’s 13th Symphony. He also sang the role of Timur in the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s first English performance of Puccini’s Turandot with the Luciano Berio ending. These concerts will be Iain Paterson’s first Berlin concerts with the Philharmoniker.

Timothy Robinson studied at New College in Oxford and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He has since made a name for himself all over Europe particularly in the fields of concerts and opera with a repertoire that includes early music as well as 20th century works. Timothy Robinson has performed with leading British orchestras and in the country’s major opera houses (including a period as an ensemble member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) under the direction of conductors such as Bernard Haitink, William Christie, Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Colin Davis. His guest appearances include those in the opera houses in Paris and Munich, in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, with the Orchestre de Lyon, the Finnish and Bavarian Radio Orchestras and with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. He made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle, who then invited him to perform with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the end of 2002. He was most recently to be heard with the orchestra at the beginning of June 2007 – also under the direction of Sir Simon – in concert performances of Brecht and Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins.

Andrè Schuen originally comes from Ladin-speaking La Val in South Tyrol. He studied singing at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, and also attended masterclasses with, among others, Kurt Widmer, Sir Thomas Allen, Brigitte Fassbänder and Marjana Lipovšek. The baritone is a member of the Salzburger Konzertgesellschaft, Collegium Musicum Salzburg, the Bachgesellschaft, the Stiftsmusik St. Peter and the Salzburger Dommusik. With a repertoire that ranges from early music to the great oratorios and a variety of opera roles to contemporary works and also art songs, Andrè Schuen has performed at the Salzburg Festival (2006 and 2009), the Salzburg State Theatre (2008 and 2010), as well as in concerts in the entire German-speaking region, in Japan, Mexico and Argentina. As a soloist with leading orchestras (e.g. the Vienna Philharmonic and Camerata Salzburg ) Andrè Schuen has worked together with conductors such as Sir Roger Norrington, Ivor Bolton and Ingo Metzmacher. In the summer of 2010, he took part in the Salzburg Festival’s “Young Singers Project” and has worked at the opera studio of Oper Graz since September 2010. With these concerts, Andrè Schuen will be making his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Hanna Schwarz initially studied psychology before training as a singer at the University of Music in Hanover. Following her debut at the opera house in Hanover as Sigrune in Wagner’s Walküre, she was engaged by Hamburg State Opera. In 1975 she was heard at the Bayreuth Festival for the first time in the role of Fricka, where she later also sang the roles of Erda, Brangäne and Waltraute. In a career which has taken her to leading theatres all over the world, including those in Berlin, Munich, Salzburg, London and New York, Hanna Schwarz has made a name for herself particularly in the roles of Wagner but also in works by Mozart, Berg, Strauss and Bizet. For her portrayal of Klytaemnestra in Strauss’ Elektra, she was named “Singer of the Year” in 1997. The mezzo-soprano is also committed to contemporary music and has performed works by composers such as Maurizio Kagel, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Hans Werner Henze, Alfred Schnittke and Leonard Bernstein. The list of conductors she has worked with includes Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Herbert von Karajan, James Levine and Wolfgang Sawallisch; she is regularly invited to perform with many leading orchestras all over the world. Since making her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1973, she has performed with the orchestra on many occasions.

Wilhelm Schwinghammer studied with Harald Stamm at the University of the Arts in Berlin following his initial training in the choir and music high school of the Regensburger Domspatzen. He subsequently also took masterclasses with Kurt Moll and Marjana Lipovšek. His artistic development was also influenced by his involvement in Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale Gent and in the Sette Voci ensemble, directed by the baritone Peter Kooij. He gained extensive stage experience at Hamburg State Opera where he was initially accepted at its international opera studio in 2003, and he has been a member of the company’s ensemble since the autumn of 2006. With a repertoire that now includes opera roles and concert works by Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Wagner, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Britten, the bass has made many guest appearances, including those at the Salzburg Festival and the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg. In 2009, Wilhelm Schwinghammer was awarded Second Prize and the Audience Prize at the ARD International Music Competition. These concerts mark his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Rinat Shaham, born in Haifa in Israel, graduated in singing from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. An award winner of many singing competitions, a close artistic collaboration forms a strong bond between her and Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. While still a student she made her operatic debut as Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. This was followed by engagements in a variety of US American theatres. On the international stage, her interpretation of Carmen at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2004 was particularly well received by both the public and critics alike. Rinat Shaham has already worked together with conductors such as André Previn, Christoph Eschenbach, Leonard Slatkin and William Christie. She has celebrated particular successes with her interpretations of Carmen, Rosina (Barber of Seville), Dorabella in Così fan tutte and as Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites which she has performed on the stages of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, the Teatro la Fenice in Venice, the Palau de Reina Sofía in Valencia and the New York City Opera. Equally highly-regarded on the concert platform, the mezzo-soprano has performed together with many orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Israel Philharmonic and Les Arts Florissants. Rinat Shahan made her Berliner Philharmoniker debut in June 2005 with Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Haydn’s Harmoniemesse, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.


Burkhard Ulrich was born in Aachen. He studied piano, organ, singing and music education at Cologne University of Music and the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. An award winner in many competitions, and following engagements in Koblenz and Kiel, he has been an ensemble member of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin since 2001. His repertoire includes Mime (Rheingold and Siegfried), Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro) and Monostatos (Die Zauberflöte), Schuysky (Boris Godunov), Valzacchi (Der Rosenkavalier) and Goro (Madama Butterfly). The tenor has worked with conductors such as Christian Thielemann, Lothar Zagrosek, Riccardo Muti and Marc Minkowski. His guest appearances have taken him to the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Oper Leipzig, the Opéra National de Paris, the Theater Basel, to the Salzburg and Bregenz Festivals, the Ruhrtriennale, the Festival d’Art Lyrique in Aix-en-Provence and to the Arts Center in Seoul. Since 2005, he has made many guest appearances with the Berliner Philharmoniker, most recently in September 2010 in concert performances of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

Richard Wiegold studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester between 1999 and 2003. Since graduating, he has studied with Anthony Roden. In addition to the classic bass roles, his repertoire includes roles in modern and contemporary operas; he has appeared at Canadian Opera as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, as Sarastro in The Magic Flute at Cork Opera House and as Pistola in Falstaff at the Lyrique-en-Mer-Festival in France, as well as in the roles of badger and priest in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Wiener Kammeroper, as the Green Knight in Lynne Plowman’s Gwyneth and the Green Knight at the Music Theatre Wales and in the role of Elder Ott in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah at the Teatro Arriaga de Bilbao. In June 2009, the bass made his debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in the role of Dr. Grenvil (La Traviata); this performance was broadcast all over Europe. On the concert stage, Richard Wiegold is a regular guest at festivals in China, Ireland, France and Great Britain. Together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he sang in a concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio in 2009, and in August 2010 he also sang in concert performance of Strauss’ Salome at the Verbier Festival, conducted by Valery Gergiev. This will be Richard Wiegold’s first performance together with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Oliver Zwarg studied history and music education in Bremen; in 1996 he continued his studies at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart with Julia Hamari and Carl Davis; he now regularly works with Rudolf Piernay. Engagements at the Hamburg State Opera (1999) and Staatsoper Hannover (2001) followed his stage debut in 1997 as Nanni in Haydn’s L’infedeltà delusa at the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele. Also at that time, guest appearances took him to theatres such as the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Komische Oper in Berlin, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and to the Nationaltheater in Mannheim. With a repertoire that extends beyond Classical and Romantic works to include pieces by Debussy, Strauss, Schreker, Berg and Kagel, Oliver Zwarg has worked freelance as an opera and concert singer as well as in education since the summer of 2006. He has performed in stage productions in leading theatres in Stuttgart, Berlin (Staatsoper), Hamburg, Wiesbaden, Strasbourg and Toulouse. Other appearances include at the Wiener Festwochen, the Edinburgh Festival and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. This will be the first time he has performed with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

EMISir Simon Rattle appears by kind permission of EMI Classics.

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