Strauss’ Salome

BICS 2015/16 – Strauss’ Salome

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 and Opera highlights

Friday 2nd October 2015

Symphony Hall

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kirill Karabits conductor
Joe Austin Director

Lise Lindstrom Salome
James Rutherford Jochanaan
Kim Begley Herodes
Birgit Remmert Herodias
Andrew Staples Narraboth
David Soar 1st Nazarene
Oliver Johnston 2nd Nazarene
Anna Burford Herodias’ Page
Andrew Greenan First Soldier
Alan Ewing Second Soldier
Hubert Francis First Jew
Paul Curievici Second Jew and Slave
James Edwards Third Jew
Alun Rhys-Jenkins Fourth Jew
Andri Bjorn Robertsson Fifth Jew & Cappadocier

Strauss Salome Op 54 109’


From shimmering, silken opening to shockingly decadent denouement, Richard Strauss’s Salome is quite simply one of the most overwhelming experiences in all opera. And in Symphony Hall you’ll hear every last shiver and sigh of Strauss’s extraordinary score, as Kirill Karabits brings the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and an all-star cast to Birmingham for one unforgettable night.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Kirill Karabits.

Choir and stalls front four rows not available.

Please note there is no interval in this concert.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Lindstrom seemed to pull the drama in around her in every scene in which she appeared. She stalked the platform, her movements calculated and taut, her eyes wary: Salome as wounded predator. Her tone wasn’t especially lush. What her voice had in abundance was focus and a sort of concentrated sensuality, just as potent and expressive whether hurling soaring arcs of sound at the back of the hall, or whispering a lethal threat. In the space of the one phrase “Gib mir den Kopf des Jokanaan” (“Give me the head of John the Baptist”, it modulated from luminous sweetness to a curdled snarl; and then again, and again – changing from sinister to savage as the Princess repeated her demand.

Around a figure as compelling as Lindstrom, the limitations of the concert format hardly seemed to matter. Joe Austin directed, making effective use of basic coloured lighting and a few telling details of characterisation – James Rutherford’s hellfire-preacher hand gestures and blustering delivery as Jokanaan, Kim Begley’s self-satisfied manspreading as Herod – to lift this performance away from stand-and-deliver. Begley was very nearly as watchable as Lindstrom (the two pictured below). His wiry tenor fits Strauss’s brutal writing as comfortably as anyone’s ever could. He strutted complacently about the stage, eyes glinting with lust: a gloriously sleazy Tetrarch and – for once – a plausible match for Herodias. Birgit Remmert sang with such lustre in that role that at times she almost made her character seem likeable – then banished any thoughts of sympathy with the hissing malice of her low notes, as Salome pressed home her appalling final demand.

Begley and Lindstrom in Bournemouth SalomeThe BSO played as if they were loving every single note – as well they might. Initially, there were balance problems (Staples and Burford were almost inaudible at times), and a tendency for the richer textures to become congested – both familiar issues when guest orchestras overcompensate for the Symphony Hall acoustic.

Karabits quickly got that under control, and then let his team play out: a firm, satin-finished string section (the decision to split the violins revealed some usually unheard details), exuberantly characterful woodwinds and a tuba player who deserved a solo bow in his own right.”     …


Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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…     “It was great to hear the score without the confines of a pit, Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth forces making every felicity ring out, clean of texture and wide of dynamic range. Tempos felt unerringly right and appropriate to dramatic context.

The cast was vocally and theatrically strong. Salome was sung by Lise Lindstrom. Her voice is ample but not over-heavy, lending credibility to the girlish aspects of the character. It also has a silvery quality, but she can turn on a metallic edge which enhanced the projection of Salome’s petulant and implacable utterances. Only in the lower ranges was an occasional lack of punch evident, particularly at “Ich achte nicht auf die Stimme meiner Mutter…”, which felt unduly forced. Her colouring of the text was otherwise exemplary – and the surtitles really helped here. Her performance culminated in as intense a ‘final scene’ as could be heard today; she brought Salome’s misguided innocence to the fore, eliciting some sympathy for the character.

James Rutherford was an imposing and charismatic Jokanaan, sounding as well off-stage as on. His aloofness from the action was powerful. Kim Begley proved that having a more-heroic voice for Herod is vastly preferable to that of a whining character-tenor; his was an excellent performance with lots of textual nuance and vivid characterisation of this vacillating, unhappy and vain man somewhat out of his depth politically. Birgit Remmert delivered the vocally ungrateful role of Herodias with authority, her manipulative side to the fore.

In the smaller roles there was some superb singing notably from Anna Burford’s rich-voiced page, Andrew Staples’s romantic Narraboth and from David Soar’s charismatic First Nazarene. This was a rewarding evening.”


Reviews for performance in Poole

Review by Ian Lace, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb Click here for full review

Review by John Allison, TelegraphClick here for full review

Review by Andrew Clements, GuardianClick here for full review


Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sunday 17th May, 3.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra



  • Wagner  Parsifal, 306′

“In this realm, time becomes space”. Wagner’s Parsifal tells of the knights of the Holy Grail: a story of truth, suffering and redemption, set to music so beautiful that it pierces straight to your very soul. Andris Nelsons has been hailed around the world as one of the finest Wagner conductors of our time: this concert performance of Wagner’s final opera should be transcendent.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 and 3 are 118’, 63’ and 75’ respectively.
There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1, and a 30-minute interval after Act 2.

Storify audience reaction to Parsifal here


Review by David Karlin, BachTrack:

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…     “Individual vocal phrases were also brought through with the full richness of their character. When Burkhard Fritz’s Parsifal cries out the he feels Amfortas’s wound, we feel the stab of heart-wrenching pain. When Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry tells us that she is forever cursed because she laughed at Christ, her scream of “ich lächte” rips through the hall. At the end of Act II, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him, his near-whisper drips with derision.

Acts I and III are the domain of the elderly knight Gurnemanz, and Georg Zeppenfeld gave a performance of exceptional lyricism, bringing out the fundamental kindness and nobility of the man with a timbre that is smooth and powerful all the way down to its lowest notes, and phrasing that continually added splashes of sympathetic colour.     […]

[…]     Fujimura’s powerful mezzo achieved just as much smoothness and control as Zeppenfeld, spanning the far greater emotional range demanded by her role. Fritz excels at the heldentenor technique for long notes, in which a single note develops in colour and dynamics as it progresses. His attractive voice transmits great feeling for this music.

The supporting cast were uniformly impressive. Wolfgang Bankl sang Klingsor with much power and venom, employing a lot of parlando in a way that provided a total contrast to Zeppenfeld’s lyricism. James Rutherford gave us particularly well-rounded phrasing as Amfortas, while Paul Whelan’s Titurel, sung from high above the orchestra near the organ, was especially powerful. Amongst a fine set of flower maidens, Erica Eloff was especially notable with a voice that soared high above the orchestra.

But the performance’s high point came from Nelsons and the orchestra. The music in Act I for Parsifal and Gurnemanz’s ascent to the Grail castle was delivered with an immense degree of measured power. It’s music of incredible rapture whose effect was even palpable on the performers: Fritz could be seen blinking back the tears in his seat.”     …


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “There is urgency, spaciousness and radiance in Nelsons’ approach, and a total understanding of how the climaxes of both of the outer acts build like series of overlapping waves of ever increasing amplitude. The CBSO played out of their skins for him, as if all too aware of what they will lose when he steps down in two months’ time. The Transformation Music in both acts had spine-tingling power and grandeur, the Good Friday Music sustained lyrical beauty, and the choral set pieces, with the CBSO Chorus making full use of Symphony Hall’s spatial effects, had fabulous clarity and precision. Perhaps the numbed prelude to the third act was less bereft, less intensely tragic than some great conductors make it, but in Nelsons’ hands it was still intense and mysterious.

Despite its swan shooting, magic garden and hovering spear, not to mention time becoming space, Parsifal loses less in a concert performance than most operas, and this was not simply a sumptuous orchestral and choral treat. The soloists were outstanding, every one an experienced, totally assured Wagner singer, and the drama was fiercely etched. Burkhard Fritz was Parsifal; he was a little stolid in the first act, perhaps, but gained steadily in presence until his assumption of authority in the final scene became utterly authentic. Georg Zeppenfeld was the Gurnemanz, noble, never histrionic and making every word of his first-act narration crystal clear. James Rutherford was Amfortas, stoically resilient in his great lament. And while there was nothing remotely vampish about Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry in the second act, her control, even beauty of tone, and musical poise proved startlingly effective alongside Wolfgang Bankl’s fiercely stentorian Klingsor.”     …



Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“This fleet, magical performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in the warm generous acoustic of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall was one with the highest musical values allowing those present to revel in glorious playing and singing without the distractions of a director’s ‘know it all’ interpretation. From the start of the Prelude the CBSO produced playing with sheen and bite, with warm string sound, punchy brass and some superlative playing from the woodwind soloists. Using the spatial possibilities of the Hall to maximum advantage the off-stage chorus was above and behind the bulk of the audience, and the off-stage brass behind the stage. The tricky integration of the Bells of the Grail Temple was superbly realised. The atmosphere when the composer’s intentions were properly considered and realised was about as perfect as one could imagine.

Andris Nelsons’s Wagner was alert and energetic, yet the sense of architecture and purpose felt unerringly correct. It was also very dramatic and intelligent. The Prelude was an instance, where the initial appearance of the chorale associated with the rituals of the Grail Knights had an indefinable coolness to it, perfectly delineating their spiritually uncertain state. Only in the final pages of the entire score did these themes finally get the full glow as Parsifal takes control and harmony is restored. Likewise Klingsor’s restless motifs were very obvious in the first Act where he does not even appear. In the middle Act there was sensuality with a touch of detachment – again perfectly appropriate.”     …


Review by Peter Quantrill, ArtsDesk:

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…     Fujimura, too, had the unique ability to fill the hall without great apparent effort: there is a rounded, vatic quality to her dramatic mezzo which suggests that it is coming to the listener at the end of a long tunnel. As Gurnemanz, Georg Zeppenfeld most nearly approached her authority, with a scrupulous use of the text to lift his lengthy narratives, and a gently resonant, bell-like bass that fell easily on the ear. Rutherford’s Amfortas also sounded well in the hall, and comfortable, too much so to leave more than a neutral impression of compromised kingship.

The effort to do more than sing must be considerable under the antiseptic conditions of a well-lit concert hall, but Fujimura made it, seemingly with the prop of her Bayreuth experience foremost in mind, since the Kundry of this first act was no wild woman but a stern governess fully in charge of James Rutherford’s Amfortas while simultaneously in thrall to forces of arrogance and shame she is only beginning to understand, knowing rather than wounded in her retort to the impertinent squires (sung by Alexander Sprague and Edward Harrisson), “Are the beasts here not holy too?” Chemistry with her saviour and master in Act Two was never confined by her imagination but by the limited responses of Fritz, and the stolidly sung, gruffly presented Klingsor of Wolfgang Bankl.

Without yet having led a performance from the pit – that time will surely come, and soon – Andris Nelsons has a clear vision for the piece, at least in the first two acts, and after eight years as Music Director, he has the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra right at the end of his baton: the orchestral response was remarkably prompt, and in a neat accelerando back-out of Act One’s communion scene to the knights’ dispersal, he conducted with progressively smaller beat to bring everyone together with him. He is well prepared to pull around the tempo rather than plod through recitative,”     …


Review by Anna Picard, Spectator:

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…     “The pristine acoustic of Symphony Hall was intrinsic to the numinous sonority of on and off-stage voices and instruments in Acts I and III and the raw tumult and refined sensuality of Act II. From the purity of ‘Durch Mitleid wissend, der reiner Tor’ to the steady glow of redemption at the close, Nelsons and his players and singers balanced expressive urgency and expansive musical architecture. Words and music combined to extraordinary intensity, with the simplest phrases among the most powerful — Amfortas’ ‘Wehe! Wehe!’, Kundry’s ‘Dienen, dienen’. This was an outstanding cast, from Burkhard Fritz’s tireless Parsifal to Mihoko Fujimura’s tormented Kundry, James Rutherford’s gleaming Amfortas, Wolfgang Bankl’s snarling Klingsor, Paul Whelan’s sepulchral Titurel, Georg Zeppenfeld’s humane, understated Gurnemanz and the beautifully supple sextet of Flowermaidens. The silence at the end, held in the splayed fingers of Nelsons’ outstretched hand, was electric.”


Review by Geoff Brown, The Times (££):

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…     “And the CBSO Chorus, as always, sang with perfect togetherness and hearts of oak.

On the podium Nelsons continually leapt from his seat to press the score’s surges of ecstasy or the sublime. Yet every phase and detail seemed part of an organic whole, driven along by a conductor and splendiferous orchestra in perfect sync, at least for a few more weeks.”

The Flying Dutchman

Saturday 16 March 2013 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Jennifer Wilson  Senta

Jane Henschel  Mary

Arnold Bezuyen  Erik

Nicky Spence  Steersman

James Rutherford  Dutchman

Alastair Miles  Daland

CBSO Chorus 

Wagner: The Flying Dutchman 135′

In the teeth of the storm, a sea captain shakes his fist at the devil – and is cursed to roam the seas until doomsday. Only love can save him, but in a small Norwegian village, a young girl has started to dream of a pale stranger… The Flying Dutchman was Wagner’s breakthrough hit, and with its infectiously hummable tunes, it’s the ideal Wagner opera for first-timers. But with Andris Nelsons giving his all to the composer he loves more than any other, in his 200th anniversary year this spectacular concert performance should be unmissable for the aficionados, too.

There will be one interval of 20 minutes between acts one and two.

Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

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…     “Another key part in the opera’s more dramatic moments was the excellent CBSO Chorus. Their close support of the soloists’ material was frequently apparent. They remained seated when echoing the Dutchman during his first appearance, creating a wonderfully ethereal pianissimo, and the ladies’ expression of hope that the Dutchman find his woman was quietly angelic. Acts II and III both open with rousing choruses; the second begins with the ladies’ “Spinning Chorus”, which was given light and crisp treatment, somehow evoking the spinning wheels very effectively. The third act opens with another light-hearted single-gender chorus, this time the sailors’ drinking song, which was vigorous and full of testosterone, setting audience feet tapping and knees bouncing. The subsequent call for the Dutch to awake and join their celebrations carried tremendous power.       […]

[…]     Andris Nelsons directed a very polished performance from the CBSO, with particularly good playing from the horns and timpani. The offstage horns, placed antiphonally, high in the hall, worked well with the opening male chorus, and the orchestral accompaniment was unobtrusive but solid all evening. Their warm, reconciliatory tone in the final pages was followed by a beautiful moment’s silence before a prolonged ovation for an excellent performance.”



Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…    ” Alastair Miles was a very fine Daland, his bass voice flexible and resonant, making credible the old seafarer’s mix of compassion and more manipulative qualities. Arnold Bezuyen‘s Erik may have been spurned, but he need not shout. Nicky Spence‘s Steersman was vocally impressive, if too obvious in his acting. But it was Nelsons’ closing orchestral sequence, symbolising the redemptive quality of love, with its gloriously voiced last chord, that etched itself deep in the memory.”



Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

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...     “In a red-letter week, Nelsons and the CBSO also gave a concert performance of The Flying Dutchman with a top cast and sensational playing. Nelsons has frequently confessed his cradle devotion to Wagner the music that first inspired him as a child – memorably demonstrated in Birmingham performances of Lohengrin and Tristan. Given the current flock of aerial Dutchmen – with new stagings last month in Belfast, next in Scotland – this is not the place to dwell on the story. The artistry of singers and players is what counts. The six-strong cast was dominated by James Rutherford in the title role, anguished yet almost aloof and noble in his agony as the seafarer who can never find rest.”     …



Review by Geoff Brown, The Times £££

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The Dream of Gerontius

Thursday 12 April 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
Robert Murray  tenor
James Rutherford  baritone
CBSO Chorus  

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius 95′ 

“This is the best of me,” declared Edward Elgar on the score of The Dream of Gerontius – and this heart-rending vision of a lonely soul’s journey towards eternity might just be the greatest piece of British music ever written. Since its premiere in Birmingham 112 years ago, it’s become one of the CBSO’s signature works. Tonight Andris Nelsons takes his place in that great tradition, with a world-class team of soloists and an orchestra and chorus who have this music in their blood. Unmissable.

Unfortunately, Andris Nelsons has had to withdraw from this concert due to the illness of his daughter. We are very grateful to CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner, who has agreed to conduct this performance.

Tenor Toby Spence has also been forced to withdraw from this concert due to illness, and we are grateful to Robert Murray who replaces him.

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

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…     “A different, often more intimate approach is called for in Part II and Murray was equally successful here. He brought a pleasing lightness of tone and sense of repose to ‘How still it is’ and the extended dialogue with The Angel was done with fine sensitivity. Much later in Gerontius’ journey towards Judgement ‘I go before my judge’ – rightly singled out as a key moment by Stephen Johnson in his perceptive programme note – was an awestruck moment, superbly realised by Murray and Gardner. Murray was excellent in his last solo, ‘Take me away’. The opening phrase, taken thrillingly in one breath despite the broad tempo, was a great cry – as it should be – yet very well controlled. Murray gave a splendid, eloquent reading of what is surely an aria in all but name, crowning an impressive portrayal. ”     […]

[…]     “Even without the need for the conductor to keep his arms raised there was a long silence (43 seconds, and it seemed longer) after the last chord had died away. No one dared break the spell. That was just as it should have been and, in many ways, the silence spoke even more eloquently of the audience’s appreciation than did the prolonged ovation that followed. Elgar’s choral masterpiece had been well and eloquently served.

The concert was broadcast live by BBC Radio 3. It’s available for listening here for the next week. I shall certainly be listening again.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…      “Within these lavish paragraphs he was able to summon so much detail, whether from the perennially remarkable CBSO Chorus (and how fresh and youthful they sounded where necessary!) or from the responsive and supple orchestra itself.

There were two incidents I’d never noticed before in five decades of loving the work, but Gardner’s acuity brought them out: the suspenseful timpani roll over a prolonged organ pedal at the end of “Praise to the Holiest”, and the shriek from piccolos and other woodwind as the Soul of Gerontius glimpses the searing perfection of God for the minutest instant before gladly consigning himself to Purgatory.”     …

Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSouce:

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…      “The CBSO Chorus sang with relish in a piece that it has most likely tackled more often than other comparable choir, not least in the evanescent build-up to a spine-tingling ‘Praise to the Holiest’ – its contrapuntal dexterity admirably rendered despite a momentary falling-off in tension prior to the final refrain. The CBSO, too, was on fine form while taking Gardner’s predilection for incisive tempos firmly in its collective stride. Suffice to add that no-one rehearing the work, as well as those encountering it for the first time, could have failed to be impressed with the breadth, audacity and conviction of Elgar’s creative vision.”

Review by Andrew H. King, Bachtrack:

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…     “Murray’s Gerontius was at once feeble and passionate, unravelling Newman’s story of the ailing man facing death with excellent diction. Some high notes were ill-prepared but in such a taxing score (and at short notice) this was forgivable.

The chorus were prepared to an exemplary standard and they, along with their chorus master Simon Halsey, are to be commended for their abilities.”     […]

[…]     Radiant and warm, tender and rich in tone, Connolly excels in Elgar’s dramatic writing always opting for the more taxing notes where he provides easier alternatives.”     …


Review by Peter Reed, ClassicalSource (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, TheArtsDesk (for same programme but at Barbican)

Click here for full review

Blog post by Robert Hugill  (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Barry Millington, London Evening Standard (for same programme but at Barbican)

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Review by Claire Seymour, Opera Today (for same programme but at Barbican)

Click here for full review