Opera in concert at the EIF: A Tale of two female powerhouses

At the heart of the 75th Edinburgh International Festival’s two opera-in-concert performances are two formidable, diametrically-opposed female powerhouses, writes Ken Walton

Malin Byström PIC: Eli Sverlander
Malin Byström PIC: Eli Sverlander

In Richard Strauss’ Salome, performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Swedish soprano Malin Byström in the title role (Usher Hall, 14 August), we witness a hideously insatiable anti-heroine.

Armed with her bewitching Dance of the Seven Veils, she demands the severed head of John the Baptist, which she lasciviously fondles and kisses, moving Herod to decree her violent death. Byström’s portrayal of the Judean princess at Covent Garden was hailed “a godsend”. She’s joined in Edinburgh by Johan Reuter as Jochanan and Gerhard Siegel as Herod.

Expectations are high that conductor Edward Gardner and his orchestra will repeat the triumph of their five-star Peter Grimes in 2017.

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    In contrast, meet the pure and saintly heroine Leonore of Beethoven’s Fidelio (Usher Hall, 10 August), who disguises herself as a prison guard in order to selflessly engineer the rescue of her husband Florestan from unjust imprisonment by the vengeful Don Pizarro. Irish soprano Jennifer Davis last sang the role for her 2020 debut with Vienna State Opera, a performance distinguished by its “fluid legato line”.

    American heldentenor Clay Hilley sings Florestan to Deustche Opera’s Markus Brück as Pizarro. Sir Willard White makes a welcome Edinburgh return as Don Fernando. As with Garsington’s Rusalka, the orchestra for Fidelio is the in-residence Philharmonia, this time under the magisterial baton of International Festival veteran Sir Donald Runnicles.

    For more information, or to book tickets, visit www.eif.co.uk