Lucerne performs Salome with piano due to coronavirus fears

Lucerne performs Salome with piano due to coronavirus fears


norman lebrecht

February 29, 2020

We hear that tonight‘s sold-out performance of Salome at Luzerner Theater is to be performed with piano accompaniment in place of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra was recently on tour in northern Italy and has been deemed unsafe to perform by the Canton of Lucerne.

Intendant Benedikt von Peter asked pianist and head of music staff, Valeriya Polunina to replace the orchestra at the piano.

Polunina is a graduate of the Juilliard School and Lindemann Program at the Metropolitan Opera.

Elsewhere, Zurich, Geneva and other opera houses have committed to play to audiences of below 900 in order to conform to draconian Givernment measures resticting public gatherings to 1,000.




  • sam says:

    whaaaaat, Strauss’s score reduced to a piano?

    – the part of Salome shall now be sung by a boy soprano (children are less affected by the coronavirus)

    – the dance of 7 veils shall now be the dance of 7 face masks…

    – Salome shall now wash her hands thoroughly, scrubbing for a full 20 seconds, after carrying the severed head of John the Baptist

  • Petros Linardos says:

    In 1994, the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra were unable to make it to a Wagner gala concert, due to heavy snow. The conductor, Wolfgang Sawallisch, replaced the orchestra at the piano, directed the singers and chorus. Also, since the projector of supertitles was also unavailable, Sawallisch talked to the audience about the music. (As far as I know, Sawallisch didn’t sing.)

  • John Borstlap says:

    That will be quite a job, given the complexities of the score. The pianist will need 4 hands and probably also at least one foot.

    • CHNina says:

      She played, of course, from the usual piano reduction, which every theatre pianist uses for many weeks of rehearsal before any premiere.

  • CYM says:

    I heard that Jokanaan requested no cuts in the piano score …

  • Caranome says:

    Absolutely ridiculous. Rather get refund. This totally eliminates the violence and force of the music and drama, as well as any tonal balance between the music and singing.

    • Bill says:

      I was present at the performance. The intendant offered a full refund to any audience member who wanted to exchange their ticket for a later performance. Not one person left their seat and the audience was extremely supportive to the cast, crew, and “orchestra.” With most other concerts and events in Switzerland being canceled, the Lucerne audience was thrilled that the performance went on as it did.

      Polunina is a monster pianist; it was quite thrilling in the small house.

  • Larry D says:

    Well, it’s not as if Richard Strauss was all that good at orchestration. A piano transcription will do, or even a clavichord…

  • Cassandra says:

    Will keep numbers down as well.

    Replace the orchestra at the piano(!)
    Thank God, Ms Polunina, it’s a short piece.

    Elsewhere, Zürich, Genève and … WHAT other opera houses?

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    I don’t envy her that task!

    • Hilary says:

      It’s a very demanding piano reduction.

      In some ways I feel a sense of gladness here: an unsung heroine is getting the limelight.

      There’s rehearsal footage on YouTube of Falstaff/ Levine/singers/ pianist. Not the least impressive aspect is the repetiteur negotiating the tricky piano writing.

    • John Rook says:

      It’s what repetiteurs do all the time, all over the world. She’d still have had the score in her fingers, having just played the rehearsals and piano dress. It’s still a huge task, but repetiteurs never really get any recognition for their work as it is never directly experienced by the public except in exceptional cases such as this.

      • Hilary says:

        In addition it sheds new light on a familiar score. I remember hearing Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” at the Kings Head Theatre pub/Islington and I was struck by the influence of Debussy. Possibly more easily missed amidst orchestral colours etc.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Indeed, repetiteurs are unsung heroes. Except that some of them move up the ladder and become excellent conductors. That has been a tradition in Germany and beyond. Wolfgang Sawallisch, Christian Thielemann, Jeffrey Tate, Antonio Pappano are some famous names that instantly came to my mind. There are many more.

  • CYM says:

    Frustrated about the orchestra cancellation, the first clarinet declared : « Well, I better kiss my mouthpiece ‘Good Bye’ and save my head from being cut off from the pit ! »

  • CYM says:

    With no strings attached during the Dance of the Seven Veils, how could the audience hear the stripped piano ?
    – I was told Salome’s G string remained functional, though … to the despair of Herodes.

  • V.Lind says:

    None of it makes any sense. If 900 people can sit cheek by jowl in the audience, how can 90-120 people sitting on a stage make any difference?

  • Edgar Self says:

    Petros Linardos,– Sawallisch is quite a pianist, and has sung and recorded at least one operatic role. In his excellent EMI “Capriccio” the cast lists “Diener, a waiter — Wolfgang Sawallisch”, who sings a line “Dinner is served” or something.

    Herod’s last line could have been changed to “Reward that woman,” looking hard at the piano. I guess there isn’t a “Salome without Words” record they could have used.

    Such rescues happen. Elisabeth Schumann recorded the Marschallin’s final “Ja. ja” as Lotte Lehmann had already left, in the classic “Rosenkavalier” excerpts. And Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sight-read Brangaene’s lines for Ludwig Weber’s arias recording as she was just passing by and no-one else was available.

    And Muti played piano accompaniments for opera rehearsals from memory.

  • MacroV says:

    Oh come on, just cancel it. The orchestra is the point of any Richard Strauss opera!