The peerless stage director Sir Peter Hall (November 22, 1930 – September 11, 2017) was the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a former director of the National Theatre in London, and had a thriving career in the world’s greatest opera houses and theater companies. He also had a profound impact on LA Opera’s artistic legacy, beginning in the company’s earliest days.
Hall first came to Los Angeles in the fall of 1986 to direct Richard Strauss’s Salome. It was only the second production of the company’s inaugural season, and the first production created especially for Los Angeles. Salome turned out to be a production that pushed boundaries and created an international sensation.
“All the characters in the opera are obsessed, often to the brink of madness. Obsessions make men blind, unable to understand other points of view or to admit the balancing power of reason. And such obsessions finally lead to violence [in Salome]. Salome’s passions lead directly to her death. She is crushed like an infectious insect. We can only approve of her end, while perhaps reflecting that all of us have the possibility of aberrant sexual behavior inside us. It is the obverse of true passion.”
– Sir Peter Hall, director of 1986 Salome
Hall sought to emphasize the darker aspects of composer Strauss’s source material, Oscar Wilde’s infamous play. John Bury’s set and costume designs evoked the symbolist aesthetic of Gustav Klimt as well as the Art Nouveau of Aubrey Beardsley. Casting his wife, the celebrated soprano Maria Ewing, as the title character, Hall worked with her to create a Salome that was centered on the character’s obsessions and her burgeoning sexuality. This included Ewing’s “Dance of the Seven Veils,” which garnered the production much press for its unforgettable, remarkably erotic staging. Notoriously hard to please critic Martin Bernheimer raved: “This is what opera should be all about.”
Hall knew exactly how to elevate opera to astounding effect, and his productions were enjoyed by LA Opera audiences for more than three decades. He directed a total of five different operas here, each one a company premiere. Salome was revived four more times (including last season’s presentation with Patricia Racette) and his bewitching Magic Flute was seen a total of four times (most recently in 2009). He also directed the first LAO productions of Così fan tutte, The Marriage of Figaro and Albert Herring.
LA Opera is fortunate to have been the beneficiary of this visionary director’s extraordinary insight, and we deeply mourn the loss of a towering figure in the opera world.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.