Saturday, July 06, 2019

Salome from Munich


Conductor Kirill Petrenko
Production Krzysztof Warlikowski

Herodes Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Herodias Michaela Schuster
Salome Marlis Petersen
Jochanaan Wolfgang Koch
Narraboth Pavol Breslik
Ein Page der Herodias Rachael Wilson

Salome by Richard Strauss streamed today from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  This was an extraordinary production with great depth of imagination.  It was performed in German by the best company for German diction.  A commenter on FB said, "They dock your pay if you make mistakes in your German."  One of the results of this is that while the orchestra is spectacularly musical (Kirill Petrenko), the singers don't bring us the best of all possible Strauss phrasing.  This shifts the focus away from the singing onto the theatrical presentation.  Usually your attention is distracted from the story by either the striptease or the intense lyrical singing of the soprano.  We had neither distraction.

The biggest surprise came when the curtain opened to a countertenor singing the opening song of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.  Perhaps this is an entertainment for the party.  Or perhaps it is to tell us that whatever we may be seeing, this is an opera about children.

It was Regie, of course, which means there were clothing designs from around 1950, plus something intended to be a swimming pool that is visible when the center of the stage opens up to show Jochanaan's cell.  The singers mention frequently that it's cold, and they would like to go inside.  However, we seem to be in a library.

People smoke, including Salome.  When the opera begins, Narraboth sings about how beautiful the princess Salome is this evening.  Nothing about the women on the stage suggests that one of them is Salome.  The Page is usually a trouser role, but here it is staged as a woman who is in love with Narraboth and jealous of Salome.  Maybe I'm explaining too much.  When she finally sings, we see Salome is the woman in the red dress.

Why is one so fascinated?  Salome herself is clearly too old to be a child.  This is the main problem with this opera in general.  Salome is a teenager who sings like a fully mature spinto soprano.  Maria Ewing destroyed her voice singing it because she made a perfect stripper in the dance scene.  This is a problem without a solution.  Our Salome is not a teenager and also not a spinto.  I'd call her a full lyric.

Herodes is something of a pedophile and wants to see his wife's daughter dance.  Throughout the opera the stage shows a young girl with long dark hair sitting and observing.  She moves from place, has a mother who occasionally approaches her, but does not interact with anyone else.  She sees everything without reacting.  Maybe she's a Salome alter ego.

The dialog clearly states that Jochanaan is young, yet when we see him he is late middle aged.  Why she loves him we do not know.  But does anyone know the why of love?

For her dance Salome dresses as a bride and dances with a man made up as a skeleton:  Death.  It is relatively pleasing.  Animation appears on the wall behind.  They show afterward when the cast goes outside to greet the onlookers in the platz, that the box she is singing to actually has a head inside.  It couldn't be seen on the stream.

Narraboth comes back to life, and so does everyone else.  What is that about?  One is fascinated but not sure exactly why.

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