Strauss – Salome / Met Opera 2008 (2)

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vlcsnap-2013-09-22-10h53m17s66Everyone in this production (with the exception of Jochanaan, who is probably a teetotaler and an utter bore at parties) is more than a little drunk most of the time. There is plenty of wine in the libretto to begin with and the stage direction keeps the champagne flowing. Everyone wanders about with glasses and bottles in their hands, including Salome; the production suggests that she insists on the head at least in part because she’s drunk – the silly kid is allowed to booze it up with the adults, and this is part of the whole awful tawdry chain of events.

I use the word “kid” advisedly. Karita Mattila conveys very succinctly through gestures and body language that Salome is not much more than a child. She plays with her hair, tugs at her formal gown, flops around on the furniture like a kid of fifteen – but a kid who has more than an inkling of what sex is, as one does by that age, and who is also aware that she’s very pretty and can use her prettiness to get what she wants. (The reaction of Herodias (Ildikó Komlósi) to Salome’s dancing is bang on – it’s somewhere between an amused “get a load of that!” at seeing her daughter perform seductiveness so well and boredom at the girl’s antics.)

Salome4And the way that Mattila conveys the character’s youth – both visually and through how she handles all those light floaty vocal lines in the first half or so of the opera – makes the performance all the more exciting because part of the fascination of the thing is that what Salome does is as much the act of a spoiled child being petulant as it is that of a lustful young woman scorned. The contrast between her youth and the massive power of the music is important. My favorite parts in this in terms of singing were the part early in the opera where Salome is going on about how red Jochanaan’s mouth is, and also the long section at the opera’s climax where Salome, alternately fearful/uneasy and demanding, is waiting for the head, and the whole section after she gets it.

One of Mattila’s big moments, though, was ever-so-mildly undercut by what I can only describe as an instance of fairly bogus video direction. Salome ends her famous dance naked to the waist; we see her wiggle out of her top with her back to the audience; she turns with her arms crossed over her breasts – and then suddenly we’re looking at Herod, even though Salome is clearly the focus of attention. What I think happens is that Salome holds out her arms for an instant and at the same time her attendants rush to cover her up – but we don’t see this. I bring it up not because I am invested in seeing Karita Mattila’s undraped form. I am entirely neutral on that point. I bring it up because it comes off as a clumsy sort of “better not offend anyone!” dodge in an opera where a teenage girl has a man beheaded on a whim and then plays around with the head. Either that or there was some sort of FCC issue because this was a live broadcast. (Or maybe Mattila herself was fine with the semi-nudity in the opera house but didn’t necessarily want it immortalized in hi-def. Which is entirely reasonable, and if this was the case, I retract the complaint.)

Other musical highlights included Juha Uusitalo’s appropriately solid Jochanaan (Uusitalo also sings a mean Dutchman) and a lot of the orchestral playing. I particularly liked the long transition moment – I think in a different sort of opera this would be an act division – after Salome’s first encounter with Jochanaan but before Herod and Herodias appear, with the tremolos in the strings and then the woodwinds, I believe first a bassoon and then others, entering in. It’s really effective. And I felt like I was hearing the woodwind parts in Salome’s dance scene really clearly. (The conductor for this performance was Patrick Summers.)

This was filmed in 2008, when I was still in clown college completing my education in central Jersey, which means I could have seen it live, but I didn’t. I wish I had.

8 thoughts on “Strauss – Salome / Met Opera 2008 (2)

  1. This production is probably the only time opera made big headlines in the Finnish evening press; you can probably guess why…


  2. This is one of those “i’ve read about it but never seen it” performances. Thanks to you, i’ll be looking for it. Oh, and in that same category is that Fliegende Hollander (no umlaut), which is now on the Toob of U


  3. I saw this one in the cinema and thought it was pretty decent. Odd that the video direction is so coy since it’s 20 years since the Beeb broadcast Lady Hall going all the way at the ROH (on Christmas Day if I remember correctly).


    1. It is odd – I’m tempted to try and find out if the rules for US network TV are somehow applicable to Met broadcasts, because that would probably explain it at least in part.


      1. Since they allegedly video taped it for telecast in 2004, during PBS’s operaphobic phase, I wonder now how they dealt with it then. I guess we’ll have to wait for some massive completist Bryn Terfel box.


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