Strauss’ Salome is not for the faint hearted. It contains perversions including, but not limited to, necrophilia, paedophilia and incest. I think this makes David McVicar an obvious choice as director. In fact, by McVicar standards, this 2008 Covent Garden production is fairly restrained and straightforward. McVicar gves the work a 1930s setting which works just fine. The action evolves on a rather elegant two level set; upstairs is Herod’s banquet and downstairs is a sort of guardroom including Jokanaan’s cistern. It’s all quite elegant in light blues and greys and essentially all the action takes place downstairs. There are a few supers including a naked woman and another not far off floating around for no apparent reason except perhaps to suggest that the Judean army is not the Brigade of Guards.
In the opening exchanges involving Salome, Nabarroth and Jokanaan, from his cistern, I thought that Nadja Michaels’ voice was maybe on the light side for Salome but she certainly powered up later on and I think the slightly diffident approach here was deliberate. It’s really quite something to have a singer/actress who can sing this far from easy music and look the part like Michaels does! From the get go Michael Volle’s Jokanaan had the weight and slightly loony quality desired. Joseph Kaiser’s Narraboth was very stylish and heartfelt but his suicide was pretty much downplayed.
Things of course hot up once Herod and Herodias come on the scene and they certainly did here. I wasn’t much taken by Michaela Schuster’s Herodias but it’s a thankless role. Thomas Moser’s Herod though was appropriately creepy and really came to life in the seven veils dance scene which in this production has a decidedly paedo feel complete with rag doll. There are back projections going on in this part that aren’t clear on the DVD but seem to reinforce the paedo/incest theme. Michaels is also warming up, in several senses, here. The denouement has a naked executioner sent off to do the necessary on Jokanaan. He returns, covered in blood, with the equally sanguinous head. Much of the red sticky stuff subsequently gets transferred to Salome. By the time she is well into vamping Jokanaan’s head she is dripping red all over and giving off a really perverted vibe. Great singing and acting here. All in all Michaels really is impressive in the part.
This is an opera I’ve seen more than any other Strauss piece but as I listened to it one more time I really felt that muscally it’s not up with Ariadne or Rosenkavalier. The orchestral writing seems overwrought to the point of becoming dull. That said, Philippe Jordan gets a very decent performance out of the ROH Orchestra.
I watched this on DVD but it’s also available on BluRay (both from Opus Arte). Sound options are LPCM stereo and DTS 5.0. The latter had a very natural balance and sounded fine to me. Video direction was uncomplicated with not too many ultra close ups. Picture quality was standard DVD quality but the BluRay is 1080i so should be pretty good for people who can take advantage of that.
This may be the number one recommendation for Salome on DVD right now though the Met Opera production with Mattila and the older ROH production with Ewing are still worth a look.