Barbarella, Prinzessin von Judea

Götz Friedrich’s 1974 film of Strauss’ Salome is a bit of an oddity. It’s a studio film rather than a video recording of a live performance. This allows the casting of singers who might not be able to manage the role in the opera house. In this case, crucially, the light lyric soprano Teresa Stratas sings the title role which she most certainly never did on stage.

She looks the part, has a very young sounding voice and is note perfect; all of which are big plusses. The other singers all seem to be good fits. Bernd Weikl is a strongly characterised Jokanaan and Wladislaw Ochmai is a beefy and convincing Narraboth. Herod and Herodias are given a pretty manic treatment by Hans Beier and an obviously aging Astrid Varnay. Her voice is a mess but her stage presence is really pretty powerful. Karl Böhm conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker who are naturals in this music. They are balanced quite far back though relative to the voices giving a bit of a “movie soundtrack” effect.

The production has its moments but mostly it’s pretty awful. There’s a sort of seventies science fiction/fantasy soft-porn vibe. Think Roger Corman or Roger Vadim. There’s lots of leather and bare thigh and Narraboth’s chick (played I think by Hanna Schwarz) looks like she’s escaped from Logan’s Run. The squabbling Jews are straight out of Monty Python as are Jokanaan’s facial expressions. Think The Knights Who Say “Ni”.

The Dance of the Seven Veils is spectacularly unerotic with “choreography” straight out of Burial of the Rats minus the rat skin bikinis. I was actually laughing out loud during this which I don’t think is what Friedrich intended. Things improve a bit for the final scene with Salome and The Head which is filmed in super close up throughout but by then I think most viewers will have lost it.

Technically it’s a reasonable effort. The picture is fairly soft focus as one might expect with film stock of this era. The disk claims to have both LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1 but neither my Blu-ray player nor my computer could find the DTS track. The stereo track is decent DVD quality but not special. There are a typical range of subtitles but the only extras are trailers for some other Unitel releases including a rather bizarre plug for the M22 Mozart series where most of the time the music and the visuals don’t match rather like something from ISIHAC which just about manages to close things out in appropriate seventies style.

4 thoughts on “Barbarella, Prinzessin von Judea

  1. Pingback: Fear and loathing in Mycenae | operaramblings

  2. I once wrote an essay on this production for an opera course I took. I get all the negative points you make. But still, Stratas’s Salome is compelling. Not only is she note perfect, as you said, but she really makes the character more than just a femme fatale. You can really feel that her madness is born out of desperation: her loathing of the court life she’s trapped, her devotion to Jokanaan because he’s the anthesis of it all, yet her inability to express that devotion in any way but lust because debauchery is all she knows. And I love the fact that Ochmai’s Narraboth isn’t a simpering lovesick puppy, but conveys a little of the same madness that Salome does.

  3. Pingback: From the Archives | operaramblings

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