Christoph Loy, in his 2011 Salzburg production of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, avoids the problem of how to represent the Spirit World by essentially eliminating it. Instead we get a Konzept based on Böhm’s first recording of the work in Vienna’s Sofiensalle in 1955. Vienna is still recovering from the war and the hall is unheated and the singers unpaid. The Empress is rising star Leonie Rysanek and the Nurse is long time favourite Elisabeth Höngen. They represent the generations separated by the war. The Emperor is an American singing in Europe for the first time and, crucially, Barak and his wife are a real life married couple. Initially we see a lot of recording studio action as singers are moved about by actors in this experiment in early stereo. Then the action, particularly the Barak/Wife interaction slips more and more off stage. For the finale, we get a sort of celebratory concert in evening dress. It’s not a bad concept and this cast handles it very well but I fancy it’s a tough introduction to this far from straightforward opera and it does lose the magic of the Spirit World. (In other words I’m glad I saw the Met production before this one.)
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.