R. STRAUSS Salome • Karl Böhm, cond; Teresa Stratas (Salome); Hans Beirer (Herodes); Astrid Varnay (Herodias); Bernd Weikl (Jochanaan); Wies?aw Ochman (Narraboth); Hanna Schwarz (Page); Vienna PO • Read more class="ARIAL12">DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000907209 (DVD: 101:00)
Even though Richard Strauss is said to have preferred a lyric soprano as Salome, and actually encouraged conductors to play the score with a Mendelssohnian lightness of touch (at least in places) in order to make this possible, the role ideally requires the voice of an Isolde in the body of a sexy teenager. Teresa Stratas probably comes as close as is realistically possible to achieve that unlikely combination. Stratas is an accomplished singing actress who rivals Maria Callas in terms of charisma and stage presence. She undoubtedly ranks with the finest Salomes from a purely physical and acting standpoint. I have personally never seen anyone better in this role. Her voice does not have the gleaming, knifelike penetration of Birgit Nilsson but, at least as it is presented with the aid of microphones in a film recorded separately from the action (as opposed to live onstage in a large opera house), it is more than adequate to deal with Strauss’s hyperactive orchestra. In this production, she embodies the composer’s preference for a lighter voice.
Stratas does not play Salome as an unbridled nymphomaniac. In the first third of the opera, she subtly projects impulsiveness, curiosity, and fear in her encounter with Jochanaan. Her sometimes-petulant descent into madness and depravity after being rebuffed is wonderfully done. The tight close-ups enable the viewer to appreciate Stratas’s telling facial expressions in a way that would be impossible in an opera house. Director Götz Friedrich for the most part seamlessly blends his close-ups with longer views that reveal crowd shots in addition to Stratas moving around the stage like a cat. The “Dance of the Seven Veils” starts in a surprisingly subdued manner, but Stratas builds the erotic tension to a frenetic climax. This is a far cry from some of the silliness that has passed for dramatic action in this opera over the years. The tension from the “Dance of the Seven Veils” to the finale is almost unbearable as the camera follows Stratas like a magnet. This is unquestionably Stratas’s show, but the rest of the cast is also very good. Hans Beirer’s Herod is a deliciously decadent psychopath. Astrid Varnay’s voice at this point in her career was essentially reduced to shrill sounds, but she chews up the scenery in a way that is a perfect foil for Herod and fits well with the lurid events. Bernd Weikl’s Jochanaan is appropriately stiff and imposing. It would not be surprising that Salome is simultaneously intrigued and frightened by his presence. Wies?aw Ochman is a hunky Roman Narraboth who is clearly lusting for Salome, but hardly to the point where he would kill himself. The seemingly precipitous nature of that development is more the fault of Strauss and Oscar Wilde. Hanna Schwarz as Herodias’s Page sings magnificently, but wanders around the stage as if she is lost. Otherwise, there is very little broadly drawn operatic “acting.”
Aside from Stratas, the most critical aspect of this film production is the orchestral contribution. Karl Böhm was probably the greatest Strauss opera conductor of his time. He was unique in the way he was able to combine the delicate transparency of the colorful orchestration and exotic harmony without underplaying the massive climaxes and Strauss’s “nerve-end contrapuntalism.” For this 1976 film, Friedrich recorded the soundtrack first, and subsequently incorporated it with the dramatic action filmed in a studio. The lip synchronization is certainly good, but it is virtually impossible to be perfectly blended with the intense stage action. This is only minimally distracting, but I am not entirely convinced that filming the whole thing live would not generate more raw emotion. It would be riveting to see Stratas on the edge vocally, as she undoubtedly would be live onstage. There is only faint reference to the moon with the lighting at the climax when Salome kisses Jochanaan’s mouth. Friedrich argues that Strauss’s music says it all.
The DVD contains PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound. Stereo is brighter and focused, but a little harsh. Surround adds a considerable sense of depth and atmosphere, and lessens the harshness without sacrificing sonic impact. In this case, DTS 5.1 surround sound is clearly preferable. The picture format is 4:3 (full screen). Subtitles are available in German, English, French, Spanish, and Chinese. The booklet contains an interesting essay by Friedrich discussing Salome and presenting his point of view on filming opera. There is a track listing and synopsis, but no other extras.
In the final analysis, Stratas’s unforgettable portrayal of Salome conducted by Böhm and played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra make this essential for anyone interested in opera or the music of Richard Strauss. It deserves its reputation as one of the greatest filmed opera productions ever made. At the same time, this DVD does not eclipse Nilsson’s vocal fireworks and the incendiary conducting of Georg Solti with the same Vienna Philharmonic on their sensational Decca-London audio CD.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
DVD-VIDEO NTSC 073 4339
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3 full screen
A production of UNITEL, Munich