Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Salome – Angela Denoke
Herodes – Kim Begley
Herodias – Doris Soffel
Jochanaan – Alan Held
Narraboth – Marcel Reijans
Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Stefan Soltesz, conductor
Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director
Hans-Martin Scholder, stage designer
Bettina Walter, costume designer
Duane Schuler, lighting designer
Denni Sayers, choreographer
Recorded live from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, 2011
Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean
Running time: 112 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 25)
Stefan Soltesz, cond;
German SO Berlin
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 593 (DVD: 112:00); 103 037 (Blu-ray: 112:00) Live: Baden-Baden 2011
Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s updated staging of
is intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative—yet in the end, I find it slightly disappointing. Why? The problem is not the decision to update in and of itself.
may not be as temporally adaptable as
, but it’s less place-specific and time-specific than
The Rake’s Progress
(see my discussion in
33:4), and if handled with tact, updating won’t necessarily undermine the essential forces at play. Nor do I have any complaints about the basic production values: Lehnhoff choreographs the singers around Hans-Martin Scholder’s slightly off-kilter stage well, and Duane Schuler’s lighting is consistently excellent. True, like most productions these days, the director can’t resist a few personals dents and scratches (the executioner, for instance, kills Herodias at the end); but even those interventions are hardly deal-breakers. No, the real aggravation for me is Lehnhoff’s refusal to honor what I see as the key thematic elements in Wilde’s and Strauss’s conceptions. Two points in particular.
is nothing if not opulent—while the work shimmers with a sense of decay and collapse, its special flavor comes from our uneasy sense that the collapse is just slightly in the future. In this production, staged in what looks like a bombed-out parking garage, the collapse has already taken place. Thus, for instance, when Herod calls for fruit so he can offer it to Salome, he gets not a sumptuous display of exotic fruits, but a tray with some grapes and a couple of unappetizing apples. This is assuredly not a Tetrarch who has a hundred white peacocks in his gardens. As a result, much of the opera’s looming sense of expectation is muted.
Second, and more important:
is fundamentally a play (and opera) about the erotics of
, of looking and gazing—actual carnal touch is achingly delayed until it can be combined with death. But, perhaps in a bit of ill-advised pandering to a philistine audience demanding quicker action, this production gives us touch aplenty. We see the page and Narraboth making out; Salome and Herod have plenty of physical contact, both before the Dance of the Seven Veils and even during it (in fact, for part of the Dance, they’re dancing together); and worst of all, Salome and Jochanaan embrace and wrestle on the floor. Yes, Jochanaan may have a certain ambivalence, a certain undercurrent of desire for Salome; but in this production, we wouldn’t be surprised if he ravished her.
Still, there’s plenty to think about here—and in vocal terms, the performance is in reasonably good hands. Angela Denoke has tremendous vocal reserves, and sings evocatively throughout. She may be too much of a spoiled little girl at the beginning (she reminds me of Carmen Sternwood in
The Big Sleep
, especially in the movie version), but she grows as the opera continues, and she’s poignant in the final scene, creating an intense sympathy that transcends, as it should, the shock value of the transgressive kiss (quite bloody and quite realistic here). Her voice sometimes shows its strains—but the expressive nuance is impressive even then. Doris Soffel provides a magnificently regal Herodias. No hysterics here: rather, a deliciously condescending venom that makes her political power easy to understand. Kim Begley is an excellent Herod, less campy than most; and while Alan Held hardly looks like he’s been locked up in a cistern (unless they let him out for frequent outings to the hair salon), he sings with authoritative sonority.
As for the orchestra’s contribution: I wish it had more depth, more weight and clarity in the bass lines; the music for the opening of the cistern certainly won’t terrify you. I wish, too, that there were more definition of line throughout. But Stefan Soltesz draws out plenty of evocative color from the quieter sections (note his adept handling of the harps and celesta in the passages after the Dance where Salome is first making her request), and the Dance seems less hokey than usual. Good camerawork, on the whole; good video and sound quality, too, especially on Blu-ray, which as usual gives greater clarity to the objects in the distance. The disc is labeled “live,” but there’s no sign of an audience (not even applause at the end).
Does this hold up to Maria Ewing’s Royal Opera House performance with Downes or (among audio versions) the Nilsson/Solti or (for the most gripping finale scene) the Borkh extract with Reiner and Chicago? No. But on its own less exalted terms, it’s certainly well worth experiencing.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Works on This Recording
Salome, Op. 54 by Richard Strauss
Doris Soffel (Mezzo Soprano),
Kim Begley (Tenor),
Angela Denoke (Soprano),
Marcel Reijans (Tenor),
Alan Held (Baritone)
Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1903-1905; Germany
Date of Recording: 2011
Venue: Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
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