So as the few people who read my blog know by now, I’m a horror fan. So, naturally, I’ve been a fan of Richard Strauss’ Salome since I was a teenage music student. There is nothing like it in the opera world, seriously creepy, gorgeous, lush, and rotten. It is a production sure to invoke discussion. Mainly on how far Opera houses will wade into the muck and emphasize the Grand Guignol. Will the opera diva playing Salome dance the “Dance of the 7 Veils” herself or will they pull in a body double?
Despite being a lifelong fan of the work, I never saw it on stage until today. Did I like it? Yes! It appealed to my inner teenager very much. However, this production did suffer from small voices. Now, to be fair…Strauss is a hard nut to crack. He is up there with Wagner pushing huge orchestral sound. In fact many times, I couldn’t help thinking that the orchestral score was the main attraction and the singers were there as superfluous sweetness sprinkled on top of an already too rich ice cream sundae. Still, it struck me as a sad that the MET couldn’t pull in Wagner level vocalists to perform this opera justly.
The singers who held up well were Kang Wang as Narraboth and Gerhard Siegel as Herod. Kang is still young, I think his voice has a few years to mature. But he filled the house with a good amount of voice. Siegel, being German, used his native language to great effect, shading his voice with a lot of intonation which cut through the orchestra. Everyone else was lost at sea in a huge, stormy and dramatic orchestral wave. Patricia Racette was an extremely beautiful and madly entitled Salome. It was just unfortunate that she doesn’t have the voice to power through the orchestra. She acted up a storm and made the character real not a cartoon villain. I think the part of her performance that was the most frightening was not when she was singing to John the Baptist’s head but when she kicked the hand of Narraboth from her leg as he was dying. Her dance scene was deceivingly tame until at the end it turned into a true strip tease with full nudity. The audience was silently shocked with the exception of a few nervous laughs.
The stage set was a bit odd. The time period was more “modern”, set some time in the 1930s or 1940s. The MET gave its spareness its own brand of lushness with opulent period clothing for the cast and lovely stage lighting.
The star of this performance was truly conductor Johannes Debus. He understood the score, its fallen romance, madness, bombast, and debauched evil. The Met orchestra responded wonderfully to his direction pushing itself to virtuosity and hitting all the right highs and lows in the score.
A good production all things considered, but it would have been better with bigger voices involved.