[Dixielandjazz] Salome - Performance Review -

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 17 23:31:13 PST 2004

OPERA, NOT OKOM: But it will interest some on the list.

Some interesting parallels. This is a "modern" presentation of a 100
year old Creation. The musical story is also visual. It borrows from
other musical genres. It is sexy. It is emotional. It has critics. Some
of the "old guard" booed it. But the cheers, won out. Not too different
from Jazz. ;-) 

Best of all, it is a fascinating read, especially if you have ever seen
an earlier performance of Salome.


March 17, 2004 - NY Times


'Salome' Unveils Emotions (and a Soprano)


   It's hard to imagine how anyone could quibble with any aspect of
Karita Mattila's performance in the title role of Strauss's "Salome," a
new production in modern dress that opened at the Metropolitan Opera on
Monday night. Ms. Mattila was so intense, possessed and exposed in the
role that she pummeled you into submission.

And I use the word exposed literally. For her slithering and erotic
interpretation of Salome's "Dance of the Seven Veils," cannily
choreographed by Doug Varone and sensually conducted by Valery Gergiev,
Ms. Mattila shed item after item of a Marlene Dietrich-like white tuxedo
costume until for a fleeting moment she twirled around exultant,
half-crazed and completely naked. (No wardrobe malfunction here.)

Given the physical and emotional toll of her portrayal, that she could
also sing this daunting role with such gleaming power, eerie
expressivity and, most remarkably of all, beguiling lyricism was
stunning. When the opera ended and Ms. Mattila appeared alone before a
black curtain, looking spent and dazed, she seemed almost frightened by
the vehemence of the audience's applause and shouts of "Bravo!"

Not surprisingly the German director Jürgen Flimm and his production
team were greeted by some loud boos when they appeared onstage. The Met
has a contingent of tradition-minded patrons. But the bravos won out,
and rightly so.

Mr. Flimm and Santo Loquasto, who designed the set and costumes, have
used contemporary imagery to animate the biblical story. In its way this
production is absolutely faithful to the libretto (a German translation
of Oscar Wilde's play, pared down by Strauss), which states that the
curtain goes up to reveal a moonlit terrace off the banquet hall of King
Herod's palace. A grand staircase should be off to one side, a parapet
for some soldiers off to the other, and a cistern in the center, of
which we see only the lid and above-ground rigging.

All this was recreated here, though with timeless modern imagery. The
terrace of Herod's palace looked like some swank and slightly gaudy
hotel lobby in a Middle Eastern city. Herod's dinner guests, in formal
wear, emerged from a spiral staircase below the stage. The soldiers wore
turbans and Arab-style skirts, their chests crisscrossed with leather
bands of bullets.

Salome appeared in a slinky, creamy silk gown. And off to the side a
stylized, sloping construction made of particle board evoked the desert
sand dunes that surround the palace. The set did make the stage look
crowded. But the updated imagery served as a reminder that the ethnic
and religious conflicts of the biblical story are still raging some
2,000 years later.

Today the most shocking element of Strauss's notorious 1905 opera seems
not its eroticism and necrophilia but its absence of a philosophical
point of view. Strauss does not use music to moralize. True, he invites
us to laugh at a caricature of four quarreling Jews who argue over
theology and the fate of their prisoner, Jochanaan (John the Baptist).
But Strauss balances this with his depiction of Jochanaan, meant to seem
a sanctimonious oaf who booms half his role from the pit of the cistern.
At least that was Strauss's intention. Like many Jochanaans before him,
the German bass-baritone Albert Dohmen, in his Met debut, sang the role
with such robust power that the character gained stature.

The biblical Salome is a Middle Eastern girl of 16; Ms. Mattila is an
attractive blond-haired Finnish soprano of 43. Yet, through her
twitching, writhing, physically nervous portrayal she managed to convey
Salome's gawky, adolescent allure. She seemed 100 percent hormones.

She also helped you understand why Salome is so inexplicably drawn to
Jochanaan. As played here, the petulant girl is miffed by the Baptist's
seeming lack of desire. Salome is a creature of desire used to getting
everything she wants. Does Jochanaan have no desires? Could he be
controlling them? Is that possible? Whatever, it baffles, challenges and
finally infuriates Salome.

Still, there is no blame in Strauss's score. Even at the end of the
opera, when Herod, Salome's leering stepfather, orders his guards to
kill the monstrous girl, who is grotesquely kissing the lips of
Jochanaan's severed head, the slicing orchestra chords are a graphic
depiction of the execution, not an expression of condemnation.

There have been some fine Salomes of the past who could passably play
the role as well as sing it. But in working with Ms. Mattila, Mr. Varone
came up with a brilliant solution to the imposing challenge of Salome's
dance. Introducing some Dietrichian drag lent the dance an element of
contemporary and illicit sensuality. And having three male dancers in
tuxedos twirl and lift Ms. Mattila literally elevated her starry Salome,
as well as taking the pressure off: she did not have to fill this
10-minute orchestra stretch alone.

The actual nudity may have taken less courage than the psychological
nudity Ms. Mattila exposed in the final scene, when, delirious with
power, she held Jochanaan's head in her hands and sang Strauss's soaring
phrases with Wagnerian thrust and unflagging energy. At times her sound
in the top notes was earthy and strange, even raw. But I'm not quibbling
here, just describing Ms. Mattila's vocally and physically audacious performance.

The sturdy tenor Allan Glassman (substituting for Siegfried Jerusalem,
who was ill) and the smoldering mezzo-soprano Larissa Diadkova were
impressive as Herod and his scheming wife, Herodias (Salome's mother).
The vibrant tenor Matthew Polenzani made the most of the short but
crucial role of Narraboth, the young captain who kills himself in
despair over his desire for Salome.

Though Mr. Gergiev drew shimmering colors, fascinating details and
rhapsodic intensity from the orchestra, for the first third or so of the
opera the playing lacked the organic shape so important to this one-act
100-minute work. But the playing gained rigor as the evening went on.
Mr. Gergiev's performances sometimes take time to settle in. Expect this
exhilarating "Salome" to get even better as performances continue
through April 10.


Opera in one act by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hedwig Lachmann, after
the play by Oscar Wilde; conductor, Valery Gergiev; production by Jürgen
Flimm; sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto; lighting by James F.
Ingalls. At the Metropolitan Opera.

WITH: Karita Mattila (Salome), Albert Dohmen (Jochanaan), Allan Glassman
(Herod), Larissa Diadkova (Herodias) and Matthew Polenzani (Narraboth).

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