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R. STRAUSS: Salome

spacer Michael, Vermillion; Struckmann, Bronder; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Harding. Production: Bondy. Arthaus Musik 107 323, 107 mins., subtitled


The fascination of Strauss's Salome is how it interweaves strongly contrasting and seemingly incompatible themes — enticement and disgust, ecstacy and horror, youth and depravity. All of these paradoxes arise from Salome herself, who is so seductively beautiful as to make men mad with desire, but whose behavior is so pathologically perverse that she also horrifies them. In Luc Bondy's production, Nadja Michael brings these qualities vividly to life in a performance of Salome that flits among the diverse identities — manipulative coquette, eerie madwoman, rapturous necrophiliac — of the clearly unstable princess. Michael's soprano brings more brilliance than warmth to the part, but that sound complements both her lithe, sinewy stage presence and the nymph-like, if deranged, girl that she plays. And she does her own graceful and hypnotic dancing (here envisioned not as a striptease but as a dance in seven parts, each of which features a different veil).

Peter Bronder's Herodes is a frivolous coward made more foolish by his brilliant red hair, agile tenor and cartoonish facial expressions; the best of these, caught in a well-planned close-up, captures his utter distress when Salome requests the head of Jochanaan. Iris Vermillion (Herodias), statuesque and stylish, towers over Bronder and projects the opulent decadence of Herodes's court. With a wine glass ever in hand, she is a dark-voiced, venomous drunk who goads Salome on only to spite Herodes, and to take her revenge on Jochanaan. As Jochanaan, Falk Struckmann looks more barrel-chested fifty-something than the lily-white-skinned, raven-haired beauty that Salome describes, but his commanding baritone projects the unassailable faith and charismatic passion of a prophet. Throughout, the Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala captures the many moods of Strauss's score — among them gushing ecstasy, creepy suspense and lightly playful dancing — often shifting rapidly from one to the other to follow the mercurial characters onstage.

Like Erich Wonder's stage design, Susanne Raschig's costumes evoke no particular place or time, or rather hint at many: if Narraboth's garb is reminiscent of first-century imperial Rome, Herodias's austere dress is distinctly modern; the inquisitive Cappadocian wears a suit from the late nineteenth century (is he intended to represent Oscar Wilde?), and the two soldiers' uniforms invoke Star Trek. The camera-work that captures this live performance from 2007 relies on several cameras, including, bizarrely, one located stage left and shooting from behind bars as if to represent the view from the cistern, even though we can see the cistern itself from there.

This and other quirks are minor distractions; the value of this recording lies in Michael's performance, because she, better than most who take on the role of Salome, realizes Strauss's conception of a "sixteen-year-old princess with the voice of an Isolde." spacer 


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