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R. STRAUSS: Salome

spacer Denoke, Soffel; Begley, Held; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Soltesz. Production: Lehnhoff. Arthaus Musik 
108 037 (Blu-ray) or 101 593 (DVD), 112 mins., subtitled


There are good things in this Salome (and some that are very good),but they'd likely have seemed better still from any decent seat in the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden last June. Angela Denoke, who was pushing fifty at the time, is an experienced Salome, and it shows, not just in her middle-aged mien but in a general air of calculation, both of which the camera surely exaggerates. And Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production must have registered less blatantly at a comfortably lower-def distance. 

Here's yet another Salome with a twentieth- (or is it twenty-first?) century bent: guards with Uzis, party guests with trendily decadent duds, Jewish theologians (in a very effective touch) lighting up congratulatory cigars when John the Baptist's fate seems but a sword-stroke away. Easily the most riveting Salome I've seen in recent years has been David McVicar's for London's Royal Opera (available on Opus Arte), and Lehnhoff's often seems an overt riff on McVicar's Salò-saturated show: Hans-Martin Scholder's set, for example, resembles a bombed-out version of Es Devlin's for McVicar, and Patrick Büttner's wordlessly skulking Naaman is an only slightly more decorously clad twin of Duncan Meadows's famously naked headsman at Covent Garden. But while McVicar presents his biblical nightmare naturalistically within a Pasolinian frame, Lehnhoff tilts heavily toward silent-film expressionism, with an emotive (if not a visual) style closer to Nazimova's classic Wilde-woman adaptation of 1923 than to anything we're apt to see on the screen today (TheArtist notwithstanding). 

It's an effective enough show overall, but it comes with any number of puzzling and/or annoying quirks, such as Salome's frequent descents into the cistern (why, then, is she so starved to see what's inside?) and Narraboth's death-by-pistol-castration. As for the final scene, let me just say that it's something quite other than what Wilde and Strauss had in mind. 

Denoke has a coolly alluring voice that she steers intelligently, and there are many lovely moments: the soft high A-flats early on are beautifully taken, and she spins a chillingly delicate "Den Kopf des Jochanaan" after her dance. But well before she's shed her veils, it's become clear that the vocal going won't be easy; and by the time of the finale she's hoisting herself up to the top notes, flatting many and hopping off them as soon as she can. A visual cross between Kirsten Dunst twenty years on and Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs, horribly costumed in a salmon-pink little-girl party dress that seems partly fashioned from a shag rug, she crouches and lurches and rolls about the stage, eyes popping, leering lasciviously. 

She's well matched visually with the risibly gotten-up Jochanaan of Alan Held, with his mohawk/samurai hairdo, and with Marcel Reijans's puffy, fortyish "young Syrian"; both men sing handsomely despite their dearth of sex appeal. (Held's severed head is eerily convincing.) Kim Begley's Herodes and Doris Soffel's Herodias look age- and character-appropriate — an easier task for them — and sing and act strongly. Soffel, her role (if not her singing of it) amplified, is a particularly vivid presence. 

Stefan Soltesz, a Straussian of long-proven credentials, leads an authoritative performance, well paced and played, and delivered by Arthaus in first-rate sight and sound. ButI'd go to McVicar's production on Opus Arte — at every turn subtler and sexier and far more photogenic — for the more grippingly watchable Salome. spacer 


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