Strauss, Salome

The Volksoper decided to put on a production of Salome by Richard Strauss – an opera far out of its normal repertory, although it had its Vienna premiere in this house in 1910 after the censors had prevented Mahler from giving its world premiere at the House on the Ring three years before.

Musically, the performance came off very balanced.  Roland Böer, the conductor, did a good job keeping the lid on, so as not to overpower the singers.  I was sitting near the back of the Parkett (row 17), and could hear the singers clearly.  The orchestra was also clear and sounded good as well.

The staging tonight was confused but did not distract from the music.  The director did not seem to have a particular concept in mind, and did not stick to any particular period or style.  I did not mind the generally minimalist staging, per se, but on the other hand it did not seem fully thought through.  I was watching a lot through my binoculars, and much of the interpretation depended more upon whether the singers had something in mind as opposed to whether the director did.  Fortunately, they did, but they gave very individual performances – a director with an overall concept might have brought this all together.

There were nice touches.  A full moon dominated the back of the stage for the first half, and the director used its light to set the appropriate moods (as expected from the book).  John the Baptist had wrapped himself in an extremely-long outer blood-red robe which Salome ripped off him at one point and later used for good effect (at one point representing the trail of blood from Narraboth’s corpse downstage to where Salome was standing).  But these intelligent touches were mixed, and did not come across as part of a greater design.  In this version, for example, Narraboth did not actually stab himself, but instead got strangled when entangled in the Baptist’s robe as Salome was ripping it away.  Salome’s dance for Herod contained very little dancing by Salome herself and more by the various male characters in the small roles.  Salome was not sensual at this point, but strangely disrobed only at the very end of the opera when she left the Baptist’s head on stage but went by herself into the cistern.  When Herod then ordered her to be killed, no soldiers followed her, but instead Herod himself collapsed on stage.

The voices were pleasant, but particularly Annemarie Kremer (Salome) and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Herod) took time to warm into their roles.  Kremer did her best acting after John the Baptist cursed her, when she went from simply depraved to fully deranged.  Morten Frank Larsen (John the Baptist) was excellent throughout – coming across as a somewhat other-worldly prophet – but I wish that the staging had allowed him to sing his lines from the cistern naturally instead of miked in from somewhere offstage.  That requires a huge voice, however, so not too many people can pull it off, and maybe he would not have done as well if it had been staged this way.

I have to say that it was a much more enjoyable production than the last time I saw it live in Zurich about ten years ago.  That was a horrible German-directed Regietheater staging that was frankly offensive, and the Zurich opera house orchestra is not as good as it thinks it is.  This was not a problem tonight.

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