The Volksoper started today’s performance of Salome by Richard Strauss at an unusual time – 4:30 p.m. – meaning it ended early enough to make it to the Stadttempel for the beginning of Rosh Hashanah services. For me, that was a clear sign of what to do in the final hours of the year 5772.
I saw this same production when it opened last season, and indeed with much of the same cast. But I don’t get to hear it live every day, and I don’t get too much live music in Albania at all, so I gave it another go. This time, as John the Baptist we had Egils Silins. Silins is a hulking Latvian baritone I have heard before in Moscow, and he provided good heft to the role, as well as acting which made the prophet come across as deranged to balance Salome’s equal madness. This portrayal underscored the characterization of the Baptist by the other characters that no one could understand what he was talking about. As with the previous setting, I still object to the offstage miking for lines sung from within the cistern – Silins has a big enough voice that he could have been heard without the artificial-sounding amplification.
Annemarie Kremer and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, as Salome and Herod again (as last year) did creditable jobs. Kremer was possibly not in as strong voice as last year, though. Alfred Eschwé conducted today’s performance. Known mostly as a operetta conductor, Eschwé’s direction, through clear and concise, was not as dark and driven as this opera needs to be. This element is likely what made today’s performance less fulfilling than last year’s.
One area of improvement came with the staging. The original staging last year was OK, but just not always fully-thought-through. While the concept seems still not to be complete, the director clearly has done some additional thinking. So the nice touches of using the Baptist’s blood-red robe in different contexts was now extended to other garments and even the scrim which partly hid the opening scene, which now all found themselves put to different uses as if to complete the previously-incomplete overall design, although I was still not always clear on the concepts employed. Salome now does something that makes it look like she is trying to dance during the Dance of the Seven Veils, even if she still does not really dance. And, importantly, the end of the opera is now more sensible: whereas before Herod’s order to have Salome killed resulted in Herod himself collapsing dead and Salome then walking off naked but fully alive into the cistern, now Salome has already left the stage (mostly clothed) when Herod gives the order, and it is believable that Herod’s men would carry it out; meanwhile, Herod himself, though emotionally exhausted, does not drop dead. This makes the staged ending consistent with the text, always a good thing.