Salome

 

Richard Strauss Salome opera to a libretto from Hedwig Lachmann's German translation of Oscar Wilde's play Salome. Directed 2010 by Gabriele Lavia at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Stars Erika Sunnegårdh (Salome), Mark S. Doss (Jochanaan), Robert Brubaker (Herodes or Herod), Dalia Schaechter (Herodias), Mark Milhofer (Narraboth), Nora Sourouzian (Page of Herodias), Gabriele Mangione (First Jew), Paolo Cauteruccio (Second Jew), Dario Di Vietri (Third Jew), Ramtin Ghazavi (Fourth Jew), Masashi Mori (Fifth Jew/Cappadocian), Rainer Zaun (First Nazarene/Second Soldier), Paulo Paolilio (Second Nazarene), Cesare Lana (First Soldier) and Edoardo Milletti (Slave). Nicola Luisotti conducts the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Sets by Alessandro Camera; costumes by Andrea Viotti; lighting by Daniele Naldi; choreography by Sara Di Salvo; directed for TV by Andrea Bevilacqua. Released 2014, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound.Grade: B-

The resolutely abstract set consists of a dramatic blood-red terrace floor and a full moon, garnished with fin-de-siècle costumes and props. The designs strongly express opulent and dangerous decadence. But because you never see a palace or Herod's birthday party with his important guests, you might be baffled by the various minor characters that appear. 

The cool, pale, eternal moon starkly contrasts to the raucous, erotic, earth doings below. This comes, of course, from the libretto, which has numerous ironic moon images. For example, here's a line from Salome (Erika Sunnegårdh) in an early scene, "The moon is like a silver flower, cool and chaste."

Salome inspects the prisoner Jochanaan (Mark S. Doss), who is railing against Herodias in her "incestuous bed."

Jochanaan preaches to Salome and tells her to "seek out the Son of Man."

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"Who is that, this Son of Man?"

Salome is curious about what got the prophet arrested; but most of the time, sex is foremost in her mind. She tries to seduce him and asks, "Let me kiss your mouth!"

Here finally is a screenshot that shows the full moon over the stage. Jochanaan keeps preaching and Salome pretends to listen. He tells her again to find the Son of Man. Then she can "bend down at his feet..." and "have her sins forgiven." [Next two images]

When Salome continues her seduction, Jochanaan indignantly retorts: "You are cursed."

Guards lower Jochanaan back into the pit. Salome stays at the pit and masturbates in view of the guards and servants:

Things are out-of-control and the captain of the guard, who has a relationship with Salome himself, commits suicide. Salome stays at Jochanaan's pit. Herod (Robert Brubaker) appears and crie out, "Where is Salome? Where is the Princess?"

Since Salome left the party, Herod moves the party to Salome. Herod says, "If you will dance for me, you may ask of me anything you want."

Salome knows she can't seduce Jochanaan, but she now hits on another way to have him. First, get her contract clearly stated: "Will you really give to me all that I ask, Tetrarch?"

Herod promises half his kingdom and then makes this astonishing statement, "You will be beautiful as Queen, immeasurably beautiful." Wow! Does Herod want to get rid of Herodias and marry Salome?:

Herodias has been begging Salome not to dance. But Salome has an irresistible deal and starts her performance. Herodias must be thinking, " Is my husband going to put me in the pit with Jochanaan?

A huge magnifying glass is lowered so than Salome can become the woman-in-the-moon. This gimmick doesn't do much to improve Salome's dance. But it's still a clever prop in line with the moon imagery,  and this shot makes for a neat wallpaper on one of my PCs:

Herod thinks Salome wants to be Queen. He doesn't realize that she is in heat for the man in the pit:

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Herodias throws a gown over her nude daughter, who then takes her mother's place on the royal divan. Herod asks, "And what should they bring you on a silver platter?"

You know the answer. Herodias is so relieved and now joins Salome in insisting that Herod must deliver  Jochanaan's head to Salome:

But this head doesn't fit on a platter. It bursts through the floor:

"([Now] have I kissed it, your mouth."

Here is the famous voiceover from Herod, "She is a monster, your daughter. I tell you, she is a monster."

Let's consider some pros and cons of subject title, briefly compare this to the competition, and arrive at a grade.

Erika Sunnegårdh has the best singing voice among the Salomes we now have in HDVD. But this is partially offset by her relatively weak German diction (Erika is a Swedish-American.) She is a fine actress; and, at age 44, a courageous dancer who can get rid of the seven veils effectively. But her acting is limited at the end of the show by Lavia's decision to use the giant head.

Doss (Jochanaan), Brubaker (Herod), and Schaechter (Herodias) are fine, but the minor roles get lost in the shuffle with Lavia's abstract direction.

Hugo Shirley in the August 2014 Gramophone at page 95 writes the "Teatro Comunale orchestra is rather thin and scrabbly " and the recording "dull." I admit I missed this at first because I was too immersed in watching Sunnegårdh. I later went back and listened to Salome's dance music at the Teatro Comunale and compared it to the performances of the same music by the Royal Opera House Orchestra and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin playing at the Baden-Baden Festival. Shirley is right. Let's put it this way. Just because you can drive your Mercedes sedan safely (Verdi) doesn't mean you should hit the track in a Formula One race car (Strauss). When the Bologna orchestra plays the dance music, its sounds like they were sight-reading it.

This was Andrea Bevilacqua's debut as TV director in a HDVD; the screenshots show that she does a brilliant job especially considering the low light on the stage throughout.

Salome is a one set opera. Lavia's set doesn't establish a time and place or show at the beginning Herod's birthday party and his guests. When the director fails at this, the story-telling is hampered throughout. At the end of the show, Lavia elects to use the monumental dry head rather than a life-size, wet, decapitated one. This would be an accommodation to opera viewers who don't like gore. But without the bloody head, how do you make Salome into a monster who deserves summary execution? Does Erika Sunnegårdh in the last three screenshots above look like a monster to you?

I conclude that the Royal Opera House show with Nadja Michael is still by far our best HDVD of Salome (grade A+). I mark down subject title to a "B-" for the weak orchestra music and the director's decisions mentioned. But for those who are keen on sexy dancing or squeamish about blood, this title with Erika Sunnegårdh would be a good alternate. The Salome with Angela Denoke at the Baden-Baden Festival also has a "B-" grade.