R. STRAUSS: Salome (complete opera), Blu-ray (2012)
Conductor: Stefan Soltesz/ German Symphony Orchestra Berlin
Cast: Angela Denoke (Salome)/ Alan Held (Jochanaan)/ Kim Begley (Herod)/ Doris Soffel (Herodias)/ Marcel Reijans (Narraboth)/
Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Studio: Arthaus 108037 [1/31/12] [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Length: 112 minutes
Despite Strauss’s instructions that Salome should be around 14 years old—or at least make us believe that she could be—the role seems destined of late to remain in the pre-geriatric set. Angela Denoke has a versatile voice, not too heavy and boisterous (something this role is plagued with) and able to navigate the surreal lines and soaring melodies that only just link tonality with atonality. So far, so good. And from a distance her waif-like, Anne Hecht haircut does give a brief impression of a younger woman. But this is Blu-ray after all, very vivid Blu-ray, and the close ups do her in. Okay, she doesn’t exactly look like her 50 years of age, but definitely no younger than 40. And for the prurient, she does not fully divest herself of clothing in the famous dance; call it “see-through” instead, though she has made other videos where no such restraints are apparent.
But what really sinks this production is not the singing, or the age of the lead soprano, but the sheer ugliness of it. It appears to be taking place in some post WWII ruins, Herod’s “palace” looking like anything but. Jochanaan himself, played by a very large and big-voiced Alan Held, is also dressed like some punk rocker from an apocalyptic thriller—ugly hardly begins to define it. For music as seductive and wild as what Strauss gives in this opera—equaled or surpassed only by Elektra—we must have something other than sheer noxious visuals on stage. Pretending that we are in a “world on the brink, a society that has lost all grounding”, where “people are teetering on the edge of abyss” according to the notes, is to read much more profound psychological hysteria into this story than is actually there, and to try and “add” to the depiction Strauss provides in his music simply fails on all levels. The visuals should support, and not try and supplant, the music.
Alan Held is a rather aggressive John the Baptist, nothing mystical or even prophetic about him, and Salome seems fearless before him, though his looks only add perverseness to the idea of her trying to seduce him. Kissing his decapitated head is another matter however, in one of the most gruesome, blood-gorged and dripping scenes I have ever seen. Herod, whom I also reviewed in the recent Met Salome is competently played again by Kim Begley. Herodias, really not much of a role, is handled by Doris Soffel, dressed like a grandmother with a drinking problem. Marcel Reijans (Narraboth) is excellent in his role as well.
The sound is quite stunning though I have heard better orchestras, fuller in the bass and able to project more, but this is a nit. The Blu-ray is wondrous and unforgiving visual quality, some of the most crisp imagery available in an opera. There is only one other Salome available in Blu-ray, and it has received mixed reviews. So will this one I fear. We are still waiting a really great Salome on Blu-ray.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.