Thanks to the magic of HD, we are able to relive the electrifying performance of dramatic soprano Karita Mattila as Strauss' heroine Salome in his 1905 opera of the same name. Although Ms. Mattila's ability to convince us that she is a spoiled 16-year-old is lessened by the closeups of the HD, we are nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to hear her totally committed exhibition of power, vocal range and lyricism. It is unlikely that a singer will emerge in our time who could do it any better.
The opera itself is musically audacious and dramatically single-minded with no subplots to distract us from the forward thrust. It is a distasteful story about four repulsive characters. Salome's character has been hopelessly warped by whatever experiences she has had at the hands of her nasty manipulative mother Herodias (Ildiko Komlosi) and licentious leering stepfather Herod (Kim Begley). Jochanaan (Juha Uusitalo), whose head Salome demands in return for gratifying Herod's importuning her to dance, is a misogynistic, pompous, hectoring and judgmental bore. The captain Narraboth (Joseph Kaiser) is driven to suicide by his unrequited lust for the beautiful princess of Judea.
Jurgen Flimm's production is nonsensically updated to modern times. Set and Costume Designer Santo Loquasto has given us something that looks like a yacht surrounded by paper-doll sand dunes on which perch black figures with white wings. The action seems to be taking place on the top deck of this yacht. Banquet guests are in contemporary gowns while the servants and guards seem to have escaped from a biblical epic.
Never mind all that. The power of the work lies in Strauss' daring score, conducted on the HD by Patrick Summers, and on the unforgettable performance of Ms. Mattila. Her Dance of the Seven Veils was weirdly choreographed by Doug Varone as a vampy excursion with several men in dinner suits serving as "chorus boys". Again, Barbara Willis Sweete directed the HD with an eye toward showing the audience what is important. We found the final scene of Salome kissing Jochanaan's bloody head far more shocking than the dance. Welcome to the 21st century!
(c) meche kroop