Strauss' Salome (1997): Starring Catherine Malfitano, Bryn Terfel, Anja Silja, Kenneth Reigle, Robert Gambill, Peter Bonder, Graeme Broadbent, Michael Druiet, Rupert Oliver Forbes, Andrea Hazell Film Director Hans Hulscher, Opera Director Luc Bondy, Conductor Christoph Von Dohnayi Royal Opera Covent Garden Orchestra.
Directors Hans Huschler and Luc Bondy attempt to turn up the heat in this classic shock opera by Richard Strauss based on the Biblical story of the princess Salome and the beheading of John the Baptist. Nevertheless, this production does'nt entirely satisfy me. The singing is superb, so let's talk about that first. New York-born soprano Catherine Malfitano sings the role with virtuosic power and her physicality is exactly what is needed for the role. She meets the demands of the fiendishly difficult music and is svelte and young enough for the part of the young and wild daughter of Herod. Veteran dramatic soprano Anja Silja, acclaimed for her Wagner roles, is an icy, strong and leonine Herodias. But tenor Kenneth Reigle is possibly miscast as Herod. If you've seen the 1979 Joseph Losey film of Mozart's Don Giovanni, you would have seen Reigle as Don Ottavio. While he is perfectly comfortable singing lyric parts, this role is too taxing for him and instead of sounding powerful and king-like, he sounds underpowered and downright silly. His voice nearly cracks under pressure and appears to be falsetto in various points. The Jochanaan of Welsh baritone star Bryn Terfel is remarkably good. Damn good. He encompasses the fiery prophet spirit of the character, with perhaps just the slightest bit of sex appeal (after all Salome was attracted to him, and we must see why). Although the singing is first-rate thanks to Malfitano, Terfel and Silja, I'm afraid I can't compliment the production itself. It doesn't seem to make up its mind as to what it is. It's not Art Neauveau, the art style that was prevalent in Oscar Wilde's time of the original play, nor is it accurately depicting the Biblical time of the story. The costumes are odd and out-of-synch with the story. Salome looks like she just came out of a Beverly Hills clothing store circa 1985. Anja Silja appears to be wearing something Edwardian and the set is minimalist and avant-garde, meaning there's a lot of darkness and low lighting. If you like that sort of stuff, then you won't mind this performance. But I can only give it 8 points out of 10.
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