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DVD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS


Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome (1905) [108:00]
Nadja Michael (soprano) Ė Salome
Peter Bronder (tenor) Ė Herod
Iris Vermillion (mezzo) Ė Herodias
Matthias Klink (tenor) Ė Narraboth
Falk Struckmann (baritone) Ė Jochanaan
Natela Nicoli (soprano) Ė Page to Herodias
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Daniel Harding
rec. live, Teatro all Scala, March 2007
Director: Luc Bondy
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio: 16:9; LPCM Stereo; DTS 5.1 Surround
Experience Classicsonline

This new TDK release brings yet another Salome to the marketplace.† While itís worthy in many ways, it sounds a lot better than it looks and itís let down by a rather dull staging.
The production is the one that Luc Bondy created for the Salzburg Festival in 1992, clearly still doing the rounds at La Scala as recently as last year.† Itís difficult to see why, though: the staging is static and the direction rather dull.† The set is an open living area, difficult to tell whether itís indoors or out.† There is a recessed area in the middle that leads down to Jochanaanís cistern and the singers have to manoeuvre their way over and around a strange monolithic block that looks like a leftover from 2001: A Space Odyssey.† There are slatted windows off to the right which are darkened at the end when Herod calls for the lights to be put out, but that doesnít stop the camera director attempting some very arty but singularly unsuccessful shots from behind the slats.† When the camera angle is from this point you can barely see a thing, and just as you think the director has seen the error of his ways he throws in another darkly obscure shot.† Ridiculous!† There are signs of decay in this living space, however: the walls have begun to crumble at their base, and the cistern appears to have been gouged out of what was once the floor: the aftermath of a devastating conflict, perhaps?† Very little is made of the set, though, so whatever implications Bondy is going for must be left hanging.† The costumes are mainly of an indeterminate period: Herod dresses in the psychedelic colours of a hippy - with a very odd ginger wig to match - while most of the other characters, most notably Herodias, wear full evening dress to fit the occasion of the party.† Only Jochanaan wears a rough robe that suggests Biblical times, perhaps an attempt to show how out of touch he is with this culture.† Salome wears a very tight fitting dress to accentuate her sensuality, while she is given a sarong which she floats out behind herself like a child playing in the wind.† This reinforces her innocence, something Nadja Michael also brings out during Jochanaanís first monologue when she jokingly hides from him, treating it like some devilish game of hide-and-seek.
The direction of the singers is steady enough.† Bondy focuses on this as the tragedy of a family disintegrating.†† The key scene takes place after Salome has asked for Johnís head as a reward, and Herod, his wife and step-daughter all sit down around a table to discuss it.† The discussion, of course, goes horribly wrong, in spite of all the bribes that Herod produces, and it ends with Salome overturning the table petulantly but decisively.† Meanwhile, Herodias looks on and gloats, goading her daughter to stick to her demands.† Iris Vermillionís body language is marvellous here: she is the most dominant member of the family, and we can see how her relationship with Herod has turned sour.† The actual production of the head is rather tame, however: it merely appears wrapped in cloth while the executioner strolls off casually, and at first Salome doesnít really seem too bothered by it.† It has nothing like the impact of David McVickerís stunning final scene from Covent Garden earlier this year but more of comparisons later.
As Salome, Nadja Michael rightly commands the stage from first appearance to last.† She flits onto the stage like a child playing a game of tig, and she larks around for the whole of the first half, including her scene with Jochanaan.† Then her body language transforms during the final third, to that of an implacable menace who will not be put off from her grim request: here she stands stock tall and commanding, whereas before she was light and playful.† Her singing is simultaneously light and commanding: she has the girlish timbre, but there is impeccable strength in her high notes which are utterly secure.† Her voice has strength and body, as well as that light tingle at the top.† Her Dance of the Seven Veils is interesting enough to look at, but is also jerky and quite staccato, lacking in any real sensuality.† I canít really believe that Herod would have been driven wild by it.
English tenor Peter Bronder is a magnificent Herod.† His voice is utterly secure in all the notes, yet his voice has all the wiry tone at the top to make Herod sound unpleasant and slimy.† He made me think of Gerhard Stolze, and I can think of no higher compliment in this role.† He sounded sleazy and almost alluring during the scene where he asks Salome to drink his wine and eat his fruit, while his hysterical desire after the dance was utterly believable.† Likewise his wild pleading with his stepdaughter after she asks for the head is convincing, and almost makes him seem sympathetic.† He hides his head under a shawl for the whole of the final, twisted song to the head, and when he removes it he is so struck by the horror that his command to his guards seems the only appropriate response.† I wonder if his bizarre appearance is meant to suggest that he is too immature for the responsibilities of power, or that he is trying to take his kingdom in a direction his people are not ready to go?† Either way, this performance is worth hearing for him alone.† Every bit his equal is Iris Vermillionís Herodias.† She appears and acts like a malevolent marchioness, trying to control her husband while exuding hatred for him.† Her rather odd wig in fact adds to her impression of imperiousness, and at the end she is almost like a banshee as she wills her daughter on in her grisly request.† Thankfully, her voice is fantastic too, a rich, resonant mezzo which conveys a power and majesty that we donít tend to associate with Herodias.† She is another wonderful asset to this set.
Matthias Klink is a characterful, ardent Narraboth, whose sense of horror at his idolís perversion is quite believable, and all the more disturbing in consequence.† Natela Nicoli brings a rich, dark voice to the role of the page: she is on the stage for much of the action, and provides some of Salomeís veils for the dance.† Struckmann is a good actor as Jochanaan, summoning apocalyptic anger when he emerges from the cistern, yet converting this to warm transcendence when he describes the coming of the Son of Man.† Iíve never been keen on his gravely voice, though, and it doesnít record well here.† He sounds a little raspy where he should sound authoritative and commanding.† Ironically, his off-stage utterances are better, though I wonder how much that has to do with artificial amplification.† He is nowhere near as convincing as baritones like Bryn Terfel or Michael Volle.†† Harding controls the direction of the score with expertise: the sensuality of the opening is warm and compelling, while he works the frenzy well in the dance.† The chill of the final scene, however, not least the trill as all the lights are put out, is palpably icy.† He is given a warm and thoroughly deserved ovation at the end.
The singing here is very good indeed, then, though the production is disappointingly banal.† However, due to its nature this DVD invites comparisons with two other sets in particular.† This same production is available on Decca from Covent Garden (recorded in 1997).† The singing on the TDK DVD is on the whole much better: Catherine Malfitano sounds rather too mature to be a convincing Salome, while Kenneth Riegel is a mediocre Herod.† A young Robert Gambill makes a good mark as Narraboth, but even the great Anja Silja must give way to Iris Vermillion as Herodias.† The only exception is Bryn Terfel, one of the best Jochanaans on disc, whose ardent power easily surpasses Falk Struckmann.† The other comparison is Nadja Michaelís other Salome on an Opus Arte DVD from Covent Garden earlier this year.† The singing is better in almost every role on this TDK version, not least from Michaels herself who packs far more power and tunefulness here; but the undeniable power of David McVickerís controversial production makes up for a lot of the vocal problems, and his stage pictures will stay in the mind long after Bondyís murky dullness has been forgotten.† For the singing, then, this TDK version wins the prize, but if itís an overall experience of Salome that you want then, among recent versions at least, McVicker will prove hard to beat.
Simon Thompson


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