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Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Salome (Original French version first performed Paris, 1907) (1905)
Sofia Soloviy (soprano) – Salome
Leonardo Gramegna (tenor) – Herode
Francesca Scaini (mezzo) – Herodias
Costantino Finucci (baritone) – Iokanaan
Vincenzo Maria Sarinelli (tenor) – Narraboth
Francesca De Giorgi (mezzo) – Page to Herodias
Les cinq Juifs - Nicola Amodio; Massimillano Silvestri; Domingo Stasi; Giovanni Coletta; Michele Aurelio Bruno
Les deux Nazareens - Emanuele Genovese; Giuseppe Ranoia
Gioseppe Ranoia – Premier Soldat

Marcello Rosiello – Second Soldat
Michele Aurelio Bruno (bass) – Cappadocian
Nicola Amodio (soprano) – Slave
Orchestra Internazionale D’Italia/Massimilano Caldi
rec. live, Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy, July 2007
Booklet notes and synopsis: Italian, English, German, French
Libretto: French and English
[56:01 + 38:57]


Experience Classicsonline

Salome is a strange creature: part Isolde, part neurotic and, at first, spoilt teenage brat. Yet Salome inhabits an even stranger universe where every other character lusts after what obsesses them be it a soldier who commits suicide following Salome's rejection or John the Baptist’s tunnel-vision focus on the divine. Within that context Salome's corrupted sexual awakening towards her deluded confusion of the bitter taste of blood with the taste of love is the core of her tragedy.

This live 2007 recording from the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca is only the second complete Salome sung in French, rather than German, on CD. The translation need not worry purists as Strauss not only sanctioned the use of Wilde's original French text but reworked part of the score to match. The festival's artistic director explains in the booklet that Strauss drew inspiration first and foremost from Pelléas et Melisande and that Strauss "understood that it was absolutely necessary to reduce the crashing sound qualities so beloved of the German post-Wagnerian pompier, making room for silences, in a never realised desire to create an almost chamber-music discourse". 

Thereby Caldi's conducting eschews the lurid for the lucid, ditches much of Strauss's kitsch but is still alive to the drama. The sensuousness of the French vowels are matched with transparent orchestral layering and extended lines. You can almost see Salome’s veils being gently tossed into the air before floating to earth. Many orchestral attacks are cushioned rather than clipped, timpani are supportive rather than earth-shattering and orchestral solos, notably from the woodwind, are forward. The engineering supports the approach with voices comfortably clear and by reining in crescendo so the dynamic range, such as in the dance or the orchestral explosion when Salome finally gets John’s head on a platter, are flattened. Dohnanyi’s set comes closest to this transparency but whilst the Vienna Philharmonic are technically finer than the Orchestra Internazionale D’Italia/Dohnanyi’s Salome is lamed by ghastly vibrato. 

The singers will be new to most CD listeners. Soloviy’s surprisingly deep tones are based on a warm metallic core and her colours can turn amber or gold. The voice is resonant and vibrant only occasionally developing an unobtrusive beat in some crescendos. Soloviy’s emphasis is on developing character through a singing line noticeably evoking the sensuousness of the French text when first negotiating with Herod for the Baptist’s execution, later bringing out a hardened edge as Salome sticks to her cruel demand. Perhaps Cheryl Studer’s silvery tones in the Sinopoli set suggest the teenage girl more naturally but Soloviy still sounds fresh and youthful. 

The final monologue is more sensual than usual. Brass and timps are hedged in the opening crescendo and Soloviy sings most of Salome’s lines with surprising tenderness. It may be a drop in temperature too far for some listeners, and she could arguably use a greater variety of vocal colours, but singer and conductor do develop a dramatic arch towards Salome’s triumphant cry “Princesse de Judée!”. What a pity then Salome’s gentle words, just before Herod’s entry, are ruined by someone trampling across the stage. Such stage noises are caught throughout this recording with amazing clarity by the microphones. Was one placed on the floorboards? 

Leonardo Gramegna’s Herod also has a youthful voice. His bargaining with Salome after the dance begins with such romance listeners may wonder if they’d wandered into La Bohème. The effect is creepy. Elsewhere, especially when conversing with Herodias he subtly reveals the mania and grotesque comedy without resorting to caricature. 

Strauss told Hans Hotter that John the Baptist should move as little as possible about the stage and the near frightening command and implacability of the preacher is certainly borne out in the great baritone’s live recordings for Keilberth (1951) and Reiner (1952). Finucci’s imposing Baptist is, in tune with this production, a much warmer and human creation yet not matching Hotter in capturing the wild wanderer from the Old Testament wilderness. 

How you respond to this set will depend on what you want from Salome. Mahler said that there is a volcano underneath the score. For most listeners the theatrical impact of the German version is realised as we sense that subterranean force simmering or even erupting. Sinopoli is often accused of overcooking the score, plunging into a world teeming with neuroticism, the Romantic and the disturbing. Karajan goes for a sleeker, fuller palette but like Sinopoli can still bring intense energy that threatens to boil over not least in the crucial final exchange between Herod and Herodias. That same tiny scene under Caldi does not build with nearly the same violence. 

Yes, there is room for an almost chamber-like discourse but this must feed into a vivid drama which includes suicide, a strip-tease, murder and necrophilia. All these aspects together with surprising clarity balance best in a live 1952 Metropolitan Opera recording lead by Fritz Reiner. His extraordinary cast is lead by Ljuba Welitsch who rips Salome from the bar-lines with some of the most vivid parlando, clear diction and molten silvery tone on record. Just listen to that gleeful laugh as Salome finally gets John’s head on a platter and Reiner whips the score into what can only be described as an orchestral orgasm. Even as you hear fine singers like Sofia Soloviy, Hildegard Behrens and Cheryl Studer your mind’s ear will remember how Welitsch did it better. She was truly off the scale.

David Harbin

see also Marc Bridle's comparative review of Salome on record




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