Richard Strauss's Salome, more than most operas, succeeds or fails depending largely on the portrayal of the title character. I last revisited this work here in 2011 when I reviewed the Sony release that offered a live performance from the Met featuring Karita Matilla as a sizzling Salome and Kim Begley as Herod. Well, we have the same Herod here, but Angela Denoke gives us a quite different Salome. Like Matilla, she is coquettish and alluring, but she is not as sinister. I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus. Dramatically, both sopranos dominate the proceedings on stage, and both sing well, though Denoke goes off pitch a few times on some high notes near the end. Nevertheless, she's quite effective in the role, but I'll give Matilla the edge vocally. There has been a long history of major sopranos singing Salome commandingly, including Mary Garden, Emmy Destinn, Ljuba Welitsch, Birgit Nilsson and Teresa Stratas.
Denoke imparts a more youthful demeanor to Salome than many other sopranos who tackle the role. That's certainly one of her greatest strengths here. With her slim figure, short blonde hair and physical agility she comes across as a quite believable Salome. True, closeups betray her lack of youth, but she looks much younger than her age – she was about fifty at the time of this 2011 production. Her Seven Veils dance is suggestive and sensual but a bit anti-climactic, not least because the horny Herod joins in. Overall, Denoke is convincing in the role then, and the rest of the cast is dramatically and vocally quite strong. But Nikolaus Lehnoff's production might pose a few problems to some traditionalists.
Personally, I mostly liked his take on this Strauss classic. Like the Matilla/Met Salome, this production features modern dress, and here Jochanan, portrayed quite imposingly by Alan Held, has a Mohawk with flowing locks. There is a car in view on an upper tier and, because the Page is dressed as a bellboy, I suppose the whole opera takes place in a hotel, a somewhat dilapidated hotel. But the atmosphere on stage is almost otherworldly in its mixture of decay and decadence, of Biblical characters and modern lust. Among the more effective touches in this production is the scene in which Salome sings and makes love to the severed head of Jochanan: the mood turns quite chilling and weird here, not least because the head looks eerily real.
Stefan Soltesz paces the opera well and draws fine playing from the orchestra. The sound is vivid and the camera work excellent. Overall, I'd give a slight edge to the Matilla Salome, but Denoke is good and Lehnhoff's touches make this Blu-ray a worthy contender.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings