This performance of Richard Strauss' Salome is dominated by the imposing vocal and dramatic skills of its lead, Erika Sunnegårdh. Ms. Sunnegårdh (b. 1966) spent many years in a stalled career before finally achieving her first major successes a decade or so ago. Her operatic debut came only in 2004, when she appeared in the title role of Puccini's Turandot at the Malmö Opera. She has since sung various roles at the Met, Deutsche Oper, Glyndebourne and other major venues.
Ms. Sunnegårdh is enormously talented and one can only lament that it must have frustrating for her as she struggled in the early years of her career to gain notice. She had made the US her home from age nineteen, and after twenty-six years relocated to Vienna (2011). In the role of Salome she seems nearly perfect. Her dramatic grasp of the character is right on: in her facial expressions, movements and overall demeanor she is the essence of the innocent, juvenile, cruel, and manipulative Salome. Her upper notes are powerful and ring out resoundingly, though her lower ones are a bit less convincing. Still, the performance is strong enough to rival my other favorite on video, the Karita Mattila on Sony Classical, which I reviewed here in 2011 (Sony DVD 88692-80663-9). I would give the edge to Sunnegårdh when compared with the fine but somewhat flawed effort by Angela Denoke (Arthaus Musik Blu-ray 108037), reviewed in 2012. Sunnegårdh's Dance of the Seven Veils sequence certainly rivals Mattila's for the mixture of sensuality and gracefulness. Both end up nude, but in the Sony production, the camera cuts away from Mattila because the performance was originally broadcast on television.
Of course, the opera has other important roles and in this new Arthaus Music issue they are filled quite ably by Mark S. Doss as Jochanaan, Robert Brubaker as Herodes and Dalia Schaechter as Herodias. Moreover, conductor Nicola Luisotti leads the orchestra with a knowing hand, shaping the music to yield maximum dramatic and musical effect.
The costuming in this production is interesting, if a bit odd-looking: male characters appear in early 20th attire, most in uniforms. One might look like a bellboy, another like a member of a marching band or, as is the case with Herodes, like a general in some kind of quaint regal military outfit. The women appear a bit more normal in their attire. The sets are extremely effective: the floor is made up of red rock (to symbolize blood, I suppose) and the full moon is replaced here by a huge round see-through mirror for much of the latter part of the opera. In the last scene an enormous head emerges from the floor to serve as the severed head of Jochanan, while his beheaded body hangs by its feet from chains.
The camera work and sound reproduction are excellent, as is the picture clarity on this Blu-ray disc. All in all, this is a splendid rendition of Salome.
Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings