[Met Performance] CID:302530

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, November 15, 1990

Salome received nine performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Tim Page in Newsday
Return of Strauss’ Sordid “Salome”

Niklaus Lehnhoff’s kinky, over freighted and generally loathsome 1989 staging of Richard Strauss' "Salome" returned to the Metropolitan Opera Thursday night. This, you may recall, is the production that transforms the palace of Herod into a dingy, cavernous basement — all dust, shadows, white light, and expressionist angles a la "Caligari." The palace guards, stuffed into black leathers and girdled with glittering metal, pose and strut in high S/M style, while disposing of dead bodies into a chute. Above the pit, the people come and go, clad in Martian finery; they are set against ersatz Vegas bathroom marble, through the windows of which one can discern golden, glittering buttocks painted on the wall. The entire setting calls to mind nothing so much as an arty downtown nightclub; one half expects a multi-mirrored disco ball to start throwing off sparks.

The stupidest and most offensive moments in the production have been tidied up a bit from last year. The spotlight no longer so clearly streams from a guard's zipper. Herod manages to refrain from sniffing Salome's garments as she discards them in her dance. And the peculiar conclusion Lehnhoff came up with for the opera in its last go-round — the gigantic executioner, built like a black Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sweeps Queen Herodias into his arms and offstage — has been replaced by one that is more faithful to the Bible, Oscar Wilde and all previous tellings of this story.

Still, this is probably the worst production in the Met's repertory and even a first-class performance can't redeem it. On Thursday, Hildegard Behrens sang thrillingly: Her Salome was steely imperious, capable at all times of being heard over the huge Straussian orchestra. It's a shame that she was forced to wear an absurd pink party dress throughout the night; doubly so that the famous "Dance of the Seven Veils" was here transformed into a camp classic. (Accompanied by ludicrous hoochie-koochie music — Strauss at his most banal — Behrens cavorted about the stage grotesquely, all the while losing her clothes; imagine the cartoon character Baby Huey dispensing kleenex and laying out picnic blankets and you'll have the general idea.)

Ekkehard Wlaschiha, as the prophet Jokanaan, sounded tinny and frayed in the scenes sung (and poorly amplified) from beneath the stage; it was rather a surprise when he emerged from the shadows and proved to be an excellent singing actor, with a dark, individual and unusually emotive bass voice. In most contemporary stagings of "Salome," Jokanaan is portrayed as just one more lunatic in a sordid tale — a reading that would have shocked our grandparents. Wlaschiha restores some dignity to the man; his is probably the most humane interpretation of this role I've seen in some time.

Richard Cassilly (Herod) and Helga Dernesch (Herodias) were retained from last year's cast — malevolent, highly strung, and altogether convincing as two of the prime rotters in operatic history. Peter Kazaras was appropriately ardent and tremulous as the love-struck soldier Narraboth. James Conlon led the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in a performance that lacked the final degree of sensory opulence but caught up the listener in its propulsion and sweep. Would that Lehnhoff's trashy production could have been swept away so easily.

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