Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna 01 October 2019
Salome is the biblical story about the stepdaughter of King Herod, Princess Salome who forces the Tetrarch (king) to give her the severed head of Jochanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver salver as a reward for dancing for him. It is based on the synonymous play by Oscar Wilde. The opera is not accessible either as a story, perhaps better not seen immediately after dinner, or vocally, where the demands are truly Wagnerian, but the music can only be expressed in superlatives.
Herod is married to Herodias who was married to his brother, Philip and is the mother of Salome. Jochanaan is a prophet who is imprisoned in a cistern in the palace courtyard. Herodias wants him bumped off, but Herod is afraid of divine repercussions. Narraboth is the captain of the palace guard in charge of the prisoner. He is totally smitten by the beauty of Salome, so the whole place is reeking of lust: Herodias who abandoned her husband for Herod; Herod who is consumed with passion for Salome; Salome who insanely lusts after Jochanaan's body. She sings to him of her love for his body in lyrical terms of color: the whiteness of his skin; the blackness of his hair and the redness of his mouth. Poor Narraboth can't resist the power of her will to see Jochanaan and ends up doing a local version of Hari Kari. Salome just walks over his body without even noticing him lying beneath her feet. It gets worse and worser!
The whole translates into a cauldron of inflamed passions which are brilliantly conveyed by Strauss' spellbinding music and the dramatic vocal requirements needed to express these passions. It continues unabated for close on two hours. Herod (Jörg Schneider) and his wife Herodias (Linda Watson) are relatively late arrivals on the scene. They were a great vocal and dramatic match, radiating self-indulgence and constant tensions of domestic conflicts. Narraboth (Lukhanyo Moyake) was a convincing character, torn between duty and passion. A lot of his role is silent as he is lying dead on the stage as Salome walks all over him and has to stay there until Herod has the corpse removed. There is one voice of reason in this maelstrom of evil passions. That is the Page, who was gracefully played and sung by Margaret Plummer. Then there the fillers. Five Jews, two Nazaarenes some soldiers and the man with the Axe. Their positions and outlooks add to the tensions and conflicts being played out. However high the demands on all these characters are, this story is about one person - SALOME
The vocal demands are for a dramatic soprano who can give it all for almost two hours, who can portray rapidly changing moods consistently, whose momentary flashes of hesitation are a tiny gesture, whose expressions of lustful desire are achingly subtle, whose dancing with seven veils keep not only Herod but an audience of almost two thousand people riveted to their seats for sixteen minutes, who can gaze with uncertainty at a blood-dripping head for ages before fulfilling her goal of kissing his mouth. And the taste? Bitter! Bitter like love? Herod is so disgusted and lost he has her killed on the spot.
Ausrine Stundyte, from Lithuania, made her debut in the Wiener Staatsoper as an incredibly perfect Salome. Her singing, note-perfect throughout this marathon, and the subtlety of her dramatic awareness and expression were Mirabile visu. She is a supernova. She is also beautiful, with ivory white skin, jet black hair and a rose red mouth.
I hope she comes back soon.
Vienna 02 October 2019
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