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Recordings

ArtHaus Musik 101593
25 Apr 2012

Richard Strauss: Salome

An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.

Richard Strauss: Salome

Salome: Angela Denoke; Herodes: Kim Begley; Herodias: Doris Soffel; Jochanaan: Alan Held; Narraboth: Marcel Reijans. Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra. Stefan Soltesz, conductor. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director. Hans-Martin Scholder, stage designer. Bettina Walter, costume designer. Duane Schuler, lighting designer. Denni Sayers, choreographer. Recorded live from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, 2011.

ArtHaus Musik 101593 [DVD] | 108037 [Blu-Ray]

$37.99 (Blu-Ray)  Click to buy

In contrast to stagings of Salome which present the work in costumes and sets that evoke images of first-century Judea, the stage design by Hans-Martin Scholder, with costumes by Bettina Walter, is a modern-dress production. Even without robes, sandals, and other accoutrements of costume drama, the presentation is effective in giving the work a timeless quality, which works well conceptually. The modern setting does not get in the way of narrative, and the intensity that stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff brings to the work complementing the expressiveness Stefan Soltesz brings to the performance.

Angela Denoke is convincing in her portrayal of the title character. Her approach to Salome gives a sense of youthfulness that shifts as her fascination with Jochanaan takes on tragic dimensions. The intensity of Denoke’s performance is matched by her facile approach to the role, which is well within her technical and expressive abilities. The physicality of the role goes beyond executing the famous “Dance of Seven Veils,” since an effective performance should reflect the fascination Herod has for his step daughter. Denoke conveys this, as Kim Begley’s Herod seems both drawn to Salome and bound to his wife Herodias. As Herodias, Doris Soffel is believable as Herod’s wife and demonstrates well the bonds that allow her to manipulate Salome in requesting the head of Jochanaan, John the Baptist, as the price for his foolish oath. In the role of the prophet Jochanaan, Alan Held has a solid vocal and physical presence. The stylized Mohawk hair style given to Jochanaan sets him apart from the conventional styles given to the members of the court, with the attention given to the head subtly emphasizing that part of the body, since his head is key to the climactic moment when Salome lustily kisses the detached skull as she indulges her lips with those of Jochanaan.

In allowing her character to shift from being fascinated with Jochanaan to being obsessed with him, Denoke underscores the intensity not only in her acting, but her approach to the music. Without allowing the part to evince any strain, Denoke makes a powerful musical transformation from the beginning of the work to its tragic conclusion. The dramatic sound of her voice in the final scene is convincing, as the character of Salome conveys a sense of ruthlessness that repels Herod, as much as the coquetry depicted earlier in the opera had attracted him. This shift in perspective is important in successful performances, like this one.

In the role of Herodias, Doris Soffel is appropriate both vocally and dramatically. Her demeanor gives a sense of the wounded pride that motivates the queen to manipulate her impressionable daughter. While this is implicit in the libretto, this dimension is part of the presentation recorded her. Soffel is exemplary in this role, as is Kim Begley, who creates an equally intensive characterization of Herod. Without employing the histrionics that some introduce into performances of Herod, Begley allows the music to emerge easily in characterizing the flawed and erring king. This is a passionate, full-voiced Herod, performed with the artistry this opera needs. Along these lines, Alan Held is powerful as Jochanaan, with a commanding presence when he is on stage. His resolute performance fits his character well.

As strong as the performances are, the staging merits attention for the way it allows the drama to unfold. The requisite pit where Jochanaan is imprisoned is part of the design in its placement under the center of the stage. The surrounding walls give a sense of the palace confining the nobility, almost like the prison implied below for the Baptist. This is offset by the raised walkway in the back, which is part of many shots in the DVD as it allows for various entrances to occur facilely. At the same time, the suspended walkway also becomes the means for the guard, who eventually executes Salome, to be present throughout the drama. It underscores his entrance at the climax of the opera, so that this it is neither sudden nor unexpected. In addition, the colors used in the production and reproduced in the DVD are evocative for the ways they suggest shifts in the drama. Salome’s pink dress is prominent in the first part of the drama, and changes to a yellow, almost flesh-tone, shift after the famous “Dance of Seven Veils.”

The sound in this recording is has a welcome presence in supporting the voices without overbalancing them. Yet in orchestral interludes and the extended “Dance of Seven Veils” the orchestra is appropriately prominent, with the engineering supporting the fine performance at the core of the production. It allows the finesse of Stefan Soltesz to be heard well in this exemplary DVD. This staging of Salome merits attention, as does the excellent performance of the title role by Angela Denoke.

Jim Zychowicz

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