Life & Culture

Review: Salome at the New York Metropolitan Opera



Metropolitan Opera

New York

In Jürgen Flimm’s production at the New York Met, the story of Salome unfolds in a non-specific setting. Flimm and designer Santo Loquasto have used contemporary imagery to convey the biblical story. The stage is divided into two halves. On the left, the terrace of Herod's palace could be interpreted as a hotel lobby, presumably in a Middle Eastern city, while Herod's dinner guests, in formal evening wear, emerge from a spiral staircase below the stage. The other half of the stage indicates the desert with a sandy hill. The cistern in front of the hill has an elevator to raise and lower the prophet Jochanaan. This staging in two halves may be difficult for the performers to tackle but, with this division, the sacred and profane are clearly separated with only Salome crossing from one world to the other. There is a twist to the final moment: when Herod gives the order to kill Salome, the soldier raises his arrow but, at the same time, Salome opens the top of her clothes. Is Salome killed (as specified by Strauss) or does a new chapter open up for her?

Salome is meant to be a 16-year old girl. It is the miracle of soprano Patricia Racette’s artistry that at the age of 51 (and stepping in for an indisposed Catherina Naglestad) she conveyed the aura of a curious, disturbed teenager with full credibility. In spite of the obvious vocal difficulties of the role, Racette sounded natural and sored through the large orchestra (of over 100 players) without any strain in her voice. Her dance of the seven veils, in Doug Varone’s stylish and sensual choreography, was as courageous as astonishing in execution. How often do sopranos get lifted up high and horizontally by two male dancers?

The other outstanding singer of the performance was the tenor Gerhard Siegel. With a strong Heldentenor voice and impressive stage presence, he dominated via his nuanced singing and superb acting. Lyrical tenor Kang Wang was excellent as Narraboth, the young captain in love with Salome. When, at the opening, Narraboth sings “Wie schön ist die Prinzessin Salome heute Nacht” (How fair is the Princess Salome tonight) I could not help thinking ‘how lovely this tenor voice is’. Jochanaan was disappointing: Zeljko Lucic lacked the charisma to make such a strong impression (as his character does) on Salome. Perhaps at subsequent performances Lucic produced a more convincing vocal characterisation.

No complaints about the other singers and conductor Johannes Debus, all of whom contributed to a splendid Salome performance.

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