Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SALOME live from the met

"Salome", Richard Strauss, live from the Metropolitan Opera House.

Production Jurgen Flimm
Design Santo Loquasto
Salome Karita Mattila
Jochanaan Juha Uusitalo
Herod Kim Begley
Herodias Ildiko Komlosi
Narraboth Joseph Kaiser

Conductor Patrick Summers replacing an ill Mikko Franck

In a break from the usual Sunday morning country routine of doing as little as possible as slowly as possible, we drove to the local town for the Metropolitan HD (that’s video, not sound) latest season kick-off: Salome at midday. About 50 other people did the same. C and G had organised the tickets.

The night before we had watched Oscar Wilde’s Salome in the Steve Berkoff directed stage version, filmed for TV in 1995 in the Ginza Saison Theatre, Tokyo. With hardly any colour, minimal sets and props, and most action in stylised slow motion, it is reduced to the essentials – the text. Berkoff explains: “So much was the perfume and tapestry in the language that I decided that the stage should be bare and allow the words to bounce off the hard surfaces without being softened or cushioned by ‘carpets and ivory tables and tables of jasper

The effect is startling. There’s only one person I know who can, and did, successfully add to Wilde, and that is Richard Strauss. Leaving the original text largely intact, Strauss underlines the drama with his now familiar shocking score and Berkoff’s principle of less is more becomes even more relevant.

What a disappointment therefore to find yourself face to face with a Hollywood version, with a set cluttered to the ridiculous extent that Salome is walking across planks over a crack in the universe in between dodging any other amount of unnecessary steps, stairs, rails, chairs, tables, holes, lifts, crates, faux everything and real nothing. It was crap. It may well have worked better in the big theatre where perspective reduced clutter to impressions and over direction to relevance. All this was then augmented by the transmission direction of Barbara Willis Sweete. That would be the same BWS who cut and sliced and spliced and mutli-screened the T&I to the point that the only way to survive it was with eyes shut tight. No wonder Johannaan had his eyes covered; he’d been to the dress rehearsal.

BWS may be able to edit film to text, but she sure can’t edit film to music. Having failed badly in T&I, this is better, but still she manages to ignore musical phrases and cut across them as if just to remind us that she (BWS) is still there. Just one example, and the worst I remember: the closing moments of necrofiliac ecstasy, with Salome and her trophy locked in orgasm, are spent cutting to the nasty angels (oh, they must be angels of death) to the executioner, black body-builder of course, (oh, someone is sure to get killed around here soon), never mind that Mr Wilde and Mr Strauss are perfectly able to tell us that for themselves, and then a quick peep at how Sal’s going with the head before off we go again, camera roving around the set.

Patrick Summers gave what sounded like a routine performance of little nuance, little eroticism, little vulgarity and little thrill. The sound system we heard was compressed and not good. Back to the Chauvel next time.

Karita Matilla was, as reported, in sensational voice, suffering only from too many close-ups, BWS again doing everything she can to destroy the magic and the illusion. A 48 yr old dramatic soprano playing a singing dancing 16 year old doesn’t need close-ups. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this league, except perhaps Katarina Dalayman. Can we expect an Elina Makropulos from Mattila soon? Does Makropulos mean big chook?

Speaking of America, what’s wrong with it? We can show a virgin sucking blood from a dead man's mouth, but can’t show a nipple, let alone the bit where the legs join the body, because this is a family show! Mommy and Daddy have nipples and funny bits where the legs join the body, but they don’t suck blood from dead men’s mouths. Maybe in Alaska.

The other Finn, big Juha Uusitalo, was boomy in and out of his cistern and had about as much belief is his holiness and his Lord as BWS has in long shots.The rest of the cast was fine.

The dogs were pleased when I got home, and so was I. That said, Mattila made it more than worthwhile.


Sarah said...

I wasn't mad keen on the production either, and as for Barbara Willis Sweete...good thing I didn't get around to murdering her for T&I because now I'm moved to do it all over gain.
But Karita - wow. Even the closeups I liked, she was so terribly scary it just added to the thrill. And I believe she is indeed scheduled to sing Elina Makropulos at the Met, around 2010 I think. Hopefully it will be an HD transmission. Hopefully NOT filmed by BWS.

wanderer said...


Yes, via Sieglinde, it looks like 2011-2012 for KM as EM, with Katya in between (Madrid, Chicago).

In case you missed it, there's a hot shot HERE