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Wie grausam ist die Prinzessin Salome heute Nacht!

October 25, 2009

Nadja Michael as Salome
Photo: Terrence McCarthy/SF Opera 2009

Richard Strauss’ Salome is a landmark opera taking off from Wagner’s Tristan chord and throwing open the door to Twentieth Century music. Of course, you’d never know that from San Francisco Opera’s disastrous production of the work now on stage. In fact given Nicola Luisotti’s perplexing leadership in the pit, you might think the opera had been composed a half-century earlier than it was. It was no surprise these were Luisotti's first performances of the score - it sounded like it with all the drama leeched out of the music in favor of bland romantic smoothness. His unique achievement of the evening is to somehow make Strauss sound cliché.

But it’s not all Luisotti's fault, virtually nothing works in this short but seemingly endless train wreck. In the words of the immortal Jay-Z, it’s got 99 problems. But this time, the "bitch" is one. Needless to say, Salome doesn't work too well without a decent Salome. And while she may look the part, Nadja Michael isn't one. What she’s doing in this role is beyond me. She gulps down phrases before bounding into high notes that seem acquainted with pitch if not always the closest of friends. However, she’s can play with her and others' hair in that I'm-a-crazy-person way. She can be a commanding presence at times, it's just not a pleasant thing to listen to.

The production, directed by Sean Curran and imported from Opera Theater St. Louis, is minimal. Another gray box with a giant circular black cover to the cistern at the rear of the stage. When the cap is removed, a circular lens is revealed allowing Jokanaan to arrive in 007 fashion for his big scene. The set seems to be left over from the cheaper looking bits of the company's recent Il Trittico which I suppose is a thrifty maneuver if that's the case. It’s not very visually engaging and creates more questions than it can answer when combined with some banal, unsuccessfully updated costumes. What kind of killer land rodent are these soldiers with gold shin protectors worried about? Where is this opera set such that the all-around convenient sleeveless black hoodie is appropriate soldier attire? Heaven knows that I've got nothing against anachronism, but this really looks funny in a bad way. And don't get me started on Salome's dance. I know there is somebody for everybody in this world, but somebody is going to need some heavy duty dousing with Axe body spray to give off any sexy in this particular staging. On the plus side, Strauss only left us with the single act so if you make it through to the end, you're free to leave, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.



Yeah. The local press seems to have overlooked or missed the fact that Luisotti had no idea what he was doing.
(Oh - the Trittico production came from NYCO.)

Since you and I respond to things in a similar way more often than not, I'm surprised you disliked this so much.

I saw it last night and while Michael is no Matilla vocally and Luisotti is certainly no Runnicles, I thought it was very compelling dramatically and loved the set, which reminded me at times of a sink from the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to (frankly) an exploding asshole. I thought the whole thing to be very effective with the exception of the costuming of the Jews, which I found close to offensive.
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