Culture Magazine

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Salome

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The opera that made Richard Strauss a household name and shocked the world.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Salome

Head-hunter: Patricia Racette is Salome in the Met's new revival of Strauss' opera.
Photo © San Antonio Opera.

Salome is a white-knuckle ride down the road of excess, leading not to the palace of wisdom but to depravity and death. And yes the Met has scheduled performances of it right around the holidays.

What is Salome about?
This one-act opera is Richard Strauss' setting of Oscar Wilde's infamous play of the same title, chronicling the death of Jokaanan (John the Baptist) as a wish-fulfillment for the princess Salome. The prophet's severed head is the princess' payment for the most famous striptease in history: the Dance of the Seven Veils.

Why should I see it?
Watching Salome is like witnessing something between an accident and a terrible religious ritual. Going in, you know the fate of John the Baptist. You know that Salome will get naked (or close to it) and go from a girlish young woman to a slavering monster when she sings her great apotheosis to the head. And you know that you are in the hands of a master orchestrator whose endless invention is here on full display. With performances scheduled on Dec. 24 and 28, there's no better opera to dispel those holiday blues.

What's the music like? 
Strauss was a master of orchestration and orchestral color. He infused Salome's 100-or-so minutes with the silvery image of the rising moon, the terrors of black wings beating around the head of the haunted Herod, and the screech of the executioner's sword as Jokaanan meets his fate. Lurid, barbaric and massively over the top, it is an ode to decadence, violence and as we said further up the page, utter depravity.

Who's in Salome?
Longtime Met veteran Patricia Racette has stepped into Salome's dancing shoes, as a replacement for Catherine Naglestad. This is Ms. Racette's Met debut in the title role. Gerhard Siegel takes the shrill part of Herod, Tetrarch of Judea. Zeljko Lucic (and later, a reproduction of his head done in foam and latex) is Jokaanan. Nancy Fabiola Herrera sings the key role of Herodias. Johannes Debus conducts.

How's the production? 
The Met's version of Salome is set in a swanky 20th century lounge with hints of Biblical imagery and the utterly surreal. '50s style architecture may be an odd choice for Biblical drama, but the intensity and emotion of this show still comes across.

When does the show open?
The first performance of Salome this season is Dec. 5.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.
Which recording should I buy?
Vienna Philharmonic cond. Sir Georg Solti (Decca 1962)
This classic Decca Sonicstage recording features the mega-sized soprano of Birgit Nilsson in the title role, the driving conducting of Georg Solti and the expert production skills of John Culshaw making the opera as graphic as possible.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (EMI/WBC 1978)
If Solti drives forward, Karajan caresses and seduces using the warm timbre of the Vienna Philharmonic to sickening effect. His Salome is the perfectly cast Hildegard Behrens in the role that made the German soprano a star.
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG 1991)
Cheryl Studer may seem like an unlikely choice for the role of a "sixteen-year-old princess with the voice of an Isolde" but she is well coached and well couched in the lush sound of this Berlin orchestra. This was the first of a series of successful Strauss recordings by Mr. Sinopoli, whose hot streak ended with his untimely (and early) death.

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