The centerpiece of this year’s Osterfestspiele in Salzburg is a new production of that most Easter-appropriate of operas, Strauss’s Salome. The artistic team is of the sort that can only be found at a festival: the Berliner Philharmoniker is in the pit, conducted by Simon Rattle and the staging is by Stefan Herheim. Emily Magee makes her role debut in the title part. I was lucky enough to see the dress rehearsal yesterday. I can’t review a rehearsal, but here’s a non-judgmental preview.
Briefly summarizing something as dense as a Herheim production may be a futile task but I’m going to try to do so without giving away too many surprises. The stage is dominated by a giant telescope, a representation of the libretto’s fixation on looking (sets and lights by Heike Scheele, costumes by Gesine Völlm). But the telescope is also a gun, and it’s also a phallic symbol. Thus, a symbol for how men objectify women (all women, not just Salome). We see this in the relationship between the identically-dressed couples of Narraboth and the Page (played as a woman) and Herod and Herodias.
Salome, whose style mixes blond Bettie Page hair with Marilyn skirts (a color inversion of the other women’s black), can only express herself through her looks. But she can turn this power to attract into a weapon, taking control of the telescope herself to expose Herod and Herodias.
Herod’s kingdom suffers from fragmented authority and belief. Religion provides little guidance, with the five Jews appearing as representatives of various religious traditions* and Jochanaan–merely a dirtier version of Herod and Narraboth, no saint–suffering from severe sexual repression.
In her dance, Salome exposes not herself but men for what they are.
The Berlin Philharmonic in the pit provides a luxury experience in terms of precision and transparency. Rattle’s conducting was rather cool. No specific comments on the singing (marking was evident) but the overall level was very very good. Watch out in particular for Iain Paterson’s Jochanaan, Hanna Schwarz’s Herodias, and Rinat Shaham’s Page, who incidentally has the most stage time and business of any Page in history.
If you’re free this weekend or next and have at least 400 Euros burning a hole in your pocket, you can spring for one of the Osterfestspiele’s subscriptions. This won’t be your last chance for this Salome, though: the Kurier article mentions that this is a co-production, but the identity of the other opera house remains undisclosed (Intermezzo reports that the production will be seen in Dresden, which considering their history with Herheim would make sense).
*Edited later: I’m reading reviews and I may have been wrong about this? I don’t know about religious robes, but I thought one of them had a cross. Hmm. They weren’t reassuring, either way.
Bows (check the Rattlecam under the edge of the stage)
Photos copyright Forster/Salzburg Osterfestspiele except bows