Stefan Herheim’s Salome explodes in Salzburg

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.

Here are two interviews Herheim has given about this production: a beginner-level one to the Kurier and an advanced one to the Frankfurter Rundschau (both in German).

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

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  1. Thx for the review/report. I am only little jealous 😉
    The whole Salzburg Easter weekend package is far too expensive for me, so I'll gladly wait this production to travel to Graz-Dresden to see it. Cheers

  2. I voted for you to go to this in the poll you has earlier this year. Wish you could have gone to the real thing. Still, good to get your view of the dress. Unfortunately, 400 Euros are unfortunately rather scarce – especially in the view of the plummeting value of the $.

  3. If I'm not mistaken in order to be eligible to buy those 400 euro tickets you have to be a patron. The annual fee per person is around 300 euro.:)

  4. 3 out of 3 commenters agree: the Osterfestspiele is expensive!

    It makes a little more sense when you can hear what's coming out of the pit. I heard so many things I had *never* heard before in this score, which I know well.

  5. They have been or will be performing the whole oper with the same cast as a concert in Berlin. I guess that will be a much cheaper option;)

  6. Bogda, I'm pretty sure that already happened. I think I Hear Voices wrote about it (link to right). The production is really worth seeing, but musically it could stand alone very well. Everyone was pretty much the best you could wish for in these parts, the small roles were fantastic, and it was all SO well rehearsed. Good for festivals!

  7. I've actually been couple of times at the easter festival (invited by some of the sponsors), liked it, but never really got overexcited by any of the performances seen there (i've seen Ring and Pelleas). So I would really never opt to pay to go there. Though festivsl in itself is quite an exciting social event, much more so than summer one:) I'm quite sure production must be quite exciting, and really hope it will come to Dresden next year (though not quite sure about that, as they've announced that Herheim will be creating new productions in Dresden starting 2012/2013 season. And next season they have already announced his Lulu, so let's see)

  8. I looked at a copy of the festival programme book online, and it says that this Salome is a co-production with Den Norske Opera. (It doesn't mention Graz or Dresden, but perhaps it will be shown there, too?)

  9. We just had Salome in SF a couple of years ago, but I'd like to this one make a visit soon. It looks very interesting and well-thought out. Magee was strong and accurate in voice?

  10. Cruz, she was marking most of the time, so I can't rightly say. Seems like a very round and creamy sound for Salome at least compared to the more laser-like voices you usually get.