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11 February 2006

Salome (1968)

By Richard Strauss

Libretto: Richard Strauss, based on the play Salomé by Oscar Wilde

Performers: Montserrat Caballé (Salome), Regina Resnik (Herodias), Sherrill Milnes (Jokanaan), and Richard Lewis (Herod); Erich Leinsdorf conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, London, 1968

Want to know the plot? Click here.

Before Salome, I had never experienced an opera of such a condensed time frame. At one hour and forty minutes, this one-act performance seemed particularly fast. The plot or thrust of action, however, is amazing thin. John the Baptist (Jokanaan) refuses Salome's nubile 16-yo advances. He insults her mother. Her uncle-turned-step-father wants her. She dances for daddy dearest at the promise of receiving anything she desires for compensation. She wants John's head. She makes out with the decapitated head of the man who refused her in life. Wow! As you might suspect, audiences at its premiere were appalled and shocked.

Caballé, as always, delivered a first-rate performance, but there was no way to expect that hers was the voice of a disturbed teenager. This opera was also unique in my experiences in that the part of Salome features at 15-minute solo. Who better to deliver such a demanding performance than one of the twentieth century's best sopranos? The supporting cast and their roles seemed there solely for the purpose of supporting and highlighting Salome, both the character and the diva bringing her to life.

However, beyond the lovely psychological peculiarities and all-out shock value of Salome, the entertainment value ended there. The music was not as entrancing as previous operas I have enjoyed, and I found my mind wandering during the extended arias. I am a philistine with a preference for plot over arias, so the slow, deliberate story did not hold my attention, as opposed to something like Pelléas et Mélisande, where arias are almost completely absent and the story is, instead, propelled by something akin to lyric conversation. And, of course, "The Dance of the Seven Veils" isn't nearly as entertaining without being able to watch the dances that go along with it.

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