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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minimal treatment but high impact Salome, 24 April 2014
This review is from: Strauss: Salome [Erika Sunnegårdh, Mark S. Doss, Robert Brubaker] [Blu-ray] [2014] (Blu-ray)
It may be a little unfair on the composer of Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten, but for sheer visceral impact, to say nothing of their influence on subsequent 20th century opera, none of them can match Strauss's two early one-act tone-poem operas Salome and Elektra. Salome in particular, as the composer's first foray into this new and unexplored territory, still has that impact of shock and awe in the sheer force of its musical expression. Undoubtedly, the method developed by Richard Strauss was a direct response to Oscar Wilde's deliciously decadent play that was the source for Hedwig Lachmann's libretto for the opera. Strauss aligns the music to the text with unerring precision for its mood, drama and psychological content. The lush orchestration for the rapturous declarations of Salome's appeals to Jochanaan clash extraordinarily with the harsh dissonance of the vicious barbs she throws at him when those advances are rejected.

Gabriele Lavia updates the period of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna production to Strauss' time, with soldiers wearing period military uniforms with helmets and lances, and Salome looking like she stepped out of the ballroom from a production of Arabella. The work doesn't appear to gain anything though this updating, but it looks good and matches the dark mood of the piece well. The stage for the most part remains stark and bare, the floor of Herod's palace a jagged stepping of shattered red marble, but the key scenes are all handled effectively, Jochanaan is hauled up out of a crack in the floor enchained and in a cage, a large magnifying glass amplifying the emotional and erotic tension of Salome's dance. The traditional head on the platter scene is handled differently here, but the conclusion is still suitably and floridly gruesome.

Musically, it's initially hard to distinguish the detail in the somewhat echoing sound mixes, but Nichola Luisotti seems bring out that important balance between the lush orchestration and the cutting edge of the rising dissonance. It's played and sung with wonderfully compelling fluidity, gripping you and holding you right through to the conclusion that should always leave you semi-stunned and breathless. That's certainly achieved here. Evidently, much also relies on the cast and Erika Sunnegårdh has strong presence as Salome, handling the singing challenges of the role and fitting well within the nature of the production. Mark S. Doss is a suitably grave, deeply-intoned Jochanaan, but with superb clarity and force of expression. The fact that we also have a strong Herod in Robert Brubaker and an impressive Heriodias as well with Dalia Schaechter is a bonus.

The Blu-ray from Arthaus looks terrific on a BD25, region-free disc. The DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 surround track tends to give more space to the ambience with the result that it sounds a bit indistinct and echoing in places. The LPCM 2.0 track is 'bright' but more focussed and sounds better through headphones. There are no extra features other than trailers for other releases. Subtitles are in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Korean.
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