Saturday, February 2, 2008

A little necrophilia to go with your incest? A rave for Stratas as Salome.

I thought with my adulterous literature kick (Heat and Dust and The Master Bedroom) I would add a dash of incest and a little necrophilia, so on Alex Ross' suggestion we got the 1970s film of Struass' Salome with Teresa Stratas. Wow! Thank you Alex. If you are not familiar with Oscar Wilde's script, it's classical epic meets bad horror film. Pretty over the top. Add Richard Strauss' music and then that raucous lyricism can really, well, sing. Strauss loved those crazy women - Elektra, Salome, Helen, Ariadne. He had a taste for the overwraught. His music is gorgeously lyrical and sort of cacophonous at the same time. In Salome, Elektra and Die Frau Ohne Schatten, all Strauss operas, you can hear Vienna but the machine is broken and has been repaired with parts from the junk shop - a sort-of steam-punk classical music. It's gorgeously right for this material. He wrote more strictly lyrical stuff too - check out his Four Last Songs if you don't believe me. More ravishing songs do not exist.

Anyhoo, Salome, the production by Gotz Friedrich is in a sort of 1970s biblical epic style. I expected Charlton Heston to appear at any moment. Everyone is a bit over-the-top, even Stratas but she is also perfect. Astrid Varnay, one of the reigning Wagnerian sopranos from the 1940s and 50s plays Herodias - Salome's mom, like a drag queen. This is a role typically played by over-the-hill sopranos. It's not supposed to sound nice. And she really gets into it. The crunching of the scenery can be heard for miles and she probably used the conductor's baton as a toothpick afterwards. Speaking of which the conductor Karl Bohm produces sweat-producing theatrical tension in the famous final scene that, with Stratas' singing, brought it home in a way I've never heard in any other version. Bernd Weikl sounds gorgeous as Jokhanaan. All in all this DVD is a really satisfying blend of film and opera and features the most committed and sumptuously sung performance of this sex-starved girl-woman you are every likely to see. Stratas really gets her. This is a rave-worthy film.

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