- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit, dts-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit)
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Opus Arte
- Blu-ray Release Date: July 27, 2010
- List Price: $39.95
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Richard Strauss’s Salome created a furor at its Dresden premiere a century ago. Oscar Wilde’s play provided the text, a controversial retelling of the Salome story. This opera is probably best known for the erotic “Dance of the Seven Veils.” It deals primarily with sexual obsession, homosexual undertones, and incestuous intentions. So viewers should be warned in advance that, while not rated, this is not a family show.
The plot focuses on Salome’s growing obsession for the prophet Jokanaan (John the Baptist), imprisoned in the palace of Herod, ruler of Israel under Roman occupation. Herod has an unnatural attraction to his adolescent step-daughter Salome and ultimately gets her to perform “The Dance.” In exchange, Salome extracts Herod’s promise to give her Jokanaan’s severed head since the prophet has refused all of her prior advances. Once Salome has embraced this bloody trophy in full view of everyone, she is summarily put to death.
Salome is notoriously difficult to cast. The heroine must seem to be a hormone-driven teenager with the vocal chops of an mature Wagnerian soprano. Nadja Michael has made a specialty of this role and captures much of its neurotic self-absorption. She is visually appealing, lithe and feral. The final monologue, a dramatic soprano torture test, after nearly an hour of nonstop singing, is fearlessly if not note-perfectly delivered. However, sheer vocal honors go to Joseph Kaiser (Narraboth) a soldier in love with Salome who kills himself early in the opera, and Michael Volle (Jokanaan), an imposing bass-baritone. Special kudos go to conductor Phillipe Jordan, a rising young star, who keeps this immense score under control. On a down note, “Salome’s dance” is the least sensual version that I have ever seen. The nonsensical choreography includes Salome’s waltzing with Herod and tossing about formal gowns. With Ms. Michael’s clear devotion to physical fitness and her limber frame, much more could have and should have been expected.
The production is set in 1930’s Third Reich Germany rather than in Biblical times. Updating Salome is nothing new and this would not in be an issue for a strong overall production, which this is not. The set opens as a two-level affair with Herod’s party upstairs and the main action downstairs in a sparsely furnished basement. The cistern in which Jokanann is imprisoned is at an even lower level. Costumes are a mixed bag between soldiers in uniform and formally clad party guests and servants. While the video is in 1080i, there is good detail and perspective. Colors and flesh tones are slightly distorted by the blue-tinged lighting. The over-the-top graphic presentation of Jokanann’s severed head, complete with dripping blood, presented by a nude executioner to a rabid Salome is supposed to be the shocker. For viewers accustomed to slasher or vampire movies, this is pretty kitschy non-scary stuff. Salome’s death is also downplayed as she is gently throttled by the executioner rather than being crushed offstage by the shields of the soldiers, as originally intended.
The dts-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit) surround sound is superb. The sound stage is wide and sumptuous with good balance between the pit orchestra and the singers. Instrumental articulation is excellent largely due to synergy between Maestro Jordan and the sound engineers. The audience must have been anesthetized or mesmerized as I could hear neither coughing or program rattling over the nearly two hour intermission-less performance.
There is a visual synopsis in still photos with a voice over. Adequate but given the simplicity of the story line, this could have been readily addressed in the booklet.
A 50-minute video featuring director David McVicar and his concept of the opera is included in standard definition. While it is interesting to meet the cast and see how he tries to sell his re-engineering of Salome, it fails to salvage the serious issues with this actual performance.
- Booklet: Contains cast and credit listings, but no synopsis, detailed background of the opera in English, French, and German and a couple of cast pictures.
The Definitive Word
There are no competing BDs. The improved visual impact of BD is outweighed by a bizarre presentation of an extremely powerful opera. If the overall vocal strengths were greater, I would be more enthusiastic about this production. However, with the exceptions noted above, its artistic values are trounced by DVDs produced by Luc Bondy on Decca and Peter Hall on Covent Garden Pioneer.