24 September 2008

This season's Salome: low-calorie, less fat, and with no artificial sweeteners

Strauss SALOME, Met 23.IX.2008; c. Summers; Mattila, Uusitalo, Begley, Komlosi, Kaiser, Glassman, Schaufer.

Anyone know what happened to Mikko Franck, that Finnish conductor born after you and your friends and everyone else on earth (1979!!)? Because we need him badly. Because Maestro Patrick Summers, chosen to replace him on the Salome roster, is god-awful b-o-o-o-o-o-r-i-n-g. Why did Mikko cancel? Or was he forced out? Anyway, Summers' work was superficially bombastic but lacked any real ecstasy or urgency. Maestro Valery Gergiev, who led when this production premiered with Karita Mattila a few years ago, brought a sense of spine-tingling thrill of a very sacrilegious sort, such that when the woodwinds trembled, you did too. No matter how many times I'd seen it, I still shivered every time Gergiev hushed the orchestra to an eerie hum. But last night it was karaoke night at the Met, with an utterly faceless, routine soundtrack emanating from this huge, inexplicable hole at the foot of the stage.

Karita Mattila was more sensational in the first half of the opera. During her one-way courtship with Jochanaan, I was floored by the sheer magnitude and force of her voice, and excited for what's to come later in the evening. Her final scene, however, was not as overwhelming as before. I recall her heaving and panting during her frightening exclamations over Jochanaan's head in this production's prima season in 2004, while still keeping the level of steel and edge in the voice throughout the entire scene. I remember, because I was also heaving and panting in my seat. This time, however, I had the impression that she was holding back. This may be quibbling, so feel free to ignore me. Perhaps she set the bar too high, that's the danger of virtuosity. But then even comparing with the intensity and power in the voice earlier in the evening, I thought there was a noticeable diminution. The energy deficit in the pit didn't help. (Meanwhile, all seven "veils" were shed exactly like before, in case you're interested.)

Kim Begley's Herod lacked sufficient madness. Allan Glassman, who was on stage as the First Jew, should have been picked for this role. Glassman, who has the right kind of neurotic tenor, made a great impression when he filled in for Siegfried Jerusalem in the previous cast. Begley sounded too rational and kind, not the qualities we like in this role. Ildiko Komlosi was a sufficiently unbalanced Herodias. Morris Robinson comes back as the best First Nazarene in the universe, wonderful news! Joseph Kaiser and Lucy Shaufer, as Narraboth and the page respectively, provided welcome excitement, with truly superb voices and full commitment. Debutante Juha Uusitalo, as the guy who sparked all the insanity, was just ok.