A strange Strauss Salomé from the Bayerisches Staatsoper. Salomé is a strange opera, whose meaning is elusive and defies easy answers. Strange isn't wrong per se. Sometimes strangeness yields great insight even if it might take a degree of insight to grasp in the first place. In this case, strangeness seems to have been done for its own sake, without much thought behind it. For one thing, this Salomé started not with Strauss but with Mahler. A veiled man appears, apparently singing a song from Kindertotenlieder, though the tessitura is so high it's close to falsetto. Is Pavol Breslik (Narraboth) singing or mouthing the song of an offstage singer ? Perhaps Krzysztof Warlikowski wants to make connections between parents and children in the songs, generation conflict in Salomé and the offstage voice of Jochanaan, the idea doesn't fit, or go very far, and isn't developed in the rest of the staging.
In the palace, the courtiers lounge about like zombies, their body language stylized. They smoke and grasp tiny vials, whose purpose will be revealed later. Some sort of erotic connection between Hérodias (Michaela Schuster) and the Page (Rachael Wilson), which makes you wonder about the dynamic between mother and daughter, but distracts from the obvious kinkiness of Herodes' (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke) feelings from Salomé. (Marlis Petersen). This is a dysfunctional family, in dysfunctional times, but caricature isn't the way to go. Jochanaan (Wolfgang Koch) crawls out from the floorboards A truly Wagnerian apparition. "Heisst ihn herkommen, auf dass er die Stimme Dessen höre, der in den Wüsten und in den Häusern der Könige gekündet hat" delivered with baleful portent. The horns that introduce this passage and the timpani with which it ends are there for a purpose. Perhaps that's why Warlikowski emphasises Salomé's sadistic streak. She's rewarded for her cruelty by Johannan's curse but the masochistic bitch (not the singer) likes it. Is he making connections between Wagner, Strauss, and Hitler? Such connections may or may not be valid but here there's so much going on that they can't be developed beyond superficial shock level. Strauss's opera is much more nuanced, more sympathetic to female sexuality and suffering, and doesn't lose sight of the fact that Salomé, like Elektra, might not be what she becomes had she not been abused herself.
The banquet in the palace is staged, the guests lined up one side of a long table, an obvious parody of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, though the connections are dubious. Sure, Christ and his apostles were Jewish, but what does that imply ? Does a smell of anti-semitism cling to this staging where cynicism overides humanity ? Herodes justhappened to be Jewish : Strauss's opera is about people, not Judaism itself. The introduction to the first dance was gorgeously played- exotic, seductive, elusive. The dance itself rather more predictable - Salomé in white lace embracing a dancer in a skeleton suit. As if to distract attention further, a multi coloured backdrop dominates the scene, with pseudo-medieval figures like lion and unicorn, which might please audiences who want colourful decor at all costs, but isn't really relevant. Any "beauty" in this scene is delusion. When the head of Jochannan is delivered to Salomé, in a box, Petersen alternates sensuality with sharp, brittle flutterings. Now, for the trick ending. the final scene takes place in another busy, crowded backdrop. Jochannan's back, fullyl restored, having a cigarette with the crowd. Nabbaroth's back, too, holding a gun. Later he hands out treats, like at a party. What is in those little vials ? Cyanide ? Strange I can cope with, but this confounds me. Warlikowski generally is a good director but this time he seems to want to channel Barrie Kosky. Not a good thing ! Wonderful playing though, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, who is, I think, better at opera than in orchestral work.