Cher Public

Mourning glory

salome-racetteIn his excellent book Humiliation, Wayne Koestenbaum describes why he likes to watch clips of Liza Minnelli on YouTube: “I want to see her humiliation,” he writes. 

“And I want to see her survive the grisly experience and turn it into glory.” It’s a dynamic I find compelling too. The diva transformed, newly forged and phoenix-like, seeking revenge through artistic ferocity. Where there was once an aversion, a demure glance away, there is now a grotesque and thrilling fascination, burning into our eyes.

A similar cycle of humiliation and glory is one of the many reasons I love Strauss’ Salome; and it’s the same reason that, perhaps, divas throughout the last century have been drawn to Tetrarch’s terrace. In fact, I can think of no other role that provides the most unique promise of humiliation, and consequently the most opportunity for glory.

The role’s demands are staggering. In merely one act, the soprano must wrestle with a large orchestra while traversing a wide vocal range, project a girlish immaturity, dance (ostensibly) the dance of the seven veils, perhaps get naked, and perform necrophilia with a severed head. While critics and aficionados compare Salome to other roles within the expressionist canon (Elektra, Lulu), I am hard pressed to imagine a more vocally or emotionally demanding task for its central figure—no other piece in which a singers’ body and art are so exposed.

This exercise gestures toward vulgarity—a notion that directors have exploited throughout Salome’s performance history. Jürgen Flimm’s conservative production at the Met, this season starring the indomitable Patricia Racette, works against this through displays of elegance and wealth, conjuring 20th century chic, with all its attending atrocities. There is little blood dripping from the prophet’s neck. Instead, dark angels of death gather on the dunes surrounding the palace, like a flock a vultures waiting for Salome’s demise. In the meantime, the costumes shimmer and shine, recalling the glamorous surfaces of Wilde’s original text—the jewels and capital Herod promises to Salome in a last ditch effort to avoid her sickening demand.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, Strauss’ Salome is based on the notorious play by Oscar Wilde—which is in its own way an obscene fantasia on short biblical passages from the gospels. In the opera, Salome dances for Herod in order to receive the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. Her desire for his head is born out of an acute need to possess the prophet sexually.

For Wilde, the play is an opportunity to indulge a preoccupation with surfaces, beauty, and idolatry. Long passages are given to vivid descriptions of material objects—the moon, rubies, ivory, and flowers—all in an intoxicating prose that engages and hypnotizes the senses. Strauss’ intervention in this aesthetic is to bring a high-pitched, modernist lens to the discourse, with a temperamental score that seethes and writhes with explosive beauty.

In the Met’s current performances, Racette elegantly transforms Salome’s humiliation into one of glory. Her voice, more lyrical than that of a traditional Salome, allows her work to highlight the hubris that propels the character toward own her heart of darkness. Her dance of the seven veils especially impresses, in which the singer handles the demanding movement and resulting nudity with courage and skill.

However, it is in the final scene, where music and text turn most ambivalent, that Racette’s artistry begins to flourish. Her tireless voice and lyrical approach enact the deep well of longing that Salome mismanages.

As Jochanaan, the single-minded prophet, Zeljko Lucic is serviceable, though disappointing. Frankly, I find his singing is more effective when amplified from the cistern prison than we he actually appears onstage. And though the character of Jochanaan coopts the position of moral arbiter throughout the evening, paving the way for the radical ethics of Christ, I find Lucic interpretation to lack empathy, bordering on a mean-spirited, stingy misogyny.

Lucic does better with a wonderfully unhinged Herod. He topples back and forth in the grips of lust and aversion, manipulated by his whims and women. Usually, Herod’s reaction to Salome’s dance seems forced and one-dimensional. But Siegel pulls off his incestuous attraction to Salome, and his voice bites through the gnarly textures of the orchestra with sharp vigor.

Nancy Fabiola Herrera is equally demented as Herodias, less master-manipulator and more detached aristocrat. She flounces about the stage, spitting out thick, juicy notes with ease. Also, two debuts at the house are happily worth mentioning, despite their brevity within the opera. As Narraboth, Kang Wang trumpets a clarion tenor, successfully negotiating the bizarre passions of the self-destructive soldier. And Nicholas Brownlee, as First Soldier, displays an exiting, rich bass-baritone. One hopes for more from these two at the house in the future.

Conductor Johannes Debus debuts with a somewhat lethargic Met orchestra. And yet, their playing still demonstrates all the angst, aggression, and transcendence of Strauss’ score, which lurches toward its inevitable conclusion with a force that enchants and sickens.

Ultimately, the opera transforms the humiliation of Salome into something unbearable—much like Koestenbaum’s vision of Minnelli—one whose brilliance fascinates me, just as it forces me to look away. This Salome burns bright. Perhaps too bright. Like Herod, one asks for the moon to darken, the torches to be put out. The glory of Salome is too much; we avert our eyes, an the curtain swoops down to block her from view.

Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

  • spiderman

    Seriously. WHO are the great Salomes of today?

    • berkeleygirl
    • Kullervo

      Well I *thought* Naglestad was going to go down as one and I was really looking forward to hearing her in this role (or any role -- she never sings in the states…).

      Amber Wagner would probably sing the hell out of Salome.

      • Gun-Brit Barkmin had a success as Salome at a concert performance in NYC a year or so ago. I know she did a pretty impressive Chrysothemis opposite Christine Goerke with the Boston Symphony.

        • Armerjacquino

          I know we’re talking generally rather than who could specifically have stepped into this run of performances, but nonetheless it’s worth noting that Barkmin, Wagner, Stemme (and Lise Lindstrom) are all busy elsewhere at the moment and therefore couldn’t have taken over from Nagelstad.

          • Cameron Kelsall

            I don’t believe Wagner even has Salome in her repertoire at the moment, and even if she was preparing it, one doesn’t usually jump into an unfamiliar production of a role they’ve never sung three weeks before the first performance (Alagna aside).

            • Krunoslav

              Betsy Wolfe of Broadway has already rocked the Met in Strauss.

          • Why is it worth noting if that’s not the topic of conversation? Sounds like this comment is aimed at an invisible target.

            • Armerjacquino

              The two conversations have, as Milady points out above, dovetailed a little. Since the casting policy has already been criticised in this thread, I thought it might be worth mentioning that a lot of the ideal replacements were busy. And tbh if I can’t make such an anodyne observation without being pulled up on it I think I’m out of here for the next while. Laters, all.

            • Peter

              I assume Kashie was being facetious.

            • Alexa DuChampignon

              Fahr’ heim! Fahr heim! Du stolzer helde!

          • Lindoro Almaviva

            I would not wast my time with Lindstrom. The woman has the voice, but my god, sh is boring as all hell. She was taped in Vienna in the Rysank production and her expression was more like a nice Contessa Almaviva thinking “what the hell did I walk myself into?”

            I have never understood what people see in her. She has the voice fr som f these roles but she lacks Temperament

        • ER

          Oh yes! She was intense and the voice has a childlike quality to it, even though it’s big.

          • JR

            Childlike means white and colorless, if this was the same performance I saw.

    • Satisfied

      Stemme immediately comes to mind.

    • Krunoslav
    • Donna Annina

      Amy Johnson was astonishing in a concert performance last January at Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.

      • Lindoro Almaviva

        I love that woman, Salome would be the one opera I would love t see her in. I did Tosca with her 20 years ago (almost) and she was magnificent

        • Donna Annina

          There was only one performance. The entire cast was astounding. Allan Glassman was a last-minute replacement for whoever was singing Herod and Elizabeth Bishop was Herodias. Kenneth Shaw sang the Baptist.

    • Elza Von Barabant
      Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs seems to be making the rounds as a formidable Salome, second only to the great Maestro Wenarto!! Does anyone know why hasn’t she been seen at the Met in this bigger rep??

      I think Ms Racette is a lovely artist but I just couldn’t hear her 80% of the show, and when I did hear her, there was a sizable wobble that was really jarring. I thought the Narraboth was excellent and I hope to hear him many more times. The Page was lovely, the Herodias was magnificent as was the Herod. And the Jews were sublime. I thought the conductor did a lovely job with the orchestra. There were colors and nuance that i have never heard in the score before. But can someone please tell me what was up with the First Nazarene?? How was that acceptable?

    • Well that’s a good question, spiderman. Who ARE the great Salomes of today? Whomever they are, they are not at the Met and I think we can look to Mr. Gelb for the answer. In one of his more fatuous public statements he recently stated how wonderful all the singers are today because unlike previous generations of singers, they know “how to act.” Which is a sorry, silly old saw generally accepted as truth (by whom? Dunno -- people!) like the fake news stories (i.e. Hillary Runs Pre-School Sex Slave Ring Out of Comet Pizza Shop!!!) that represent America’s new normal. If he means that singers work out and train and can do handstands and generally look fabulous with six-pack abs, great booty, and have terrific stylists for hair and make-up and if that means they are good actors I suppose he is correct. So we are allowed to celebrate (and make exceptions for) some more heroically proportioned singers when they essay Elektra or Brunnhilde or Aida, but none of them sing Salome any longer since they won’t get a “body” pass. Or so it seems to me. So therefore, Ms. Salome, alone among the Strauus heroines, has retreated to the back of the bus at the Met and cannot be voiced by one of those ladies until one shows up with a properly heroic voice and a body by Pilates. So the great Salomes are apparently in Mr; Gelb’s trashcan of HD rejects.

      • La Cieca

        In one of his more fatuous public statements he recently stated how wonderful all the singers are today because unlike previous generations of singers, they know “how to act.”

        Citation please, and then, when you can’t find it (as Gelb never fucking said this) you can retract the rest of your comment.

        • Actually he said it to Mary Jo during the intermission of the Saturday Manon Lescaut broadcast. They were talking about the various 50th anniversary observations and celebrations of Lincoln Center, and she asked him how things have changed since 1966 and he replied that today “we expect singers to act”. So sue me for quoting a sound byte. That he said. On the air. Does that qualify as a public statement?

          As for today’s audience’s dramatic expectations of a singer, here’s something from 1921, by Henderson, from the Met Archives database, which illustrates that audiences were just as tuned into and aware of the total picture then as they are now:

          Review of W. J. Henderson in the New York Sun Metropolitan Opera House

          December 1, 1921

          Puccini’s “Tosca” has had a long and honorable career at the Metropolitan Opera House. It started on a new career last evening when it was sung with a new representative of the beautiful Roman singer and a new impersonator of the distinguished painter of the much discussed Avanti, who left her fan in the chapel and caused some trouble. Mme. Maria Jeritza was the new Tosca. She lately made her debut as the naughty Marietta in young Eric Korngold’s dreamful opera, “Die Tote Stadt.” And in that melancholy work gave promise that as a passionate singer she would give delight equal to that which she gave as a dallying dancer.

          Mme. Jeritza’s Tosca departed from some of the conventions, but in matters of detail which are too insignificant to mention. But it was more significantly unconventional in the larger sense, in that it put a new and enthralling vitality into the role which has threatened to become constrained by routine. Mme. Jeritza does not look the ideal Tosca, but she sang and acted the part entrancingly. Her singing was her principal histrionic asset, as singing always must be with a really great operatic artist. The short recitative passages, which have so often gone without apparent meaning, she read with luminous intelligence, giving every phrase, every word, every syllable a value. In the broader lyric passages she revealed an amazing range of tonal coloring used with an unerring judgment that made her singing-not always technically flawless-alive with dramatic eloquence.

          She sang either piano or moderato most of the time, and reserved bursts of full voice for those passionate outbreaks without which Tosca cannot be made real to an audience. Her tones in the caressing measures of the scene with Cavaradossi in the first act were liquid and melting. When she pealed out her rage at the Avanti’s picture they were hammered steel. In “Vissi d’arte” they were moist with tears. Such a vocal colorist could not fail to make Tosca human.

          • southerndoc1

            “In the broader lyric passages she revealed an amazing range of tonal coloring used with an unerring judgment that made her singing-not always technically flawless-alive with dramatic eloquence.”

            And so little of that comes across in her many recordings -- what a huge discrepancy between what we can hear now and what she must have been like in the theater.

            • decotodd

              There are some live excerpts from Vienna of Jeritza that are more lively than her studio recordings — SALOME, CAV (in German), WALKURE — on YT

          • La Cieca

            So Gelb said something quite different from what you originally asserted he said. Knowing how to act and being expected to act are not the same thing.

            And then to prove that audiences always have expected singers to act, you quote a review in which Maria Jeritza is called “unconventional”…. because of the acting values in her performance. To put it another way, Jeritza’s “vitality” and detailed acting confounded Henderson’s expectations, which were that the part would be performed in a routine way. That she would bother to act the role so well Henderson regarded as a delightful surprise. A lot of singers back then and more recently as well, got away with beautiful singing and rudimentary state movement; Gelb says audiences in general today are not so accepting of that kind of performance today as they used to be, and I agree with him.

            Had you quoted him correctly in the first, place, you could have saved yourself the bother of having to listen to my lecture.

            Your extrapolations about Pilates and abs and hairdressers make no sense at all except as some sort of axe you are accustomed to grinding. The Met’s current prima donna assoluta is a size 12.

            • “Knowing how to act well is something different from being expected to act” ” -- true enough, and duly noted. However the Jeritza review was merely cherry-picked from the large database of reviews available, and you yourself know that many singers before (and after) Jeritza haven been lauded with critical laurels for their acting chops as well as their voices, and critics usually seem delighted, and surprised. So it’s an artistic challenge, or ket’s say choice, or even choice made by responding to what the public applauds, which has been in play since the inception of opera.

              “…you could have saved yourself the bother of having to listen to my lecture.”-
              -So who said I listened? But I appreciate the thought just the same.
              Seabiscuit, rest in peace.

            • jackoh

              p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; line-height: 120%; }

              What I object to in
              this whole discussion is the assumption that “in order to act the
              part you have to look the part.” That is certainly not true in
              opera where the voice is the primary medium of communication of both
              interior and exterior action. And it is not even true of stage
              productions where the delivery of dialogue and the ability to move on
              the set are the primary conveyors of action and interaction. Any good
              director understands the measurement of distance between the
              proscenium and the audience and will use that to his (or her)
              advantage in creating whatever illusion they wish to convey. (Film,
              of course, may well present different problems.) I am a firm believer
              that the failure of plausibility in any stage production rests with
              the director not the actors or the company manager.

            • Luvtennis

              I think the issue is less about acting or physique du role and more about the nature of the physical productions and the direction of the performers.

              Rysanek was a galvanic physical actress, but I don’t know how well she would have fit into some of the productions on the boards today. Birgit was not a “great actress” but she was a powerful charismatic presence with a powerful commanding voice. Again, I don’t how well that would have translated into the current met Salome production. But who knows.

              One thing we DO know, however, the met has been struggling to fill seats lately.

              Perhaps we could get la Fatale to update her excellent series of articles on the topic?

            • La Cieca

              Now all you have to do is point out the Rysaneks and Nilssons of today who stay away from the Met because of the outrageous productions Peter Gelb puts on the stage.

              The current Met Salome production is a leftover from a previous Met regime where it was devised as a vehicle for Karita Mattila. Half a century ago, a different sort of production of Salome debuted at the Met which was tailored to the talents of Birgit Nilsson, who was diffident about doing the part because she felt she was not young or slim enough to play the role convincingly. (
              she clearly dieted -- photos of her rehearsing the part show her looking slimmer than she had since the mid 1950s) and every design element was tailored to showing her off at her best. And yet reviewers of the time complained she looked too mature and sophisticated for the part.

              Leonie Rysanek worked with most of the more avant-garde directors of her day. I am hard-pressed to think of a current Met production of an opera in her repertoire into which she would not fit. Can you? (And before you say Salome remember this is not a Galb production: he’s merely getting one more season of use out of it.)

            • Luvtennis

              I think you assumed an agenda that was not intended. Lord knows I never saw either singer in a live performance of Salome and have no dog in this hunt. Indeed neither singer would be my ideal Salome vocally or visually. I was making observations, and then trying to push the conversation in a different direction.

              And it would be great to get an update of Dawn’s Met report. :-)

            • Porgy Amor

              Birgit was not a “great actress” but she was a powerful charismatic presence with a powerful commanding voice.

              When I watched the Wieland Wagner Tristan for a piece here a few months ago, she far exceeded my expectations in that sense, cameras up close and all. I felt she could hang with most of the singers we have performing such roles today, or recently. So I think she was someone who could raise her game for particular productions.

              She is not a bad actor in something like the late Elektra telecast, but there it is more “boilerplate.”

      • Armerjacquino

        Who are these great Salomes that Gelb has rejected? And are you suggesting that Nagelstad and subsequently Racette were cast in the role because they have Pilates bodies? Was Mattila? Because they are literally the only three singers cast as Salome under Gelb.

        • southerndoc1

          “Who are these great Salomes that Gelb has rejected?”

          • Armerjacquino

            Ha! I managed 1m35. Can anyone do better?

        • Mattila and Naglestad are both lovely ladies who wear their clothes very well, and Mattila was a great choice. I was not criticizing her wonderful job as the Princess. Indeed, she set the bar very high. I think Racette was not cast for her body (although she’s terrifically fit and physical), but because she is a trooper, a fine actress, is doing the role now, and was willing and ready to step in as a substitute for Nagelstad.

          • Armerjacquino

            So you approve of the Salomes Gelb has cast. Who are the great Salomes he has ignored, and should they have replaced Mattila, Nagelstad or Racette?

            • I am sorry my musings about La Situation Salome were not more clearly stated for you and notarized for your approval. My post was in response to the general question “Where are the great Salomes of today?” and I was generally thinking about ladies who would have been very effective vocally in it over the past several years or so, not so specifically tied to this season’s run at the Met.
              Salome has not been given at the Met for eight seasons, but had it been, certainly Lindstrom, Blanke-Biggs, and Stemme would all have merited a hearing.

      • Does Lisa Lindstrom sing Salome. I haven’t heard her in a couple of years but she strikes me as having the right voice.

        • PCally

          Saw lindstrom in Vienna and was impressed though it’s not a glamorous sound. The tessitura of the role waa ideal for her voice, which is very top heavy. And she’s a solid actress though I plead guilty to the typical opera queen syndrome of not being able to get the thought of another singer in a certain role. Mattila really did kind of ruin the opera for me, she was the extraordinary (in 2008 as well).

          • Bill

            What about Nylund ? I have not seen her
            as Salome but her Rusalka was very fine and
            her Elsa as well -- plus she is quite attractive
            on the stage -- also as Arabella. Does she never come to the USA ? She sings quite regularly in Vienna and also Dresden etc.

            • Bill

              I stand to be corrected -- Nylund did sing
              Salome in Philadelphia circa May 2014.
              Mrs. J.C) may have heard that but Nylund’s
              appearances (if there were other ones) in the USA are very rare.

            • Peter

              Nylund sang Elsa at the San Francisco Opera in 2012. Maybe the house was too big for her but she did not make a big impression, at least not to these ears.

            • Krunoslav

              Nylund did a very good job as Salome at the Phila Orch, I was surprised that she could pull that much drama out of herself, having seen her previously as Elsa, Elisabeth and Elisabetta di Valois.

              To me Barkmin is borderline unlistenable.

            • PCally

              Second the barkmin comment. Thin shrill sound and nothing going on elsewhere to make me forget that. Better as Chrysothemis but there she wasn’t having to carry the thing. I thought Nylund was pretty dull when I saw her in Vienna and she seemed stretched. The atrociously tacky production and mediocre support most likely contributed. I know the fallacy in this kind of logic but personally I don’t think there’s literally any point to putting the opera on unless you have a real star prescence in the part. Nylund and racette are capable and hardworking but their timbres are utterly unmemorable and they are never going to get truly demented. I think the opera is a masterpiece but it has to have some kind of element of frisson but the title character and conductor to even be remotely effective IMO.

            • Luvtennis

              What about Garanca! Hey, Grace sang it, right?

            • From what I’ve read, Garanca is not interested in doing soprano rep. She’s talked about being able to sing some soprano arias but finding the tessitura too much to sustain over a whole evening.

            • Porgy Amor

              Here is a quote (Opera Lively interview, 2015):

              “I think I am a mezzo. I have a flexible tone and, if you look at the repertoire I have done as a mezzo, whether Adalgisa or Romeo or Giovanna Seymour, or even Cenerentola, you have to go up to the high C, B, and C natural. In a duet with Anna Bolena, for example, you have to sing higher than the soprano -- you sing the upper line. And the same with Romeo, for example. And if you look at the repertoire which comes later on -- Amneris or Eboli -- they all go up to high C. So the mezzo voice has to have it.

              “The main thing, I think, for the singer is the color of the voice, and I think the color of my voice really is a mezzo; not yet a dramatic dramatic, but a lyric dramatic mezzo. It just needs time to mature a little bit more. And even if I do soprano arias in my concerts like “Pace, Pace [Mio Dio],” for example, or whatever else, Fiordiligi, you have to realize that an aria is one thing but the whole part is something else. And to maintain the soprano fach, so to speak, over the long term, tires the voice. We have enough mezzo-sopranos who have sung mezzo, then went to soprano, and then changed back to mezzo. And I don’t think I necessarily have to go soprano. I might to do it for fun, in one concert performance; maybe in one production, to prove something to myself. But deep in my heart, I really am a mezzo, and I’m happy about that.”

    • Greg Freed

      I know it would be a very odd match given her stage persona, which does not well convey wickedness or depravity, but the easy way her voice cuts through an orchestra has often made me want to hear Radvanovsky in Strauss.

      • Juicy Bjoerling

        only if she sings on pitch, but she’d also have to tame that gigantic vibrato.

    • laddie

      Alex Penda did quite well in Santa Fe though I would not describe her voice as huge it does have teeth and an ability to consistently carry a dramatic timbre.

    • Kenneth Conway

      Does Regine Hangler sing Salome? If not, I hope she takes on the role down the line.

      • Bill

        As far as I know Regine Hangler has not sung Salome. She would have the right kind of voice though I doubt she would be particular sexy (if that is what is demanded). Her Daphne with the Cleveland Orchestra was splendid and she has sung Chrysothemis in Vienna replacing Anne Schwanewilms who cancelled and is scheduled for more this
        June at the Staatsoper as well as Rosalinde and some smaller roles as she is engaged as an ensemble member. She continues to sing choral music (Mozart Masses etc.) and Lieder recitals but seems to be progressing slowly (was in a smaller role in Danae in Salzburg this summer) but perhaps wisely. Welser-Moest seems to champion her but it was he who discovered her I think at the Augustiner Church in Vienna which does a different sung Mass every Sunday with full orchestra, chorus and soloist. -- a chance to hear some 52 different masses of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and everyone else annually. I met her once after one of the Daphne’s in NY and she seems quite modest, down to earth and not a prima donna type.
        Quite refreshing.

        • Kenneth Conway

          Very interesting. Thank you. “not a prima donna type”? And with that voice? Quite unusual, I would say. I too thought she was splendid as Daphne … and am envious that the lucky Viennese get to hear masses with full orchestra and soloists every Sunday. Does Hangler still sing in these performances? Progressing slowly seems a wise move and focussing on sacred music seems smart for a youngish voice. I would love to hear Hangler in a performance of the Dvorak “Requiem” (a gorgeous and often thrilling work that I feel is too little appreciated).

          • Bill

            Hangler still seems to sing Masses at the
            Augustiner and her repertoire in sacred choral music (soprano soloist) is enormous --
            The time I met her which was after one of he
            Daphnes at Geffen Hall in the Green Room
            I first talked to Welser-Moest and said
            that Hangler’s voice reminded me somewhat
            of that of Maria Cebatori and Welser-Moest
            said “Genau” more or less “precisely” and he beamed. After Welser-Moest went to greet some well heeled acquaintances of his, I found myself standing next to a blonde lady in a sweat shirt and blue jeans -- after looking at her for a moment I realized it was Regine Hangler who had changed from the formal flowing gown she had worn in the performance. No one was noticing her in that attire so we struck up a conversation
            and she was utterly unpretentious (after
            a great success with the audience) and
            quietly charming and natural. I had previously heard her as the Leitmetzerin in
            Rosenkavalier in Vienna where her
            fresh voice was totally in contrast to the
            usually aging primadonnas who undertake
            the role late in their careers and shriek a bit. Hangler also sings the Zauberfloete First Lady in Vienna and now Freia and Gutrune. We do not know what is to come -- the ensemble members of the Vienna Opera are assigned certain roles (large and small) and usually cover a number of important roles each season and sometimes have the opportunity to sing them (such as Hangler did Chrysothemis when Schwanewilms cancelled -- it was successful enough that Hangler was cast in all of the Elektras this season as Chrysothemis -- and so it goes. I suspect that she is a promising
            soprano who more or less takes what
            is dished out for her in Vienna rather than
            a pushy demanding type -- even Welser-Moest occasionally conducts a Mass or
            Requiem at the Augustiner (usually
            announced and that is probably where he discovered her) though the soloists do not seem to be known in advance -- one just gets the list of soloists when one enters the church before the Sunday Mass. Hangler also sings in other churches -- when I first saw that she was singing Daphne I was surprised but her lyric voice had enough heft to override the large orchestra and
            she never seemed to be forcing her voice, her vocal performance just flowed out in the most natural manner (which of course is essential for oratorios and such.
            She also sang Daphne in Berlin --

            • Kenneth Conway

              Yes, besides the great beauty of the voice, that’s what I admired so greatly about Hangler’s Daphne: how the sound just flowed out so naturally and evenly without forcing. I know many can critique such evenness as placid or even dull dull dull, but I am very drawn to voices that are “even” from top to bottom. I love the sweatshirt and jeans anecdote.

        • Liz.S

          Aha, thank you for reminding me of her. I was really stuck on this big question but among those named so far, Hangler is the one that I know I look forward to. (I was not impressed with Barkmin vocally and I’m not a big fan of Lindstrom either. Erdmann thing was a joke, right?)

          I’m also one of those who were so enchanted by her Daphne. She definitely has vocal beauty, technique and the stamina this role requires. Perhpas a tad more warmth is preferable for this role, but I’m hoping it comes along naturally as her voice matures.
          It may take some more years but her Salome is something that is really worth waiting for.

  • QuantoPainyFakor

    Judging from the audio of the broadcast, the result of Debus’s interaction with the orchestra was very disappointing, sort of like a maestrino rather than a maestro. Will Mrs Gelb ever be given an opportunity to conduct at the MET? The mezzo who sang the page was beautifully prepared and Kang Wang was impressive.

  • actfive

    Racette, I assume, sounded much better in the house than on the broadcast. I thought the scene with Jochanaan was very squally and wobbly. Didn’t hang around for what seems to have been a solid Final Scene.

    • Juicy Bjoerling

      not really… the last scene was very disappointing.

  • Sempre Liberal

    Great review -- quick edit -- Gerhard Siegel instead of Lucic in this sentence: Lucic does better with a wonderfully unhinged Herod

  • QuantoPainyFakor
  • fletcher

    Glad to see the shout-out for Nicholas Brownlee who’s been a Young Artist in LA for the last few seasons and is a real talent.

  • Nelson

    I haven’t heard it, but I cannot imagine Racette with her mile-wide vibrato and terrible pitch and sounding far older than her years doing this role. Just leave me with my Ljuba Wellitsch recording or even the lip=synched video with Teresa Stratas, whose singing of the final scene is utterly hair-raising.

    • rapt

      Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
      Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
      Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
      Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone….

    • PCally

      Well I myself was suprised at how vocally strong she sounded by the final scene. Not very beautiful (IMO) but much steadier than at the beginning and generally rock solidly secure. I might just have to go see this one.

    • ER

      Wobbles always seem to sound worse over the radio. This may be another case of you have to be there live in the house to appreciate the performance.

  • Krunoslav

    “I haven’t heard it, but…”

    Enough said.

  • Cameron Kelsall

    No New York Times review today. Kind of surprising. Did they not even bother to send a stringer?

    • Sempre Liberal

      I’m looking forward to JJ’s review. It was a really exciting night. I think some (like me) went in thinking “train wreck” and left thinking “no she diin’t!”

  • Here’s my question: what was with the soldier standing in the stream all during the Jochanaan scene? Why take the trouble of directing your cast to clamber all around and over that chasm, only to have him nonchalantly chill there while restraining the prophet for minutes on end? With the exception of the dance of the Seven Veils, the direction in this revival felt like poorly reheated leftovers from the superb 2008 run with Mattila, thankfully preserved on DVD.

  • Cicciabella

    After reading this review, my goal is to collect as many opera reviews as possible ending with the words “full frontal nudity”.

    “Many of us who arrived at the Met with some trepidation as to how Racette would fare as Salome were pleasantly surprised at her courageous performance, both vocally and acting. Many recent Salome productions require the heroine to bare it all at the end of the dance, and Racette obliged with several seconds of standing naked from the waist up, followed by a quick second of full frontal nudity.”

  • I just talked with a very good friend who is an expert on Strauss, highly trained and experienced and who was there. He also is personally fond of Ms. Racette and has had satisfying dealings with Mo. Debus, who he thinks is quite talented.

    I heard the broadcast and thought it was ghastly. But I do know that the live performance can be very different. The mic does not invent what isn’t there: Ms. Racette’s wobble, continuously approximate intonation, the lack of an ability to define pitches or maintain a firm line lower in the voice, and the hollow, harsh sounds are “real”.

    But live performance may change a listener’s awareness of these things, can soften how they strike the ear, and in presence through charisma a singer can offset vocal problems.

    From what I heard, I thought the entire performance was provincial except for Siegel who was quite wonderful and could have afforded to do more real singing — he has the voice for it. But I thought he was alert, authoritative, very capable and quite forceful. On the other hand I thought Lucic was horrible. Granted it’s an ungrateful role but he invented pitches, including some very startling ones, muffled words and sounded woebegone if woofy. I thought Debus was trying for an elegant, well balanced, lightly flavored reading of the score. Perhaps he had Strauss’ own description of the orchestration as “fairy music” in mind. The musical shapes were good, and details sounded. On the other hand there was no profile, no immediacy, and no expressive atmosphere.

    My friend gave Racette points for spirit, cunning and courage. He thought she projected pretty well, at least to where he was sitting, and did not run out of steam. But he thought it was a too modest, compromised and very limited account of the role. He thought there is always room for a solid, intelligent professional who can make something of what she has. But he felt Salome really requires something more in so huge a space. He felt her voice sounded worn and stretched, the wobble was intrusive and he heard the iffy intonation. I felt and he agreed that she did too little with the words and had stretches of seeming a little vague about them. He wasn’t prepared to dismiss her as awful but he did think, given the myth of the Met as an important institution and the demands of this particular role, that it was less than what should be on offer for a first night, even given the need to find a substitute. We both go back to Jane Rhodes and he said he thought Racette was similar as he remembered, capable, vivid on stage, good looking and more or less able to get through it vocally. (I remember Madame Rhodes as piss poor but I have ever been an exigent quean). We agreed that she was preferable to Maria Ewing. He has seen Nadja Michael and thought Racette did less with the words and looked more mature but that Michael is vocally a joke, and Racette if out of her depth and perhaps past her freshest had more to offer given that opera is supposed to be a musical entertainment.

    He agreed about Siegel and liked Narraboth, Kang Wang (who sounded reasonable on the air). He thought Lucic was appalling. In his opinion, Debus was tentative as though he hadn’t had enough rehearsal and/or was nervous. He felt that there were good ideas and a solid grasp of the work, but in this performance no distinction and not enough propulsion.

    He does travel a lot and wondered if there really were no very good American singers who would have done a very good Salome and might have had youth on their side and fresher voices. On the other hand, he praised Racette for jumping in with alacrity and conviction.

    • laddie

      Fantastic post, Mrs. JC!

    • Porgy Amor

      Agreeing with laddie; a very interesting post.

      About a year and a half ago, I heard Racette’s Nedda in the new production on the radio and then saw it the next week with the visual component. About what I heard on the radio, I had little good to say. Then, as you say, “live performance may change a listener’s awareness of these things, can soften how they strike the ear, and in presence through charisma a singer can offset vocal problems.” When I saw the production, I had to admire the feeling and the vivacity Racette brought to it. It was an intelligent, awake, well-judged stage performance. I did not stop minding the wobble and the wear that had been so troublesome on the radio, but there was more going on.

      The preceding Santuzza of Westbroek (whom I’ve loved in several things, especially the Shostakovich Katerina, but also Minnie some years ago) did not appreciably improve, I am sorry to say.

    • “My friend gave Racette points for spirit, cunning and courage.” Yes, indeed, there’s a world of difference between the “clinical” detachment of a sound broadcast or recording, and what goes on in the house. It can be an interetsing experiment even with some DVDs to try them without the picture. Some excellent DVDs would, I think, never have been issued as CDs.

  • QuantoPainyFakor

    Don’t miss downloading or watching the new La Scala BUTTERFLY before it’s removed. They bill it as a world premiere of the reconstruction of the original version, which of course is not true. The edition they use, by Julian Smith, has been performed in theaters the world over and recorded several times already.

  • Juicy Bjoerling

    for what is worth, i was there on monday. opolais was watching from the company box, so maybe gelb wants to see her naked next?

    • Juicy Bjoerling

      also, racette’s wobble was not very noticeable in the house. the problem with her, for me, is that the voice simply lacks the power or glamour to make much of the last scene, specially her lower/middle voice. worse, not much verbal bite or incisiveness… it was all delivered very much the same. i do admire her in the right repertoire (puccini) — years ago she did a very good tosca for example (but totally miscast in trovatore). still, brava for her exceptional physical acting, including a very well done dance of seven veils. she’s 51 and not particularly thin, but moves incredibly well. like malfitano, a better actress than singer?

      lucic is turning into a joke for me. he was for me just an ok di luna and rigoletto in the past, but a total disappointment as iago, and terrible as jokanaan. none of the necessary volume, weight or much acting at all, making very little impact.

      i had seen siegel before in wozzeck and as mime, and always impressive. those that commented on how huge he sounded, he has sung siegfried in germany before. also, kang wang was very promising. herrera was ok, i think previously, the met had only offered her maddalena in rigoletto…?

      • Lohenfal

        Herrera has also sung Suzuki and Carmen at the Met.

        I saw her as Carmen in 2005 and thought she was OK but not exceptional. Ana Maria Martinez was the Micaela in that performance and made much more of an impression. I remember telling a friend at the time that this particular revival of Carmen was an example of the kind of “routine” performance which was typical of the Met, and that I hoped Peter Gelb would remedy the situation. You can judge if my expectations have been fulfilled over the past decade.

      • Williams

        Thanks for mentioning Malfitano. Her demented Met Salome performances 1996 are forever seared into my memory. Nikolas Lenhoff’s (sp.?) production of that era, though generally reviled, provided a fitting sense of perversity and horror for her chilling assay. I distinctly recall feeling almost physically ill as she declaimed the final scene, sweating bullets, her diaphanous white slip drenched with blood and clinging disgustingly to her body. When she took the stage for her solo bow the house went absolutely bonkers.

        • Juicy Bjoerling

          i saw that too, but i was very young and i was in standing room, so the sound was very muffled (jokanaan was grimsley, right?). my impression of malfitano was always that she more than made up for an inferior instrument by her total commitment, great instincts and intelligence, and an amazing grace onstage (could anyone do the tosca leap like she did?). i think racette has a better instrument, but it’s not a glamorous or gorgeous one. but i’d like to go back and see it one more time, hopefully she’ll improve her mastery of the words in the last scene.

          • Williams

            Coincidentally I was also in standing for the prima (not quite so young but high as a kite…don’t ask). I learnt from that experience that orchestra well under the overhang is acoustically the worst place in the house. Sat up close for the closing night (relatively sober).

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              so you are the guy who felt me up that day… just kidding… i just checked the archives, grimsley only sang one performance, all others were with weikl, so i was at that one performance. riegel and schwarz were the parents.

  • Juicy Bjoerling

    about gelb: didn’t he say in the ML broadcast that AN is the leading dramatic soprano of today? someone should tell him AN is not a dramatic soprano… does this man know much about opera??????

  • Juicy Bjoerling

    i’d hear schwanewillms as salome. i absolutely loved her empress two seasons ago, and she was even a bit demented in her “mad scene” at the end.

    • PCally

      I love schwanewilms but the top is not her glory at all and the voice itself is not all that big (she’s dropped her heaviest roles it seems). And I think her manner is a bit too mature and refined.

      • spiderman

        Schwanewilms got a lot offers for Salome in her operatic life and she said she will never sing this part becuase she can’t (and doesn’t want to) sing against a that big orchestra in her middle voice

  • simonelvladtepes

    This revival of the Met Salome makes the roles of the Jews (dressed in modern tzitzes) even more nastily comic, like a Nazi cartoon. You couldn’t get away doing this to any other ethnic group in chic PC land. The director doing this is certainly a Nazi and is trying to make liberal Jews (who are allergic to orthodox Jews) cringe.

    • Krunoslav

      Somehow the terrible, demeaning caricatures of Muslims in the Met’s ITALIANA didn’t bother you?

      Listen to the music Strauss write for those five Jews: it’s pretty cringe-worthy in itself, alas. Of its time, when Karl Lueger was Vienna’s Mayor. How would you have this scene played, by five iterations of Jared Kushner?

  • Peter

    The NY Times finally got around to reviewing the Salome in a very abbreviated piece by Zachary Woolfe: