The Met: Live in HD seriesâ€™ first complete opera broadcast of the season is a production of Salome starring soprano Karita Mattila, and her outstanding singing and acting make it a riveting show. Her performance throughout has a searing intensity; she is fully convincing in her portrayal of the complex Judean princess. Mattilaâ€™s behavior at the beginning of the opera is thoroughly adolescent -- petulant, self-absorbed, and unselfconscious. Her decision to demand Jochanaanâ€™s head as the reward for her dance for Herod seems at first like a wicked but unshakable whim. When the prophetâ€™s head rises from the cistern, though, Salome appears transformed; she sees the enormity of the consequences of her request and registers genuine shock, which turns into fascination, which leads ultimately to the horrific spectacle of her wrapping herself around the head, her face smeared with its blood. Mattila has enormous vocal resources; she can soar easily over the orchestra, but is equally persuasive in her moments of lyrical intimacy. Hers is altogether a legendary performance.
Mattilaâ€™s presence is so charismatic and her voice is so powerful that itâ€™s not surprising that other characters seem small in comparison. An exception is bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo as Jochanaan, whose substantial vocal heft and physical presence makes him a worthy foil to Mattila. The fact that Kim Begley as Herod and IldikÃ³ KomlÃ³si as Herodias come across less persuasively may be due in part to the ambiguity of the chronologically and geographically bifurcated production by JÃ¼rgen Flimm. Flimm and designer Santo Loquasto have created a schizophrenic world in which Herod and his court are dressed as contemporary cosmopolitan trendsetters, in a setting dominated by clear plexiglass, while Jochanaan and the guards are in ancient dress, in military uniforms that have a distinctly Mongol flavor. Herod and Herodias seem like an outrageously rich power couple, but they lack real menace. Begley doesnâ€™t seem particularly dangerous or paranoid or deranged, and his singing lacks the character to bring Herod fully to life. KomlÃ³si is more vivid, singing and acting with an abandon that increases as Herodias becomes more and more drunk as the evening progresses.
Patrick Summers draws fabulous playing from the Met Orchestra. His attention to balance makes the details of orchestration cleanly audible. Summers emphasizes the scoreâ€™s lyrical lushness while giving its eccentricities and dramatic outbursts the shock value Strauss intended. He also understands the scoreâ€™s epic sweep, and the propulsive energy he generates drives the drama, making for an emotionally charged performance.
The next opera in The Met: Live in HD series is John Adamsâ€™ Doctor Atomic, in a new production by Penny Woolcock. It will air Saturday, November 8, at 1:00 pm (ET), and Wednesday, November 19, at 7:00 pm (local time). For details about the broadcasts this season, and theaters were you can see them, check out the Metâ€™s website.