Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Catherine Naglestad's Salome in Paris

The Opera de Paris has lavishly promoted its revival of Lev Dodin's 2003 production of Salome, originally mounted for Karita Mattila. The poster, featuring a woman who appears to be floating in icy water, decorates metro stations and shops around the city. For the last couple weeks, the web site's home page has featured music from the Dance of the Seven Veils cushioning a vignette from the production (and a typo in Strauss's death date). And in the Opera Bastille's lobby, stacks of lovely postcards featuring the production's poster are there for the taking.

I'm fascinated by Oscar Wilde's strange play, and Strauss's rich music and complex orchestration rescue Wilde's bizarre work from utter ridiculousness. Salome is a stunningly difficult work and, if opening night was any indication, this revival is acceptable at best. I do think, however, that things will improve with future performances in the run. Harmut Haenchen was often out of synch with the singers, who made their entrances too late or too soon. Catherine Naglestad, in her wonderful dance (girlish, amateurish), often made her moves before or after the beat. There was a general sense that everyone wasn't absolutely on the same page. I would attribute this to inadequate rehearsal time. That's what I'm hoping, at any rate.

Tomislav Mužek, as Narraboth, opened the opera rather tenatively and seemed uncomfortable on stage, but his smallish voice sounded beautiful. Evgeny Nikitin handled Jochanaan's lengthy legato passages very elegantly, even if his voice is placed a little too high for the part. Chris Merritt and Jane Henschel were pretty much standard as Herod and Herodias. These are ridiculous characters who make up a sort of cheering section to the real drama, and the singers' antics were engaging and amusing.

The beautiful Naglestad (bearing a resemblance to the stunning Waltraud Meier), who debuted this role last night, is a promising Salome. She possesses a powerful instrument. From a chilling low G (and powerful chest register) to a blazing high C (and shimmering top), it's a rich sound that, at its best, evokes Deborah Voigt's. She played Salome with a lot of smiles, and at the end, I didn't feel as sorry for the character as I did during Karita Mattila's 2004 performances of the final scene with the Boston Symphony. Naglestad's rather superficial characterization brought the work dangerously close to kitsch, but her high-octane sound saved the performance. I'm not sure if I'll attend another performance of this run, but if I do, I'd be interested to see if Haenchen manages to pull everything together.

UPDATE (CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS AND VIDEO OF OVATIONS!): Salome in Paris a second time around

No comments: