hires-04_salome_2018_asmikgrigorian_c_sf_ruthwalzThe first stage direction we encounter in the libretto of Richard Strauss’ mercifully brief one act opera Salome is succinct: “A large terrace in the Palace of Herod, which sits by a banquet hall. Some soldiers lean over a parapet. On the right, an imposing staircase, on the left in the background an old cistern with a green bronze frame. The moon shines very brightly.”

Later Salome says to Herod: “I’m ready, Tetrarch” and the stage direction says: “Salome dances”

… and later… “A huge black executioner’s arm, stretches out of the cistern, holding the head of Jochanaan on a silver shield. Salome seizes it …”

And still later, at the very end of the opera, there’s a crucial stage direction implied in Herod’s last line screamed at his guards: “Kill this woman”

Follow those four key stage directions and you get a roadmap for staging Richard Strauss’ Salome, which the German composer arranged after Oscar Wilde’s same-titled play.

But in Romeo Castellucci’s train-wreck of a production for the 2018 Salzburg Festival, now available on DVD from UNITEL we get neither much of a palace nor a Dance of the Seven Veils nor the cathartic killing of the monstrous Salome. Not a chance.

Instead we get a creepy mono-chromatic set much resembling the basement of a mortuary establishment where the voice of John the Baptist seems to come from a gigantic hole in the ground. Later out of it comes the Prophet’s hairy naked body minus his missing head seated on a chair all set for Salome to do some kinky washing of his lower extremities.

We get no dance, just Salome doing nothing in a fetal pose next to a black stone. And at the end, Salome sinks into the hole in the ground like a crocodile before anyone can get to her. All this courtesy of director Castellucci.

The staging, if one can call it that, is horrendous but neither it nor the so-so singing of Strauss-Lite Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian deters the well-heeled 1% of Salzburg clad in tuxes and gowns from giving the show a self-congratulatory ovation celebrating High Kulture. Oh for the days of Teresa Stratas or Karita Mattila!

Others in the large cast are OK in their small supporting roles but the off-the-rack suits the men wear look like the remnants of a close out sale at Barney’s. The hapless singer of the role of Herodias is clad in a 1910 full length gown and hat belonging to yet another part of the come as you are costume design by none other the director Castellucci, who for some inexplicable reason has everyone but Salome sporting red or black make up that covers the face from the nose down.

Among the principals in the cast Hungarian bass-baritone Gabor Bretz delivers a stentorian Jochanaan, Julian Prégardien presents a nicely sung Narraboth, and John Daszak and AnnaMaria Chiuri scream their heads off as Herod and Herodias.

But too bad they could not hire another director so we could get Strauss’ Salome, not Castellucci’s Salami.

Rafael de Acha