Last week, I attended the only operatic event you need to see in 2008: Salome @ the Met Opera in NYC. Salacious greed of Biblical proportions makes perfect parallel to today’s vulgarity on Wall Street and Main. Plot-in-brief: Booze, more booze, and a winsome floozy — complete with black-winged angels of death. A voice in the wilderness… One act Opera put on in the midst of “A once-in-a-century credit tsunami.”
Join me in my Dress Circle seat…
Next to us, a man, spit-polished with devil-may-care bespoke charm, likely a — gasp — penny-pinching ex-Lehman Brothers’ trader, pushed his way to the front of the balcony — opera glasses in hand. The usher tried to stop him: “Sir, we don’t swap seats at the Met.” He wouldn’t listen: after all, there was blonde Finnish twat involved!
After three warnings, she went back to her post, defeated, as he raced down the steps and took a front row seat just as conductor, Patrick Summers, entered the pit.
Leaving aside this ironic analogy to the Wall Street bailout, let’s get to the song…and dance.
In case you don’t read the Bible, Herod (would-be killer of the baby Jesus) has a pretty f—d up family — or so decided Oscar Wilde over 100 years ago. And, in this lovely debauch by Richard Strauss, as updated by Jurgen Flimm, you’ve got full on drunken family drama. Herod’s incestuous wife, mother of Salome, (played archly by Ildiko Komlosai) reels about the stage, voicing sharp venom to all but her daughter. Herod, like all impotent despots, wields the empty gesture of rule with much grace, booming all the right notes. He only has eyes for his step-daughter, Salome.
Enter teenager stage left: Salome. Soprano Karita Mattila carried the show on her lovely arched back. In sleaky silk, she’s easily the best petulant post-prepubescent Salome that ever longed for John the Baptist’s lips. (Should the B-more Opera Co. mount this sex-sational piece again, they oughta take notes: including hiring a Salome who can actually do a split.)
The main flaw of the production: Jochanaan himself. His baritone power trickled out from the bowels of a rather tinny cistern. But what ruined the effect of Salome’s masterful “crushing” on this wild preacherman, was that he looked like — in dress and girth — a secondhand castoff from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Plus, one of the charming suit-wearing, suitcase-carrying Nazarenes who sang of Jesus’ miracles for a sweet five minutes eclipsed the prophet utterly.
But here’s what you’re waiting for:
Salome’s Seven-Veiled Dance. While we did not count the garments as they fell — the dropping tuxedo pants drew great awe, as two gents removed them from her body with their teeth. Now, if you see one of the Met’s rebroadcasts, you’ll not learn what happens next.
Salome turns away from the audience in naught but a pair of tap panties and a bra. She sheds the bra in one fell swoop, turns slowly, arms over breasts like a shy Madonna, before ripping off her panties. A female attendant quickly brings up a black silk robe. More wine is poured, and Salome playfully asks for Jochanaan’s head.
But Strauss’ tritones have far more arsenal to startle. The score alone must’ve been enough to upset J.P. Morgan’s daughter at the first debut in 1907. But the kissing of a severed head — that’s what got it shut down after one night!
But in today’s pulsing Big Apple of mindless, desirous greed — central banks and bankers acting sans consequence — the curtain rose for uproarious applause on a girl with a bloodied mouth happily clutching her black bathrobe about her shoulders.
In this Salome, Herod hides his head in his coat as a shining African warrior of imposing proportions climbs down to cut off the prophet’s head. No opera could be more valid for today. Forget Violetta. Shove Carmen into a corner. Salome is the woman of our age.
We poured forth from the blood red velvet walls of the Met. Some 3,200 of us looked up on the full moon — her luminescent flash between Lincoln Center’s cold marble flanks. This same inscrutable moon was the sole thread binding this mad plot. And Karita’s Salome transfigured my view — forever — of the operatic stage.
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