Saturday 5 July 2008

Teresa Stratas Salome on DVD in Götz Friedrich 1974 film

Salome. A film produced by Götz Friedrich 1974. Cast: Teresa Stratas (Salome), Bernd Weikl (Jochanaan), Astrid Varnay (Herodias), Hans Beirer (Herodes). Conductor: Karl Böhm. More information here.

This studio production from 1974 was finally transferred to DVD last year.

Teresa Stratas, a high lyric soprano, who never performed Salome on stage, looks every inch the neurotic and in essence misguided princess capturing the essence of the part vocally and dramatically as well as hitting all the notes on pitch. Ultimately, however, Teresa Stratas´ Salome leaves me cold, despite the technical perfection and good looks. Her Salome is an ice princess, the voice is cold and piercing. But I do not get any glimpses of what lurks beneath the surface, whether that be touching or repulsive and she is never scary or eerie, qualities found in spades with as different interpreters as Ljuba Welitsch, Leonie Rysanek, Karita Mattila or Inga Nielsen.

Astrid Varnay is superb as the decaying Herodias - she almost goes over the edge as does Hans Beirer as Herodes. Varnay´s voice is in shatters, but her stage presence is terrifying, which is really what matters with this part. That the film dates from 1974 makes a slight dusty appearance unavoidable. Last, but not least superb playing by the Vienna Philharmonics conducted by the great Straussian Karl Böhm.

The sets realistically depicts the depravity of Herodes court around 30 BC and follows Strauss´ libretto closely.

Personally, I miss the intensity and energy of a live performance, and I find the lip synchronization rather irritating. Unfortunately none of the live Salome DVD´s available match this production in either conception or musical quality, which includes the Luc Bondy London ROH staging, which I simply find unengaging.

However, this may change when Jürgen Flimm´s Metropolitan Opera production with Karita Mattila hopefully becomes available.

Salome´s confrontation with Jochanaan:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Teresa Stratas: 4
Astrid Varnay: 5
Hans Beirer: 4
Karl Böhm: 4
Götz Friedrich´s concept: 4

Overall impression: 4


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the contrast between the overcool Stratas and the rather over the top Herod and Herodias. That said, what made this virtually unwatchable for me was the 70s aesthetic. It could have been directed by Roger Corman. The "Dance of the Seven Veils" looks like it was lifted from "Burial of the Rats". I'll stick with Ewing for now and maybe look out for the Martilla Met version if it appears.

Stephen Whitaker said...

I agree with you both but we are very much in the minority on this one.

Take a look at the reviews on, for example.....

I'm not a fan of opera on film, as I often feel that there's too much of a disconnect between the recorded soundtrack and the singers' actions. (Basically, most opera singers are lousy lip-synchers.) But if any DVD were to change my mind, it would be this one, mostly because of the extraordinary performance of a young, stunningly beautiful Teresa Stratas. Her gradual decline from willful petulance into obsessed insanity is remarkably vivid and harrowing; this is the kind of intense and intelligent acting one expects from a Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett. Add a voice that's vibrant, clear and passionate and the kind of sexy star-quality you associate with a Sophia Loren and you have what may be the most perfectly calibrated opera performance I've ever seen.

With the exception of Bernd Weikl's supremely wild and creepy Jochanaan, the rest of the cast isn't quite up to Ms. Stratas's standards. Yes, Astrid Varnay is a legendary talent, but I wish she and Hans Beirer weren't directed to be the comic relief. And they're terrible lip-synchers, so all my reservations about opera on film started to intrude as soon as they came on screen. Also, I thought that The Dance of the Seven Veils felt flat, with Stratas looking a little too much like Cousin It at the top of it. But these are minor reservations when stacked against her towering, magnificent performance. This is the best Salome -- and therefore "Salome" -- that you're ever likely to see. Ever. (Can you tell I liked it?)

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