Monday, 13 October 2008

Salome up close and personal

I'm not a frequent visitor to the opera, but last Saturday found me at the Met. No I haven't won the lottery and taken to spending my weekends in New York, I saw Salome at a backstreet cinema in Brighton, but she was live and in high definition from the Metropolitan Opera. Too high for my liking. Can you imagine a thirty foot soprano, a hefty woman of over forty, built like a Valkyrie but doing her best to impersonate a sixteen year old temptress. There were many moments when disbelief just couldn't be suspended.

Karita Mattila, with the voice like an murderous angel, sung her socks off. Well perhaps not socks, but during the dance of the seven veils, she did have two of her attendants remove her stockings with their teeth. Excuse me, but I don't remember that bit in the bible; but then it is a very modern interpretation of an old story, where a voluptuous Judean Princess dances for her lecherous old step father, on the promise of anything she wants. The hussy gives up the chance of half his kingdom and a whole hatful of jewels, in place of the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Well I ask you, what girl wouldn't?

Karita Mattila's voice is unbelievable, the production passable; it was the filming that was at fault. It is unwise to give tonsil inspection shots of a soprano in full volume. As Karita simpered and fluttered her false eyelashes in a girlish manner, begging kisses from the ever wrathful John the B, the close ups made her look more like a camp female impersonator, rather than the seductive temptress.

Wardrobe malfunctions didn't help. Whoever dressed the strapping soprano in a figure hugging satin nightie, outlining every cutting undergarment and bulging surface, deserves to be back dressing the Teletubbies. Even the KMB, never one to remark on women's clothing, was heard to whisper cruelly,

'Trapped cellulite.'

At the climax of the dance of the seven veils, the opera lovers in the theatre were treated to a full frontal Salome, presumably on the grounds that they were far enough away not to notice any details, us lesser mortals, gawping in the cinema, were spared. The family friendly version merely zoomed in on a close up of her muscular back, then swung to Herod's lecherous face. Until then, one of the better moments.

It was only when the severed head of the murdered John the Baptist was brought onto stage, that it was possible to forget all the grisly details of the too close camera work. When Salome sang passionately of her dark longings, all the flaws of the production ceased to matter. It was electrifying. Dwarfed by the ominous angels of death, as Salome sang,

' I have kissed your mouth, Jochanaan,'

the discrepancy between role and woman didn't matter. No stripling of a girl could have sung like that. I guess the entire audience tingled all over, I certainly did. As the curtain came down, there was a burst of spontaneous applause, and that doesn’t often happen in a cinema nowadays.

(There's a brilliant clip of Mattila performing Salome on You tube, if I had the skills I'd have loaded it for you, but I haven't, so I didn't, Sorry.)