Even the run of notes from the clarinets that starts Richard Strauss’s Salome suggests the erotic sultriness that with increasing intensity permeates the whole opera. And when a moment later, the captain of the guard Narraboth wistfully notes, “how beautiful the Princess Salome is tonight,” then you already suspect that this beauty will bring about the destruction of almost all the protagonists. The Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle presented this masterpiece of atmospheric and dramatic density at the 2011 Salzburg Easter Festival – and before that, in a concert performance at the Philharmonie.
“I’m sorry, I like him otherwise, but with this he will do himself a great deal of harm.” – this was the reaction of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who like so many of his contemporaries, could not deal with the dark eroticism of the work. The audience at the premiere, however, thought differently, with their jubilant applause resulting in no less than 36 curtain calls. This hysterical discussion for and against has long overshadowed the wealth of nuance contained in the opera, from the finely balanced orchestration to the multifaceted character of the eponymous heroine.
For the Berlin performance, the American soprano Emily Magee made her role debut as Salome. She is particularly well-known in the great opera houses of the world, from the Royal Opera House in London to the Bayreuth Festival, as a singer of Wagner and Strauss. In addition to the male leading roles – Stig Andersen as Herod and Iain Paterson as Jochanaan – the role of Herodias was sung by Hanna Schwarz, an outstanding mezzo whose work with the Berliner Philharmoniker goes back to 1973.