According to Richard Strauss, it is "only" the glances that harass Salome – the lecherous ones of her stepfather Herod, the amorous ones of the captain Narraboth who loves her, the admiring ones of the soldiers. In Damiano Michieletto's staging at La Scala, whose premiere had to be postponed and has now been streamed, things are rather more drastic. Here, Herod's harassment of Salome is also physical and Michieletto brings the whole back story onto the stage. The family tree is shown on a wall, which shows us that Salome's father is dead (his name is crossed out in red) and that Salome's mother married her brother. Salome then appears as a young girl, who is given a doll at bedtime. Towards the end of this opera, it will be this young Salome who persuades the other to grant Herod's wish that she should dance for him.

Salome
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

In Michieletto's treatment, that dance takes on a drastic turn. It's now a long time since it has been staged the way it's written in the original libretto. In Kirill Serebrennikov's production at the Stuttgart Opera in 2015, Salome at least put on a tutu, but didn't engage in any dance steps. If anyone dances in Michieletto's production, it's a set of men who come on stage, one by one, to harass Salome and even rape her: at the end she is wearing a dress soaked in blood. And she is not the only one who is raped here, because Herod has meanwhile retired to a backstage room with the young Salome into a back room, where things must have got violent, because when the sliding door opens again, the furniture has been overturned. 

Wolfgang Koch (Jochanaan), Elena Stikhina (Salome)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Michieletto portrays this Salome as a victim of abuse, a young woman traumatised by the violent death of her father. At the place where, at Salome's request, Jochanaan rises from the cistern in which he has been imprisoned, what subsequently rises is the tombstone of Salome's father – is this Jochanaan as a kind of father projection? Michieletto's production inspires many thoughts. At the end, Jochanaan's head doesn't lie as a bloody skull on the silver salver, but rises in a halo of the sort in the 1876 cycle painted by Gustave Moreau.

Elena Stikhina (Salome)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

It's a moot point as to whether it was really necessary for there to be five angels of death with black wings, who stay almost continuously on stage, simply because Jochanaan mentions that he hears the wings of the angel of death rustling through the palace. The giant black sphere, which descends from the sky and is made by Salome to swing across the stage, looks like a symbol pregnant with meaning, but what that meaning might be is unclear. It also remains incomprehensible as to why Jochanaan has to appear on stage with hairy, Neanderthal-like limbs. But these things don't matter overly in a staging in which the characters are so clearly defined – the horny Herod is excellently chiselled out by Gerhard Siegel with a clear, cutting tenor; Linda Watson portrays Herodias as an imperious party animal.

Elena Stikhina (Salome)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Vocally, this production is a feast of beautiful voices which also convince dramatically. Wolfgang Koch is an experienced Jochanaan, whom he portrays with a full-bodied voice and self-confident prophet, at peace with himself and convinced of his message. Elena Stikhina embodies everything one might wish for in a Salome: a wonderfully youthful, light, lyrical soprano with a glorious outpouring of notes, a high sense of drama and a beguiling timbre – a perfect match for this difficult role. Riccardo Chailly, stepping in at short notice for Zubin Mehta, explores the score in great detail. You can hear all the voices of the lesser roles, with sound of an opulence that is evident over the video stream even if it can't be the same experience as in the opera house.

Elena Stikhina (Salome)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

And then there are the numerous scenic allusions that make you think. For example, the young Salome's doll looks like Jochanaan. The prophet carries a lamb in his arms, foreshadowing his prophecy of the Lamb of God. Salome's triumphant smile when Herod promises her everything she desires is ambiguous, expressing anticipation of the head of the prophet who had spurned her, as well as satisfaction at being able to take revenge on the stepfather who does not want to sacrifice Jochanaan. This production does not let the viewer rest easy, even when the opera has ended.


This production was reviewed from the La Scala video stream.


Translated into English by David Karlin

*****