I've written about Met Player before, but it's worth mentioning the latest performance that we've watched: Richard Strauss's Salome, with the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila.

I was drawn to seeing Salome by the description in Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise, where he describes the immense shock that it caused in polite Austrian society at its première in 1905. It rates as pretty strong stuff even today, particularly the necrophiliac scene at the end of Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist, and Ross gives a great explanation of how Strauss's musical language matches the shock level.

The part of Salome is hugely demanding, both vocally and theatrically. Ross describes how, after the opening night, a critic admonished Strauss that he would hate to have to learn Salome's part, to which Strauss replied "yes, me too". The acting required is even harder: Salome must be a skittish, spoilt teenager at the beginning, turning into near-insane infatuation as the story progresses, while all the time maintaining the vocal fireworks of a full-power dramatic Wagnerian soprano.

This is a seriously difficult undertaking, and, on the night that the Met recorded this performance at least, Mattila pulls it off quite astonishingly. Given her age and size, acting a ratty teenager is always going to require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience, but you can't fail to be swayed by her gestures, facial expression and range of movement, at times impressively gymnastic. Mattila combines this with impeccable voice to make the opera into a real dramatic tour de force: her playing of the changes coming over Salome as she descends into madness in the final scene is quite terrifyingly vivid.

I remain a fan of Met Player: it has the ability to bring performances of exceptional quality like this one into your living room. It's particularly good for those of us who have never had the chance to visit the Met itself and, living on the wrong side of the Atlantic, could never do so regularly.

David Karlin 13th January 2009

Here are some links: Met player

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