Chailly is always at his best with late 19th- and early 20th-century music; here he was astounding. Received wisdom has it that, in this repertory, one must choose between a modernist, forward-looking attitude and a late Romantic one, the former favouring sharp sonorities, individual timbres and a chamber-like sound, the latter a lush orchestral blend and symphonic grandeur. Chailly somehow managed to combine these two approaches, making Strauss sound one moment like Wagner, the next like Schoenberg or Stravinsky, followed by an extraordinarily flexible and virtuosic orchestra—at least judging from the television broadcast, which benefited greatly from excellent sound engineering. He was obviously free from the need to let the singers be heard in the auditorium, which would have been very difficult anyway, given that the orchestra was placed in the stalls. At the same time, the singers did not have to worry about volume: it certainly helped them, especially the protagonist, Elena Stikhina, who could focus entirely on colours and inflections, with which her interpretation was happily replete. But all the others were very convincing both vocally and dramatically, from the Herod of Gerhard Siegel, portrayed as a perverse, fearful businessman, to the Herodias of Linda Watson, a grand society lady who hides terrible secrets; and from the sturdy, monolithic Jokanaan of Wolfgang Koch to the neurotic, nerdy Narraboth of Attilio Glaser and the pained, sad Page of Lioba Braun, here an old housekeeper or nanny who has seen everything and knows everything.
The action takes place in a simple white room with a sliding wall at the back (design by Paolo Fantin), and the costumes (by Carla Teti) are contemporary. Michieletto’s take is psychoanalytical, with Salome a sister to Elektra in her obsession with her dead father, who was killed by his brother—and her present stepfather—Herod, who may have abused her sexually when she was a child. But exploring the characters’ innermost drives is not
Damiano Michieletto’s new production of ‘Salome’ at La Scala
Opera, May 2021