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Met's simulcast 'Salome' kicks some, um, posterior

Heading out of her dressing room to take her place on stage for the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday matinee performance of Strauss' Salome, Karita Mattila had to first face a camera and fellow soprano Deborah Voigt -- part of the attempt to add extra entertainment for the thousands of viewers around the country gathered in movies houses and other venues for these remarkably popular high-def simulcasts. Mattila looked annoyed when she finally came to the door (Voigt vamped endearingly while waiting) and wasn't about to waste any time with this business. Asked how she felt about getting ready to sing the demanding role, Mattila put on the thinnest possible smile and uttered a quick response. "I just say what I always say: Let's go kick some ass." And she was off, practially jogging to the stage.

Minutes later, she really did kick up a storm in the Met's striking, updated production, designed by Santo Loquasto with a deco-meets-the-desert panache and vividly directed by Jürgen Flimm. Mattila turned in a volcanic performance that was as alive with facial and body expression as it was with vocal steel and nuance. She doesn't have the richest or warmest tone (in that regard, she reminds me a little of Birgit Nilsson), but she uses her voice brilliantly to communicate every syllable of text. And Mattila is a real actress, not an opera star pretending to act. From the way she revealed the first inklings of Salome's bizarre attraction to Jochanaan to her delectably perverse Dance of the Seven Veils (done up at the start rather like Marlene Dietrich, in a male formal suit), Mattila dominated the performance -- and the broadcast. The camera loved her.

I found Juha Uusitalo's Jochanaan a little short on galvanizing power, although he shaped the lyrical moments beautifully, and his acting was always vibrant. Kim Begley caught Herod's slimy and sympathetic sides, and sang stylishly. Ildikó Komlósi offered a telling portrait of a drunken, spiteful Herodias. Patrick Summers conducted with a steady hand. All in all, a gripping afternoon. And another ringing affirmation of the Met's revolutionary move into the movies.

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This was my second visit to the Lyric for a Met/HD event (a few hours afterward I was back for a totally live encounter with Baltimore Opera's Aida). A new screen was in place, even bigger than the one used Sept. 22 for the Met's opening night simulcast, and it provided plenty of visual impact. I was still a bit disappointed in the sound, which lacked the visceral impact that you can get in the best cineplexes and made the voices seem distant. But, once again, I was struck by how nicely the Lyric's ambience helps to create an inviting, vintage movie-house feeling.

AP/METROPOLITAN OPERA PHOTO

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