Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ich bin verliebt in deinen Oberschenkel, der ist wie eine Schwarzwalder Schinken

First of all I just gotta say the one pissy thing I gotta say: it must really suck to be Morris Robinson and hear Juha Uusitalo singing a starring role while you stand there with your twenty-times-better instrument and sing third Brooklynite or whatever that role is. Why, I ask me, and you too if you're listening, is Morris Robinson still singing this role? Ridiculous. And before I go back to being statively ambivalent, why have I seen Salome as many times as I have and never heard a better than fair Jokaanan?

Salome and I go way back. While the other kids were learning to count from Sesame Street, I was all "seven....six....five....jeez, sister, how long does it take to undress?" No, of course not, don't be absurd. But truly there was a period when I considered a playing of the final scene to bring good luck of a sort, and I copied the Solti from the library's CDs onto tape so I could be all obsessive with the repeat listenings. But you know what? I never liked Nilsson in the role as soon as I heard someone else. Not to get all The Queen's Throat about things, but I need some effort, maybe even (ok, you win Mr. Koestenbaum) some potential breakdown in certain roles, and this is one of them. Sadistic may it be in me, but Salome can't be easy or it's no fun.

So it'll make more sense now when I say two things: 1) Mattila's voice, though the rumors over at you-know-where of vocal crisis are bullshit through and through, is definitely something other than it was five years ago, something cruder and more earthbound, subtly more marine than debutante. And 2) this has made her assumption of the role markedly more thrilling. In 2003 (?) I was most excited by the air of anticipation in the house--who can forget the silence and then the roar? This year, there was less roar, but I didn't need it, as I was already contorted in my seat, unrelaxed as one must be if Salome has had any impact at all.

It's hard to know what's going on in the heights of her range: a note will sound shouty in one context and spin nicely elsewhere. Walking to the subway, we talked about things like Mattila-Elektra, and had to admit it would need to happen soon because the C may be packing its bags as we speak. In any case, when she's getting a note across with evident effort, it is usually at a moment where she's able to make use of the roughness dramatically.

It is, as you have seen or heard, a portrayal that goes for broke pretty much from the starting pistol, replete with a physicality that tells you the girl's not right. Sometimes it's over-the-top and even funny, the example that pushes the envelope being when a dying Narraboth reaches out for one last grope before the great beyond and Salome-Mattila kicks his hand aside, more thoughtlessly than with any apparent malice (though in context, the difference is not great), too busy thinking up nauseous metaphors for different bits of Jokanaan. And, like last time, she goes full monty, putting her money where her well anyway...

That was cheap. I apologize.

The dance is curious, though. My interlocutors pointed out to me that it may well be that Mattila's Salome is not so much doing a 25% clunky extended lap dance as lampooning the conventions of striptease. Not to say that she's a cultural critic in her spare time, chit-chatting with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick over negronis at the cistern, but she may be expressing in her hyper-sexualized and interpersonally stunted way her contempt for Herod.

And this is the thing about her portrayal, actually. A certain monster and I discussed this production. The monster in question had one chief quibble (how! I am Chief Quibble) which was that Salome spends no time in this production as an innocent; even a deranged one. The minute you meet her, she's adjusting her cleavage. But I think a good case is made here for a more believable character than the teenage princess who, even if she's got some scantly suppressed sexual pathology (Atom Egoyan's wacko production took a blunt tack on this one, very Freud-before-he-renounced-the-seduction-theory), needs a big event like, I dunno, meeting an angry prophet who hates her and also apparently is not that crazy about grooming or hygiene either, to derail things.

The physical production is not, I think, a popular one, but I can't much see why. Its visual gestures are bold, but it doesn't impinge on the story as we know it. It makes suggestive/evocative use of implied space outside the stage, which I think is a real limitation of many Met productions which seem to be set, well, on a stage. The only thing that is (presumably) unintentionally funny is the site-specific costuming of the companion was taken aback at the attitude of the normally friendly and helpful B&H staff.*

Anyway yeah, singing, right. Ildiko Komlosi was annoying as Preziosilla some seasons back but that's nobody's fault but Verdi's. She was watchable and made good sounds in the profoundly unrewarding role of Herodias, well partnered by Kim Begley in another dog of a role, though I still remember an insane, sweaty Kenneth Riegel making much of it at Tanglewood. Joseph Kaiser didn't make a huge impression but sang prettily.

And so now, in six more hours, I'll be on the good ship Gioconda. What a week!

Oh, jesus, wait. I almost forgot to kvetch about the conducting, which was...what's a step beyond four-square, sixteen-square? There were moments like the very end when this lent an unusual hint of lyricism, but on the whole one missed the drive and occasional savagery of Gergiev. Well what one missed, frankly, was any sense of tension, but that's the kind of abstract language makes writing about music hard to take.

*It once occurred to me that, if you read the Missed Connections, and I know you do, you'll always see people living out some kind of usually culinary institutional transference, trying to catch the eye of the service person that got away, that you see all kinds of familiar venues named in these, but mysteriously never B&H...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm reading this from the great down under, and getting homesick.

A couple more weeks, a couple more weeks...

Also: but that's nobody's fault but Verdi's