Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mattila IS Salome!

I wasn’t in the house for it this time, but listening to the Met’s Salome with Karita Mattila last night I felt almost as though I was. Like many in the
audience, finding my breath after those great crashing chords, I let out a roar in appreciation for what I’d just heard.

First, let me defend Patrick Summers, who I keep hearing bashed over and over again. Maestro Summers led a gorgeous, enormously lyrical while still thoroughly dramatic performance from the orchestra. Rather than the thickly textured soup some conductors can make of Strauss scores of this period, Summers brought out the widely varied colors - an array of hues from the band, revealing layer after layer of delicate, gauzy sound in best Straussian fashion. I heard solo instruments last night, where I barely - if ever - hear them in other performances, and like the Gergiev-led run of four years ago, one got to hear that deliciously creepy organ music so rarely heard in a live performance of this immensely popular work.

Vocally I was wowed from the moment the curtain rose, beginning with Joseph Kaiser’s beautifully nuanced reading. I love the slightly reedy yet smooth texture to his voice and his sense of line through this music evoked youth itself.

Mattila stunned me with the way she began the evening. There was this delicate near Mozartean lean sound, youthful, virginal yet powerful enough to swell in those few places the role calls for early on. The voice was fresh and free with everything delightfully pointed up. As the story grew darker, so frequently did the tone and color of Mattila’s voice, at times sounding like an
entirely different (and fully deranged) singer.

Sometimes a singer will insert gasps, grunts and groans for dramatic purposes, usually in lieu of being able to sufficiently convey the drama through the music. Mattila inserts these effects aplenty including sucking in air and moaning as she waits to redeem her bloody prize, and what made it all so effective was that instead of masking any deficiencies of voice, they were
merely embellishments on a deliciously over-the-top reading of vocal prowess and often gleaming sound. This sound grew and bent like a prism through Strauss’s complex score, the final scene radiant, confused and triumphant. The ultimate phrase: “Ich habe deinen Mund geküßt, Jokanaan, Ich habe ihn geküßt, deinen Mund,” found conductor and soprano stretching out the line to the point where it felt suspended in time – the aural equivalent of a gazing at a painting. After last season’s worrisome Manon Lescaut, I think more than a few of us had been holding our collective breath to see how she would do and once again Karita put on the mantle of Mattila the Magnificent!

I was unfamiliar with Ildikó Komlósi, who I found to be a very attractive and lyrical Herodias, especially against her husband’s often gruff vocalism and slightly exaggerated mannerisms provided by Kim Begley, an artist I usually enjoy more than I did last night. This was too bad, since Alan Glassman who four years ago made gave the best performance I’ve ever heard of that role, was last night singing one of the Jews.

It was difficult at first to judge Juha Uusitalo’s debut as Jokanaan. From the cistern the voice itself seemed a bit loose and hollow, which always gives me pause for concern. Later, the sound seemed freer, if somewhat tight and rather reigned in. Yet, in one or two of the explosive moments he revealed a big, thrilling sound that poured out easily, which, seemed almost to come another singer altogether - I’d like to hear more of THAT from him.

The performance flew by in the proverbial blink-of-an-eye and ran only an hour and 36 minutes, with a nice, fat ovation for Mattila and company at the end.

After the bloated excess of the opening night gala, THIS was the right way to kick off a high energy season of opera at the Met. Bravo . . . Bravissimo!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds wonderful!

September 24, 2008 at 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Smorg said...

Great review as usual! :o) I love it when an opera fan can allow himself to be intrigued by unconventional device (or technical 'flaws') when it is exploit for dramatic purpose. Too many are so keen on picking on the imperfections that they end up not hearing the musical drama for the not-clean-enough notes.

I wish I could have seen and heard this show myself. Thanks a bunch for giving me a good glimpse of it!


October 17, 2008 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Thanks guys!

Smorg, I, too, wish you could have heard this performance. It was insane!

All the best,


October 20, 2008 at 2:26 AM  

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