Tuesday September 30, 2008 - Karita Mattila has returned to sing the title-role in SALOME at the Met, a production in which she triumphed in 2004. (Ken Howard photo, above) She gives a complete performance, unsparing in vocal passion and utterly inhabiting the role at every moment. At times she seems pushed to the very limits of her voice's possibilities but she plunges on, sailing up and down the range from full-throttle tops to sultry chest tones. A few of the highest notes seemed just a shade flat and not all her forays to the top fell pleasingly on the ear but she swept aside any concerns with her complete involvement - the kind of personal commitment that has marked so many great operatic interpretations over the years. I've seen some fantastic Salomes - Rysanek, Niska, Bumbry, Marton, Behrens, Malfitano - and Mattila stands comfortably in that stellar assemblage.
Mikko Franck was to have conducted but withdrew due to illness and Patrick Summers took over. His tempi were excellent and the glistening orchestral effects and decadent harmonies of the music were given full rein. His unfortunate tendency to swamp the singers detracted from the overall success of the evening.
Juha Uusitalo as Jochanaan was most affected by Mr. Summers' orchestral onslaughts. The Finnish bass-baritone has a warm timbre and could have been a very fine Jochanaan had Mr. Summers permitted us to hear more of his singing. Wisely, Uusitalo didn't try to out-shout the orchestra. In the beautiful passage where the prophet tells Salome to seek Christ at the Sea of Galilee, Uusilato made his most telling effect of the evening.
Ildiko Komlosi made a meal out of the role of Herodias. Looking like glam photos of Elizabeth Taylor with her black hair, dangling jeweled earrings and luxuriant decolletage, this Herodias gives her daughter a run for her money in the sex-bomb department. But in this production Herodias is too busy getting plastered to even think about sex. Ms. Komlosi sang Charlotte in WERTHER here for her Met debut in 1999; at that time she was a lyric mezzo and gave a very attractive performance. She has since gone the dramatic route and her big, biting voice flourished in the over-the-top phrases of Herodias. I'll look forward to her Santuzza later this season opposite Jose Cura.
[In December 2006, Ms. Komlosi's became something of a household name (well, in opera-loving households anyway) when she was singing Amneris at La Scala on the night Roberto Alagna walked off after being heckled following his "Celeste Aida". Ms. Komlosi remained onstage and Alagna's understudy, Antonello Palombi, still in street clothes, appeared and began singing.]
Kim Begley as Herod was somewhat hampered by the volume Summers was sending up from the pit; Begley's voice isn't quite thrustingly metallic enough to cut thru. He had many colorful phrases and a brilliant top note as he ordered Salome's death. He wasn't as loutish or grotesque as some who have played the role.
Joseph Kaiser seemed to push his tone somewhat but he was a sturdy Narraboth. Lucy Schaufer's deliciously fruity tone made her a very appealing Page and Morris Robinson's torrent of sound was truly impressive as the First Nazarene (a role I heard Samuel Ramey sing early in his career). Keith Miller and Richard Bernstein were strong-voiced Soldiers and Allan Glassman's First Jew was cuttingly sung; the scene of the Jews was very amusing. Reveka Mavrovitis made an effect as the Slave and David Won looks great in a tux - but the Met needs to give him bigger roles than that of the Cappadocian.
The nightclubbish setting looked quite dazzling tonight, and Dmitry and I were surprised - as we took our seats - to see a new front drop-curtain of fanciful cherubs which wasn't part of the original design. I thought maybe they'd changed the opera to MEFISTOFELE.
The house was nearly full and it was one of the most attentive audiences in recent seasons. The newly-restored chandeliers look brilliant - now if they'd remove that 'Fidelio' sculpture from over the proscenium the Met would be looking pretty good. Despite a big roar for Mattila, the applause died promptly after one set of bows. Curiously, as the whole cast was bowing we heard a couple of very loud boos but it was hard to guess who or what they were aimed at.