The Met HD cinema transmissions are back. Is it just me, or this year's line-up a little less madly exciting than the last? Or perhaps the novelty has just worn off. Last year, I took a bus all the way to Paddington just to buy my season ticket; this year I think I might pick and choose, although the siren song of Renée's fabulous hosting skills may prove hard to resist. Likewise the high camp prospect of her Thaïs. La Sonnambula with Natalie is essential, obviously: I might have preferred a different opera, but Natalie is Natalie is Natalie. But I can't muster huge enthusiasm for Anna's Lucia, much as I like her; and while I'm nuts about Madama Butterfly, nothing I've read, seen or heard of Cristina Gallardo-Domas suggests we're in for much of a treat — although I am curious to see Anthony Minghella's production. La Cenerentola will be fun, though. I like Elina Garanca (although I'd be even more excited by Glorious Joyce in the role) but more importantly, Clorinda will be sung by Our Own Rachelle Durkin.
But all that's in the future. First things first: we had Salome this weekend. I switched cinematic allegiances and saw it at the Cremorne Orpheum instead of the Chauvel. And if you saw it too, at any other theatre in the world, I'm willing to bet that My Salome Was More Surreal Than Your Salome. Because my Salome, screened in a genuine art deco theatre, was preceded by a medley of hits from My Fair Lady, played on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ by a man in a lounge suit who rose from a trap door below the stage. I kid you not. This seems to be a tradition at the Orpheum. Serving as introduction to dark'n'decadent R. Strauss it was wonderfully bizarre.
And then there was Karita. Let's not dwell too much on the rest. The production seems pretty ugly and ineffectual, but it's hard to say with certainty since it was so poorly filmed. Barbara Willis Sweete should be banned from these broadcasts. I've enjoyed two of her operatic films: The Sorceress and Don Giovanni Unmasked. But these films had the express intent of removing opera from the atmosphere of a live theatre, and unfortunately, faced with live opera, Willis Sweete's direction continues to produce much the same effect. I've said it before and I'll say it again: creativity in these broadcasts is admirable, but the overarching aim is surely faithfully to recreate the in-the-flesh experience of opera at the Met. Willis Sweete seems determined to destroy that atmosphere completely. It's some little comfort, I suppose, that she didn't subject us to the maddening split screens of Tristan und Isolde; but nevertheless, this was poorly thought out, distracting and obstructive filming. Maybe it isn't a great production but filmed like this, who would know?
Anyway, Karita. Beautiful and scintillating and seriously disturbing. The production and filming could be a million times worse, and it would still be a major triumph for Karita. She owns it, plain and simple. She was horrifying and wonderful. Wonderfully horrifying. Horrifyingly wonderful. Sometimes her voice was drop dead gorgeous. Sometimes it drop dead wasn't. Either way, it was magnificent. The fearlessness of her portrayal, vocally and physically, is quite something. Surely very few sopranos could — or would — tackle the role with such raw, passionate energy. That all this was prefaced by Karita striding out of her dressing room and throwing a swift "let's kick ass" over her shoulder at hostess Debbie Voigt (whom I love, but the poor thing was left rather adrift with the adlibbing) just added to the splendour.
The phenomenon of Karita (and centrality of Salome) more or less removes the need for anybody else in the opera to be more than good enough, which is lucky, since good enough is pretty much as far as they go. I did like Ildiko Komlosi's Herodias, although she didn't always make a lot of sense. Kim Begley's Herod just isn't nearly lecherous enough: if you didn't know what his words meant, you'd probably think he was just a benign oaf. Herod needs to be slimy. Juha Uusitalo certainly looks imposing (he looks like a Viking) but ultimately I was a bit underwhelmed: he boomed away, but it was hard to see why Salome should go so mad for him.
And, as warned, they cut away at the crucial moment of the Dance of the Seven Veils. How ridiculous. It's absurd to talk about being "family friendly" — it's Salome, for heaven's sake: mere physical nudity is the least of your worries. If your child can cope with everything else that's going on — far more disturbing stuff — then I doubt a brief shot of a naked Karita is going to phase them. Besides, I think kids these days must be pretty hardy. I mean, Cheryl Barker's young son was at opening night of The Makropulos Secret, in which his mother, among other things, put her hand into John's Pringle's trousers and twisted. I have to say, even as an adult, I think that would traumatise me, but on the other hand, it's all part of a well-rounded and colourful cultural upbringing. And if you're bringing a kid to Salome, shielding them from a bit of non-gratuitous nudity seems futile and self-contradictory to me. Not to mention clumsy, in the hands of Ms Willis Sweete.
Nothing could bring this Salome down though. It's all about Karita, and Karita is stunning. The sight of her taking her curtain calls, face smeared with blood, is one I'll remember for a while.