Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera Salome, banned from the Met by horrified society box-holders from 1907 to 1934, still packs a wallop. Setting Oscar Wilde’s deliberately boundary-pushing drama of incest, same-sex desire, sacrilege and necrophilia in Old Judea, Strauss laid on the weird harmonies and lavish orchestration thickly but potently, opening the door for myriad Hollywood hoochie-koochie soundtracks to come. The sheer richness of the music, and the tremendous range of vocal and interpretive demands the title part makes on its protagonist, are in some ways best appreciated in concert.
Carnegie Hall has obligingly invited Franz Welser-Möst—as current music director of Vienna’s State Opera, the heir to a post Strauss held after World War I—to present the work with his other band, the redoubtable and sleek-toned Cleveland Orchestra. What’s more, the star is Nina Stemme, a Swedish powerhouse often acclaimed as today’s great Wagner and Strauss soprano. So far, Stemme has sung all of 11 performances at the Met; for many audience members, this concert will represent a great chance to be exposed (ahem) to Stemme’s artistry in a role associated with her great predecessor, Birgit Nilsson.
Terrific support is promised in the form of superb bass-baritone Eric Owens as the willful princess’s unfortunate love object, Jochanaan (John the Baptist), and dynamic Jane Henschel as her mother, Herodias. Austrian tenor Rudolf Schasching, a former choirboy, makes his local debut in the very different role of the stepfather from hell, King Herod Antipas.—David Shengold