A Cri de Coeur in a Pool of Milk: Decoding ‘Salome’ in Salzburg

That sounds like achieving some kind of transcendence.

It is, and there is a tragic dimension in this regard. She begins with the purity of childhood. That is in the milk, which represents purity and the absence of blood. She is a little girl, but ends as a woman. She tried to escape from this world, and she realized there is another prisoner — Jochanaan — who is catching her in a web with his strange language. She fell in love with him because of this language that brings her to another world, and the possibility of escape. So she falls in love with his voice, then she falls in love with his entire body. I think she was waiting for someone to make her free. And this freedom has a paradoxical and tragic dimension. I believe in both of them, but they have to share the same destiny, of course.

How does Asmik Grigorian bring this out onstage?

She is ideal. In rehearsals she had clearly reflected on the work, the personality of Salome, and so all of the little nuances of every phrase have an intimate emotion. It’s extraordinary to see her work with the vocal color like an artist, phrase for phrase. I think she is one of the best for this role. She was Salome incarnate, almost like the Russian school of Stanislavsky, becoming the same person. It’s always believable — always. She is not a singer; she is Salome.

Where do you begin with your analysis, thinking about the relationship between text and music?

The music is extremely powerful and touching. I think it’s Strauss as a composer, realized. It’s the form of a scream, and extremely rich. To hear the voice of Salome in the orchestra — it’s very modern. And while music is the architecture, the text is fundamental. Music is emotion; text is information. Through the text one can reinvent the opera with another point of view on the same object. That’s my aim, to reinvent this object. And I do this through dramaturgy.

What do you say to the people wondering why there’s no dance?

You can’t forget this moment, but I imagined that the dance became intimate. It’s a dance that is performed inside the body of Salome. It’s a petrified dance, and she is a sexual object. So it’s an offering, but ambivalent: “I refuse to give my body.” She becomes the stone. I want to create a problem for the spectator. That problem, I think, is a gift.

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