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TerraceTalk · Salome

29 JUL 2018

published in: Opera, General

Romeo Castellucci © SF / Anne Zeuner
The greatest offence a director can commit against a piece is to approach it with naiveté, says Romeo Castellucci, who is responsible for the staging, sets, costumes and lighting of the new production of Richard Strauss’ Salome. To him, naiveté is illustrative, and he is far more interested in finding a new perspective as a director, thereby returning to the roots, to the level of the drama, he says at the Terrace Talk. His approach to this piece is via minimalism and reduction. 

Was he thinking of the figure of Salome, so popular at the time of its writing, who tended to be depicted – especially in the visual arts – in a rather florid fashion? “That is hard to say. I think that as a figure, Salome is a part of all of us,” says Romeo Castellucci. Of course the biblical figure is different from that of Wilde or Strauss. “I think she is a condition of the spirit and the psyche. Every one of us can fall into such an abyss of desire,” the director adds. Instead, his production tries to explore the unknown aspects. The opera is known for its exoticism and eroticism, so he considers it important to treat these aspects carefully and guard against clichés. 

The naked power of the rocks – Castellucci has the arcades of the Felsenreitschule covered for his production – reflects the figure of Salome in its endless facets. This young woman, who is initially portrayed in an almost childlike fashion, can hardly be contained in her extreme drive, her desire. His production goes beyond the pleasure principle, says Castellucci: “I do not constantly want to reveal what makes Salome a woman. I wish to keep her shadowy side hidden, and this very hidden side shows something new.” Obscuring might be considered a key element of the production.

And what about the opera’s classic shocking moments, the severed head of Jochanaan and the sexually charged dance of the seven veils? – “To me, those are moments of biblical violence,” the director replies, adding that the dance is a fundamental moment, since the obligation it creates for Herodes is transformed by Salome into a way of attaining more power than he. “I see the dance as an inner process, an inner tempest within Salome’s body,” says Castellucci. Salome turns to stone, or more precisely into a gemstone, which is impenetrable. Castellucci found the motto for this in Salzburg, in the inscription above the Neutor: “Te saxa loquuntur” – “Of you the stones speak.” He does not want to reveal too much yet about the scene and the dialogue with the severed head. “He is beheaded,” – the rest will be revealed to the viewers. 

He wanted to do a Salome without blood, yet blood still has a certain presence. At the very beginning of the opera, blood is cleaned off the brass floor of the Felsenreitschule. Thus, cause and effect are reversed. 

Embodying the role of Salome demands enormous physical power from a singer, says the director. He praised the collaboration with Asmik Grigorian, who brings private elements to the role as well. “This role requires a performer like Asmik Grigorian,” says Castellucci.

All the figures are perverted, but Jochanaan is even more perverted, Richard Strauss once said about his opera. Romeo Castellucci cannot quite agree. His Jochanaan is an obscure, dark power from another world. What sets him apart above all is his language, the language of a foreigner. To Salome, this language opens a new world. This is also reflected by the covered arcades of the Felsenreitschule – they create an atmosphere of suffocation and stifling oppression. “One could also consider the arcades as mouths which are closed and run out of oxygen,” the director says. To him, the Felsenreitschule in all its rough-hewn brutality is not a stage set, but a figure in the drama.

Romeo Castellucci is often called a “magician of images” by reviewers. He is not overly taken with this expression, for he sees images only as a means to implement his ideas. The image, he says, is an excuse leading to the idea. In preparation, he and his team listened to the music over and over, almost to the point of obsession, so that it would lodge deep under their skins, he says. He describes the collaboration with conductor Franz Welser-Möst as ideal, as they agreed from the very beginning about their concept. His work with the singers has also been very deep, almost searching. The Italian director praises his work with Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser: “He knows the productions emerging here from the inside out, as he has been present from the beginning and constantly, and that gives me incredible energy,” Romeo Castellucci says. 

Find more information to Salome here.

The whole conversation can be listened to here.