STRAUSS:  Salome
Leonie Rysanek (Salome); Grace Hoffman (Herodias); Hans Hopf (Herodes); Eberhard Waechter (Jochanaan); Waldemar Kmentt (Narraboth); Rohangiz Yachmi (Page); Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Karl Bhm, cond.

RCA 69430  (2 CDs)  (M) (ADD)  TT:  57:01& 39:53 (THIS RECORDING HAS BEEN DELETED)
OPERA D'ORO OPD 7004 (2CDS) (M) (ADD) TT: 53:42 & 45:31


 December 22, 1972 was a special occasion for the Vienna State Opera, the first time their beloved Leonie Rysanek sang Richard Strauss's Salome.  She had just added it to her repertory, sang it  in Munich, Athens, and several times in New York at the Metropolitan Opera in March of that year.I was fortunate to be in the audience for the first of  these Met performances, March 6, and it was an unforgettable event. In addition to Rysanek's stunning performance, that occasion  was special for me as prior to the performance I met and had the opportunity to speak briefly with Ljuba Welitsch in the Met lobby. Welitsch, the definitive Salome of the '40s and '50s, was in New York for cameo appearances as the Duchess in Donizetti's  Daughter of the Regiment.  But back to Rysanek. Her  huge, secure voice, filled the Met as it did the Vienna State Opera on this recording. Rysanek made certain Strauss roles her own. She was the definitive Empress in Die Frau Ohne Schatten, recording it in Vienna in 1955 {once available on CD, London 425 981}, and two live performances  from 1964 and 1977 have been issued, both from the Vienna State Opera. Rysanek was to many the ideal Chrysothemis in Elektra, a role she never recorded commercially although a live 1965 Vienna performance (with Birgit Nilsson in the title role and Bhm conducting) is available. She also set the standard for Helena in The Egyptian Helen, evidenced by her remarkable 1956 performance in Munich.

With its predominantly high tessitura, the role of Salome is ideal for Rysanek. One must stretch the imagination to believe that all this sound emanates from a 16-year old girl! She makes an attempt to scale down her voice during her initial scenes, but after that it is an all-stops-out performance, intense dramatically and vocally.  Just before the final scene, as the head of John the Baptist appears, there is a scream—no way to tell if it is Salome or Herodias, but it is effective for sure.

The Vienna State Opera surrounded Rysanek with their finest. As an ensemble this could not be bettered. The entire cast is splendid, and with Karl Bhm in the pit we have an abundance of Straussian opulence. The recording was made in fine stereo by Austrian Radio. Voices are a bit overly prominent but to most opera lovers that might be a plus. RCA's issue was released in 1999 and has been withdrawn. Fortunately we have the same performance now on Opera D'Oro, sounding equally good. Program notes are in German, English and French with a synopsis of the opera as well as a complete libretto.

The HRE label has an all-Strauss CD of Rysanek which includes the Salome finale which they identify as "Vienna 1971 -- Ferdinand Leitner, cond."  This could not be true, as the new set from December 1972 is the first performance by the Vienna State Opera  with the famous soprano. Perhaps  it was a touring opera company?

This release joins the elite Salome recordings both commercial and pirated, beginning with  Birgit Nilsson and Ljuba Welitsch, followed—at some distance—by Cheryl Studer, Montserrat Caball, Maria Cebotari and Christel Goltz. 

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)

(Note:  Also see feature article on Salome)