Richard Strauss' SALOME

Ljuba Welitsch 
Photo by Philippe Halsman ©1949

Christel Goltz 

Strauss's Salome may seem quite tame by today's standards, but it stunned the musical world at its princess's lust for John the Baptist, combined with Strauss's sensuous music, the spectacle of Salome performing her infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils," then demanding the head of the Baptist as reward, was a new moral debasement.  When in the final scene, to Strauss' most sensuous music, she kisses the severed head of the Baptist in a spasm of unrequited passion, it was the final straw, scandalizing audiences as well as censors. However the opera was a great success with audiences and has been ever since.

Leonie Rysanek as Salome

Anja Silja as Salome

Salome requires a mammoth orchestra including 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 harps, about 60 strings, rows of woodwinds, plus cameo appearances by harmonium and organ, although Strauss later on approved of a version with reduced orchestra for smaller opera houses. According to him, Salome should be sung by "a 16-year old princess with the voice of an Isolde," an impossible requirement. The role is taxing in the extreme with a relentlessly high tessitura, and while there are no high C's, there are many B-flats and B's, as well as two G-flats below middle C!  Salome has always attracted sopranos: what woman wouldn't like to be identified with the role of a beautiful young virgin?

Marie Wittich was sang the premiere of Salome in Dresden Dec. 9, 1905.  She found the opera "distasteful and obscene...I won't do it, I'm a decent woman."  Wittich allowed a ballerina to perform the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" at the premiere but later insisted on doing it herself - much to the embarrassment of Strauss, as Wittich was a large rather ungainly woman.

Astrid Varnay as Salome

Inge Borkh as Salome


Just two years after the premiere excerpts from Salome appeared on recordings.  In 1907 bits and pieces were recorded acoustically by Rudolf Berger, Baptist Hoffman and Friedrich Brodersen all as Jochanaan, all on single-sided ten-inch disks.  Ernst Kraus, who was the first Berlin Herod, also recorded two brief excerpts.  Emmy Destinn, who sang the first Berlin Salome, in 1907 recorded  two short excerpts  from Salome's apostrophe to Jochanaan and two years later Johanna Gadski recorded a 1:34 snippet.  G–ta Ljungberg, after singing Salome at Covent Garden in 1924, made a truncated recording of the finale and five years later recorded it again although this time not as severely cut.  Marjorie Lawrence recorded the final scene in French in 1934, and in 1943 Liselotte Enck also recorded it but in the original language.  In 1948 Christel Goltz appeared in a Dresden radio broadcast with Joseph Keilberth on the podium, recorded the entire opera for Decca/London in 1954 with Clemens Krauss conducting, and made her third recording in 1963 with Otmar Suitner conducting.  In 1952 Philips recorded a fine performance starring Walburga Wegner and Rudolf Moralt with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (available briefly on CD in Philips' Opera Collector Limited Edition - 438 664).  Since that time there have been more than two dozen complete recordings, both commercial and pirated:

|Studer/Sinopoli, 1990

 Behrens/Karajan, 1977

 Nilsson/Solti, 1961

Cheryl Studer (Salome); Leonie Rysanek (Herodias) Horst Heistermann (Herod); Bryn Terfel (Jochanaan); Clemens Bieber (Narraboth); Berlin Opera Orch/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 431 810 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 42 min.

Cheryl Studer is in top form on this DG recording -- highly impressive vocally and interpretively.  Her youthful sound and ease with the notes are commendable. Leonie Rysanek's Herodias is perfection; how strange it must have seemed to her to be singing the character of the mother of a character she herself had sung with enormous success.  Byrn Terfel's Jochanaan is a model of masculine power, with Horst Heistermann a fine Herod.  Giuseppe Sinopoli's direction is sensuous and assured if rather understated - from an orchestral standpoint all is pristine if rather unexciting. The recording has a spacious sound stage, with voices well-balanced.

Hildegard Behrens (Salome); Agnes Baltsa (Herodias); Karl-Walter B–hm (Herod); JosË van Dan (Jochanaan); Wieslaw Ochman (Narraboth); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
EMI 49358 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 45 min.

Given the manifold vocal problems of Hildegard Behrends over the past two decades,  it is refreshing to listen to her 1977 recording of Salome conducted by Herbert von Karajan, recorded just before that year's Salzburg Festival. At that time she was a shining star on the operatic horizon, magnificent in every way, with beauty of tone and sufficient power to sustain Karajan's leisurely tempi and be heard over the masses of orchestral opulence. This EMI recording has been reissued in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series (67159).  It surely should be in every Salome collection.  An aircheck of the 1977Salzburg broadcast is even more spectacular, with better sound to boot. Now that some  historic Salzburg performances are being reissued perhaps this will be among them -- we can hope.

Birgit Nilsson (Salome); Grace Hoffman (Herodias); Gerhard Stolze (Herod); Eberhard Wachter (Jochanaan); Waldemar Kmentt (Narraboth); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
LONDON 414 414 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 40 min.

Birgit Nilsson was famous for her powerhouse Salome, and the 1961 recording with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic remains stunning, although she's occasionally a touch off pitch. When the grand Swedish soprano sings Salome this is no teenage girl.  Gerhard Stolze is a manaical Herod, Grade Hoffman a strong Herodias, with vivid Decca sonics.  Nilsson's live recording of 1965 from the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, with Georges SÈbastien conducting and a strong supporting cast, shows the Swedish soprano at her very best, in superb stereo sound as well (see below).  

CaballÈ/Leinsdorf, 1968

Nielsen/Schonwandt, 1997

    Huffstodt/Nagano, 1991

Montserrat CaballÈ (Salome); Regina Resnik (Herodias); Sherrill Milnes (Jochanaan); Richard Lewis (Herod); James King (Narraboth); London Symphony Orch/Erich Leinsdorf, cond.
RCA 6644 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 41 min.

Salome was one of Caballe's favorite roles, an unlikely choice considering her physical attributes but she surely has the required vocal quality for the role.  There are no problems whatever with the notes, and her silvery, controlled sound is near-perfect for the young Judean princess.  Here she is in her prime with a supporting cast that has not one weak member.  What a luxury to have Sherrill Milnes as the Baptist, Regina Resnik in one of her superb "queen" roles.  The London Symphony is at its best under Erich Leinsdorf's keen direction.  Recorded in Walthamstow Hall in London in 1968, the set was engineered by Robert Auger, a guarantee of sonic excellence, and produced by Richard Mohr.   Like most recordings of Salome, it is now out-of-print.  I'd surely like to hear it in a high-quality remastering.

Inga Nielsen (Salome); Anja Silja (Herodias); Robert Hale (Jochanaan); Reiner Goldberg (Herod); Deon van der Walt (Narraboth); Danish National Radio Symphony Orch/Michael Schonwandt, cond.
CHANDOS 9611 (2 CDs) TT:  l hr. 40 min.

This 1997 Salome is of considerable interest because of the title-role performance by Inga Nielsen, a young Danish soprano who appears regularly at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden and other opera houses, as well as at festivals and on television. She is an impressive Salome. Her sound is appropriately youthful, she sings on pitch and develops characterization effectively. This is, indeed, an impressive performance. It seems obvious that Nielsen has studied Ljuba Welitsch's performance - although her voice doesn't have the personality of the Bulgarian dynamo.

Aside from Nielsen, there is little to recommend in this new recording except for the typical Chandos high quality sound. Reiner Goldberg's Herod is unevenly sung, not as disturbing as Anja Silja's Herodias. Silja was always an exciting if vocally deficient Salome decades ago.  It is true that Herodias is supposed to be an unpleasant, shrewish character, but Silja's incredible wobble is enough to, as they say, take the paint off the ceiling. Other notable Salomes of the past have switched from daughter to mother, notably Astrid Varnay and Leonie Rysanek, but they never exhibited the vocal distress displayed by Silja. Robert Hale's Jochanaan also is unsteady, far removed from the richness and security of Bryn Terfel, Sherrill Milnes and Eberhard Wachter in their recordings. 

Karen Huffstodt (Salome); Helene Jossoud (Herodias); JosÈ van Dam (Jochanaan); Jean Dupouy (Herod); Jean-Luc Viala (Narraboth); Lyon Opera Orch/Kent Nagano, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS VCD 791477 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 45 min.

Shortly after the German premiere, Strauss prepared a French version of Salome, necessitating a few changes in the music to accommodate Oscar Wilde's original text. This was premiered in 1907, but subsequent performances merely translated Hedwig Lachmann's German version with no changes in the score. Virgin Classics has recorded the original French version, and those who love the opera will find it fascinating. The performance is adequate although little more. Karen Hoffstodt's voice has neither the power or the stamina the role demands, and is sometimes off-pitch. Conductor Kent Nagano's concept of this volatile score is tame and leisurely when it should be dynamic and propulsive, and the live recording favors the voices. If you want to hear Salome in French, or at least a part of it, there's Marjorie Lawrence's superb 1934 recording of the final scene.

Welitsch/Reiner, 1949

Welitsch/Reiner, 1952

Rysanek/Böhm, 1972

Ljuba Welitsch (Salome); Kerstin Thorborg (Herodias); Herbert Janssen (Jochanaan); Frederick Jagel (Herod); Brian Sullivan (Narraboth); Metropolitan Opera Orch/Fritz Reiner (live Dec. 3, 1949)
GUILD 2230/31 (2 CDs) 2 hr. 36 min.
MELODRAM 27042 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 34 min.

Ljuba Welitsch (Salome); Elisabeth Höngen (Herodias); Hans Hotter (Jochanaan); Set Svanholm (Herod); Brian Sullivan (Narraboth); Metropolitan Opera Orch/Fritz Reiner, cond. (live Jan. 10, 1952)
MYTO MCD 952.125 (2 CDs) TT:  l hr. 32 min.

Two distinctive, historic interpretations, one far superior to the other. The 1949 performance, recorded Welitsch's first season at the Met, finds her giving 110% all the way.  The depraved/innocent sound is ever apparent, the bold thrusts of sound defy the score's difficulty. It is sad that Welitsch's voice had begun its deterioration by 1952 - however she still is mightily impressive. In 1952 there sometimes is a chalky whiteness to her sound; it's not as easy as before—and in the final scene she anticipates the beat on the words, "Ah! Jokanaan, Jokanaan, du warst sch–n" (Ah! Jokanaan, thou wert fair"), makes a fine recovery, and is a bit off-pitch on  "Ich habe ihn geküst, deinen Mund" ("I have kissed thy mouth").  Supporting casts in both performances are strong and there is no question there is a Strauss master - Fritz Reiner - on the podium.  These sets represent the finest sound quality I've ever heard for both broadcasts. For the 1949 broadcast the best sound is on the GUILD release, which also contains Puccini's Gianni Schicchi from the same broadcst (REVIEW). The 1949 set is filled with excerpts from the January 6, 1951 performance of Don Giovanni (also conducted by Reiner) as well as excerpts from an Aida (conducted by Emil Cooper) from March 11, 1950.  The 1952 set offers a more extensive sampling from the 1950 Aida. If you have but one complete Welitsch Salome surely it should be the 1949—it is strange that considering the hundreds of performances she gave of the opera during her all-too-brief career more haven't shown up.  We can hope!

Leonie Rysanek (Salome); Grace Hoffman (Herodias); Eberhard Waechter (Jochanaan); Hans Hopf (Herod); Waldemar Kmentt (Narraboth); Vienna State Opera Orch/Karl B–hm, cond. (live Dec. 22, 1972)
RCA 69430 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 37 min.
OPERA D'ORO OPD 1165 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.

December 22, 1972 was a special occasion for the Vienna State Opera, the first time their beloved Leonie Rysanek sang Richard Strauss' 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 early '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. 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 both 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 surely is effective. Rysanek leaves out three notes in the final scene. The text reads, "Ah! Ah!  Jochanaan....du warst sch–n" with the first exclamation a D# going up to an D, the second an F (beginning at 5:31 in track 4). These notes are omitted in all of Rysaneks recordings (all live), for whatever reason.

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 B–hm in the pit we have an abundance of Straussian opulence, the conductor doubtless grateful he had Rysanek rather than Gwyneth Jones as he endured a year earlier in the Philips Hamburg recording. The Vienna 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.  Program notes are in German, English and French with a synopsis of the opera but no libretto. Opera d'Oro has released the same performance at budget price with limited notes, just about the same sound quality and with different trackings. 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 RCA set from December 1972 is the first performance by the Vienna State Opera  with the famous soprano. Perhaps it was a touring opera company, or the date is incorrect?

Marton/Mehta, 1990

Borkh/Keilberth, 1951

Borkh/Mitropoulos, 1958

Eva Marton (Salome); Brigitte Fassbaender (Herodias); Bernd Weikl (Jochanaan); Heinz Zednik (Herod); Keith Lewis (Narraboth); Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Zubin Mehta, cond. (rec. Nov. 1990)
SONY CLASSICAL  S2K 46717 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.

Eva Marton's voice, with its thick harsh edge, is not appropriate for Salome. She attempts, with moderate success, to scale down her sound in the first third of the opera - after that it's blast away.  Never is there any sensuous beauty, as there surely should be at least in the final scene when she sings of her love for the Baptist.  Marton probably would have made a fine Herodias.  Contributions of the remainder of the cast are average at best, particularly Weikl's lacklustre Jochanaan.  The only reason to have this recording is the Berlin Philharmonic, their only recording of the opera.  Consistently they play with remarkable virtuosity under Mehta's impassioned leadership.  Sony's recording, produced by Steven Epstein and Grace K. Row and engineered by Kevin Boutote, is superb.  Currently the set, like most recordings of the opera, is out-of-print.

Inge Borkh (Salome); Irmgard Barth (Herodias); Hans Hotter (Jochanaan); Max Lorenz (Herod); Lorenz Fehenberger (Narraboth); Bavarian State Orch/Joseph Keilberth, cond. (live July 21, 1951)
ORFEO D'OR C 342 932 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.

Inge Borkh (Salome); Blanche Thebom (Herodias); Mack Harrell (Jochanaan); Ramon Vinay (Herod); Giulio Gari (Narraboth); Metropolitan Opera Orch/Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond.
ARKADIA CDMP 459.3 (3 Cds) (also includes Elektra and finale of Salome with Christel Goltz)

The Orfeo d'Or performance was recorded more than a half-century ago in Munich, just two years after the composer's death and is of interest primarily for the magnificent Jochanaan of Hans Hotter who had sung the role many times with Strauss conducting.  Inge Borkh's voice never was really right for Salome, but she was a fine artist in command of the notes. She has plenty of power and is on-pitch, but in the 1951 performance there is a rapid narrow vibrato odd to hear.  Despite laudatory comments in the CD notes, Keilberth's Strauss isn't very exciting.  The mono sound is superb except for overly-prominent percussion.  Producers have provided only eight tracks for the entire opera.  This is a forgettable Salome.  

Things are quite different in the Met broadcast of 1958.  Borkh by this time had her interpretation finalized and doubtless was inspired by the dynamic conducting of Mitropoulos.  The supporting cast is quite superior to the 1951 performance, particularly Blanche Thebom's Herodias and Mark Harrell's Jochanaan.  This was an exciting afternoon at the Met with well-balanced mono broadcast sound.  The 3-CD set also contains Borkh's NYP/Mitropoulos Elektra from 1958,  and another Salome (from just before the "Dance of the Seven Veils" to the conclusion) with Christel Goltz, Vinay and Thebom, Mitropoulos conducting, a Met broadcast of 1955.  This is a fascinating Strauss set well worth owning in spite of production deficiencies (Thebom and Harrell's names spelled incorrectly; Paul Schoeffler is listed as Jochanaan in the 1955 Salome although he of course doesn't sing in the music included on the CD).  There are eighteen tracks for Borkh's Salome. Borkh  made two recordings of the final scene -- in 1955 with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, now reissued in RCA's "Living Stereo" series, which has magnificent recorded sound (three scenes from Elektra are also included on this superb CD), and a year later with Josef Krips and the Vienna Philharmonic.   

Silja/Kosler, 1965

Wegner/Moralt, 1952

Cebotari/Krauss, 1947

Anja Silja (Salome); Astrid Varnay (Herodias); Eberhard Waechter (Jochanaan); Gerhard Stolze (Herod); Fritz Wunderlich (Narraboth); Vienna State Opera Orch/Zdenek Kosler (live Nov. 25, 1965)
MYTO MCD 001.212 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.

Anja Silja (b. April 7, 1940) was at the beginning of her career when this was recorded.  She had made her debut (as Rosina in Barber of Seville) when only sixteen; in 1960 she made her Bayreuth debut as Senta in The Flying Dutchman remaining closely associated with the Bayreuth Festival, her career doubtless greatly assisted by her intimate relationship with Wieland Wagner. After his death she switched to roles in which her fine acting skills helped overcome her vocal deficiencies. Silja's voice, even early in her career, was rather ugly with a piercing, whitish tone, often with a wobble and occasional off-pitch singing, evident in this performance recorded in 1964 when she was only twenty-five. No question her characterization is strong and that the performance, in Wieland Wagner's stark black and white production, must have been quite exciting visually. As the Baptist's head appears we hear Herodias screaming and Herod sobbing hysterically—a terrific theatre effect. However there is an unintentionally comic effect at the climax of the opera. As Salome is being crushed by the soldiers' shields she emits a high, piercing "EEEEK!" just before the final chord. I find it quite funny.

Aside from Silja, this performance vocally is outstanding, particularly the Narraboth of Fritz Wunderlich and Eberhard Waechter's strong Jochanaan.  Sound quality is first-rate.  The second CD is filled out with finales of Salome sung by Astrid Varnay (1953), Inge Borkh (1952) and Ljuba Welitsch (1949).  All are quite superior to Silja.

Walburga Wegner (Salome); Georgine von Milinkovic (Herodias); Josef Metternich (Jochanaan); László Szemere (Herod); Waldemar Kmentt (Narraboth); Vienna Symphony )Orch/Rudolf Moralt, cond.
PHILIPS 438 664 (2 CDs) TT:  l hr. 35 min.

This is a fascinating recording.  Walburga Wegner (b.1913 in Germany) made her debut as a soprano in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1946 and sang extensively in Vienna, Hamburg and La Scala.  At the Met she sang only one season (1951-52, Eva in Meistersinger, Chrysothemis in Elektra).  This Salome appears to be her only commercial recording (there is a live 1948 performance of excerpts from Fidelio available on Gephardt). Recorded in December 1952, this Salome is highly effective. Wegner's controlled, light voice, perhaps with the assistance of the microphones, conveys the character as, indeed, a young woman, something most sopranos cannot achieve. The supporting cast is splendid;  Szemere's declaration in the final scene "Sie ist ein Ungeheuer" ("She is monstrous") is superb. Philips mono recording is representative of their rich sound of the era. Now out-of-print, this set was issued on CD in the Philips Opera Collector Limited Edition.

Maria Cebotari (Salome); Elisabeth H–ngen (Herodias); Marko Ruthmuller (Jochanaan); Julius Patzak (Herod); Karl Friedrich (Narraboth); Vienna State Opera Orch/Clemens Krauss, cond. (live Covent Garden Sept. 30, 1947)
GEBHARDT JGCD 0011/2 TT:  l hr. 40 min.

This is superb! Maria Cebotari (1910-1949) was a famous singer of Mozart and Strauss during her tragically short lifetime, highly regarded by her colleagues. Lisa della Casa said of her, "...I was enthralled with her...she had a sort of gypsy-sounding voice, but very cultivated, and a timbre that once heard was never forgotten. The personality on the stage was there, but it was the instrument that counted...she had an Italian approach, full of warmth, and yet under perfect control." On this recording we have the Vienna State Opera's guest appearance at Covent Garden—and they brought their best. Cebotari had the misfortune of singing Salome at the same time as Ljuba Welitsch, but judging from what is heard on this live recording she was magnificent in the role. Cebotari's attention to high note values is extraordinary—nothing is glossed over in this dramatically convincing vocally assured performance. She is surrounded by a splendid cast, particularly H–ngen and Patzak (both identified in the skimpy CD notes as singing the role of  "Herodia"). This was six years before Patzak recorded his famous more frantic conception of Herod for Decca/London (also with the composer's close friend Clemens Krauss on the podium). 

Sonic quality of this recording is poor with much distortion. However, it is worth hearing for the superlative performance. Cebotari's Salome finale can also be heard in a 1943 recording on a Preiser CD (with an odd—but effective—quiet ending presumably the work of conductor Artur Rother), along with excerpts from Feuersnot, Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne as well as the seldom-heard Taillefer (90222).

CaballÈ/Mehta, 1971

Nilsson/Sebastian, 1965

Rysanek/Kempe, 1974

Montserrat CaballÈ (Salome); Beverly Wolff (Herodias);Siegmund Nimsgern (Jochanaan);Karlheinz Thiemann (Herod); Wieslaw Ochman (Narraboth); RAI Orch/Zubin Mehta, cond. (live June 15, 1971)
OPERA D'ORO OPD 1311 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 35 min.

Recorded three years after the RCA set, this finds CaballÈ, after a somewhat tentative start, in fine form vocally. No problems whatever with the notes, a convincing characterization and some glorious outpouring of the Spanish soprano's distinctive sound. There is much sensitivity in the final scene as Salome sings of her love for Jochannan, more interpretive leeway than in her commercial recording. The remainder of the cast is not up to her standard; the Italian Radio Orchestra is hard pressed to meet Mehta's demands. There's a brief synopsis of the opera, no information about any of the singers—but it is budget price and those who enjoy Salome probably will wish to own it.

Birgit Nilsson (Salome); Grace Hoffman (Herodias); Eberhard Wachter (Jochanaan); Fritz Uhl (Herod); Renato Sassola (Narraboth); Colón Theater Orch/Sebastian (live Sept. 21, 1965)
ORNAMENTI FE 117 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 33 min.

This is one of a series of live recordings from Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires which acoustically is considered to be one of the finest opera halls of the world even though it is quite large (capacity about 4,000).  The Opera opened in 1908 and over the years has had a brilliant history including performances conducted by Toscanini, many complete Ring cycles, first in 1922 with Weingartner, later with Klemperer, Reiner and Wallberg; Sir Thomas Beecham also conducted there often. Singers love to perform there including Birgit Nilsson who appeared there many times. This performance of Salome took place four years after her famous Decca recording with Solti. She is in better voice here than on the recording, tossing off this difficult music with reckless abandon and power. The entire cast is excellent with Fritz Uhl's Herod outstanding (Nilsson had recorded Isolde to Uhl's Tristan for Decca four years earlier). Sound is superb in this live recording—highly recommended.

Leonie Rysanek (Salome); Ruth Hesse (Herodias); Thomas Stewart (Jochanaan); Jon Vickers (Herod); Horst Laubenthal (Narraboth); French National Orch/Rudolf Kempe, cond. (live July 14, 1974, Festival d'Orange)
GOLDEN MELODRAM GM 3.0047 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 37 min.

Another stunning performance from Rysanek, two years after the Vienna State Opera live recording mentioned above. This is her definitive recorded Salome as she pours out an endless stream of spectacular, full-bodied sound. It is quite magnificent. gain Rysanek is surrounded by the best. Thomas Stewart's Jochanaan is imperious, an imposing figure indeed, and what a luxury to have Jon Vickers as Herod; no exaggerated histrionics here, just a believable, desperate monarch in an untenable situation. Kempe's Strauss may not be as dynamic as Reiner's or Mitroupoulous's, but it is totally satisfying. The French orchestra has a hefty Germanic sound under his baton and they play superbly. The stereo sound is fine, capturing Rysanek's huge voice to perfection. She occasionally seems a bit off mike; Narraboth as well is sometimes too distant, but these are minor reservations. Seventeen tracks are provided, no libretto.


Varnay/Weigert, 1953

Goltz/Keilberth, 1948

Varnay/Weigert, 1953

Christel Goltz (Salome); Inger KarÈn (Herodias); Josef Herrmann (Jochanaan); Bernd Aldenhoff (Herodes); Rudolf Dittrich (Narraboth); Dresden State Orch/Joseph Keilberth, cond. (rec. 1948)
BERLIN CLASSICS BC 2062 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 39 min.

Christel Goltz (b. 1912) made three commercial recordings of Salome I know of; this is her first—and finest. Her voice became more steely as she aged; here she is quite believable as the teen-age princess and at the height of her vocal powers. This surely is preferable to her 1964 recording also from Dresden, with Otmar Suitner on the podium (available on Berlin Classics 0091012BC), which orchestrally is superb, as is the supporting cast. It's unfortunate Suitner didn't conduct the earlier recording; Keilberth is quite staid. CD notes state that Goltz was "the greatest Salome of the century," an overstatement but there is no question that a Goltz performance was an overall event as her understanding of the role combined with her ideal figure must have created a stunning impression (she always did her own dance except at La Scala when Karajan insisted it be done by a ballerina). The set includes a fascinating interview with the Goltz in which she mentions that in 1950 she sang Salome in Vienna with great success "to the chagrin of Ljuba Welitsch, a phenomenal Salome in her own right, but of a very different kind."

Astrid Varnay (Salome); Margarete Klose (Herodias); Hans Braun (Jochanaan); Julius Patzak (Herodes); Hans Hopf (Narraboth; Bavarian Radio Orch/Hermann Weigert, cond. (rec. June 1953)
ORFEO D'OR C 503 002 (2 CDs) TT:  1 hr. 36 min.

BELLA VOCE 107.210 (2 CDs) (Also contains music from Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier and Strauss songs sung by Varnay as well as Strauss songs sung by Julius Patzak and Margarete Klose)

This is a studio recording made during Varnay's finest years. She had sung Salome for the first time in 1948 in Cincinnati and the next year, with Fritz Reiner and the New York Philharmonic, sang the final scene. Varnay was understudy for Welitsch at the Met that year and sang the role there for the first time Jan. 26, 1950. After Salomes at Covent Garden and Munich she switched to Elektra. It could well be that this recording was her final Salome—and she was excellent in the part, scaling her voice down in an appropriate way although her steely brilliance is more effective in Elektra than in Salome. With her trim figure, Varnay must have been quite stunning visually.  Her husband, Hermann Weigert, conducts in very subdued fashion. Julius Patzak's Herod is not as maniacal as in his Goltz/Krauss Decca recording the following year (which has yet to appear in its entirety on CD).  Otherwise it's a fine performance in monophonic sound remarkably vivid for its time. Orfeo d'Or offers 13 cuing tracks.

The Bella Voce issue at budget price offers 32 tracks for Salome as well as 12 bonus tracks:  Varnay in excerpts from Elektra and Rosenkavalier plus two lieder, as well as six Strauss songs sung by Patzak with Richard Strauss and Clemens Krauss conducting, concluding with Geduld, Op. 10 No. 5 sung by Margarete Klose.  Quite a fascinating bonus, indeed!

Bukovac/Wallberg, 1969

Jones/ B–hm, 1970

Malfitano/Dohnányni, 1994

Paula Bukovac (Salome); Sigrid Kehl (Herodias); Heiner Horn (Jochanaan); Niels M–ller (Herod); RenË Kollo (Narraboth); Orch. of Gran Teatro La Fenice/ Heinz Wallberg, cond. (rec. live Feb, 1969).
MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10121 (2 CDs) 1 hr. 33 min.

This is a live performance from Venice Feb. 15, 1969.  Paula Bukovac has a somewhat youthful sound but sings with reckless abandon, slides into some high notes and there is little in her performance that commands positive attention. I've never heard of Bukovac before but a quick check on the internet shows she sang in the 1984 world premiere recording of Franz Hummel's opera K–nig Ubu. The remainder of the cast for this Salome is adequate at best, orchestral playing tentative, Wallberg's conducting prosaic. Engineering is odd—during the final scene one can hear every last note played on the xylophone. The producers have provided no tracks whatever—if you're looking for a favorite section you'll have to fast forward—but considering the performance, it matters not. There is only a few seconds of applause included at the end, appropriately decidedly unenthusiastic.

Gwyneth Jones (Salome); Mignon Dunn (Herodias); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Jochanaan); Richard Cassilly (Herod); Wieslaw Ochmann (Narraboth); Hamburg State Opera Orch/Karl Bohm, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 445 319 (2 CDs) 1 hr. 37 min. (rec. 1971)

This supposedly is the first commercial "live" recording of Salome but actually it is taken from rehearsals as well as the live performance November 4, 1970. Gwyneth Jones, even this early in her career, had an edgy, squally voice (that got much worse as the years progressed); in this recording she is in better shape vocally in the first half of the opera than she is in the second. Dramatically she makes many points, but she is not easy on the ears. Fischer-Dieskau is miscast as Jochanaan; the remainder of the cast is fine. B–hm is surprisingly subdued in this reading, quite removed from the intensity of his live Vienna performance two years later with Rysanek (see above). Sonic quality is fine—but with Jones in the title role there is little point to own this recording.  The most commendable feature of this set is that there are 32 tracks.

Catherine Malfitano (Salome); Hanna Schwarz (Herodias); Byrn Terfel (Jochanaan); Kenneth Riegel (Herod); Kim Begley (Narraboth; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Christoph von Dohnányi, cond.
LONDON 444 178 (2 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT:  1 hr. 40 min.

This recording has a lot going for it. Recorded in the "large hall" of the Vienna Concert House April 11-18, 1994, with producers Michael Woolcock and Christopher Pope and engineers James Lock and Jonathan Stokes, it gives listeners an incredibly detailed sonic picture of the VPO. Never before have I heard so much of the score, doubtless because in addition to the superb engineering, Dohnányi's balancing of orchestral textures is impeccable. Missing are passion and drive found in this music by Reiner, Solti, and Mitropoulos. Kenneth Riegel's Herod is remarkable and he is well-matched by Hanna Schwarz, a less-squally Herodias than usual. Bryn Terfel's Jochanaan is even better than his 1990 performance in the Sinopoli set (see above); a more magisterial, sensitive Baptist is not to be heard on records. Malfitano's Salome is an acquired taste.  She has all of the notes but a tendency towards shrillness; still she is superior to many others in the role.  There also are two videos of her performance in which she bares almost all.  

Borkh/Schroder, 1952

Norman/Ozawa, 1990


Inge Borkh (Salome); Margarethe Klose (Herodias); Ferdinand Frantz (Jochanaan); Max Lorenz (Herodes); Franz Fehringer (Narraboth); Hessian Radio Orch/Kurt Schroder, cond. (rec. live 1952 Frankfurt)
MYTO MCD 935.92 (2 CDs) (also includes Max Lorenz in excerpts from G–tterd”mmerung rec.1944 in Berlin).

This is the finest of the Inge Borkh recordings of Salome; it would have been ideal if the conductor was Mitropoulos or Reiner.  At this stage of her career she had ample power, was always on pitch and only on rare occasion one hears a pinched quality in the upper register.  For reasons unknown, there is a cut of 27 bars in the final scene (after, "du h”ttest mich geliebt!"). Damaged tape, or perhaps an editing error? The unsung text is included in the German-only libretto.

The supporting cast includes a very young Christa Ludwig, at beginning of her illustrious career, as the Page. Previously she had sung primarily in Frankfurt making her debut there in 1946 as Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus. Doubtless few anticipated the grand career that would follow. Ferdinand Franz (1906-1959) is outstanding as Jochanaan, the distinguished German contralto Margarete Klose (1902-1968) a strong Herodias. Max Lorenz (1902-197?) was one of the leading Wagnerian heldentenors of his era; he is rather unsteady as Herod in this performance. CD 2 is generously filled with about forty minutes of the final act of G–tterd”mmerung recorded in 1944 with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Robert Heger. All in all, this is one of the most intriguing issues of Salome. The recorded sound is outstanding for its vintage.

Jessye Norman (Salome); Kerstin Witt (Herodias); James Morris (Jochanaan); Walter Raffeiner (Herod); Richard Leech (Narraboth); Dresden State Opera Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.
PHILIPS 432 153 (2 CDs) (D) TT:  1 hr. 43 min.

Jessye Norman is an unlikely choice for Salome, but she turns out to be superb in the role. Her careful attention to phrasing and detail is very convincing, with a touch of coquetry, and her demands for Jochanaan's head appropriately increasing in fury. Norman's singing of the second exclamation "Ah!" in the final scene just before the words, "Jochanaan, du warst sch–n" (Jochanaan, thou wert fair!) is a desperately tragic, vulnerable sound, an effect unmatched by any other singer of the role. The highest notes aren't always as free as we would like, but overall this is a remarkable interpretation of a role Norman never performed on the stage. James Morris is a commanding Baptist, Walter Raffeiner is highly impressive as Herod, the remainder of the cast admirable. Ozawa's conducting is low-key, tempi are on the leisurely side; even the "Dance of the Seven Veils" doesn't generate much excitement. From a sonic standpoint this is one of the top achievements of the late Volker Straus.

Which one to get? Of modern digital recordings at the top of the list probably would be Cheryl Studer's, although it is somewhat tame compared with many others. Some older non-digital stereo recordings are of greater interest as performances, particularly those by Leonie Rysanek live from the Vienna State Opera, and Hildegard Behrens. In the "historic live" category is where we find the true treasures, particularly the 1949 Ljuba Welitsch Met performance, the Birgit Nilsson Buenos Aires of 1965, and Rysanek's blazing 1974 French Festival performance.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

There have been many recordings of the final scene from Salome (occasionally abbreviated), including some by sopranos who recorded the entire opera. Most recordings of the final scene omit the brief passages for Herod and Herodias just before the conclusion; a few begin with the brief interlude as Salome hovers over the cistern awaiting her prize. Here are recordings of the "final scene":

Susan B. Anthony, rec. 2001  Slovak RSO/AnguÈlov (Arte Nova 86894)

Inge Borkh,  rec.1955  Chicago SO/Reiner (RCA 68636)

Inge Borkh, rec.1956  Vienna PO/Krips (Preiser 90302)(also included in Vol. IV of London's Great Voices of the Past series - 448 153)

Montserrat CaballÈ, rec. 1977  French National O/Bernstein (DGG 431 171)

Maria Cebotari, rec. 1944 ) (Berlin Radio Symphony O/Artur Rother) (Preiser 90222)

Phyllis Curtin, rec. live1968 (no orch/cond. ID) (Vai Audio  VAIA 1152)

Emmy Destinn, two excerpts (1:45 & 2:00) rec. 1907 (Symposium 1283)

Jane Eaglen, rec. 1997 (Israel PO/Mehta) (Sony Classical SK 60042)

Liselotte Enck, rec. 1943 (Berlin State Opera Orch/Robert Heger) (Preiser 89950)

Johanna Gadski, 1:34 excerpt, rec. 1908 (Victor Orch/no conductor ID) (Club "99" 109)

Barbara Kemp, abbreviated (7:57), rec. 1921(Berlin State Opera Orch/Leo Blech) (Lebendige Vergangenheit 89056)

Marjorie Lawrence (in French),  rec. 1934 (Pasdeloup Concert Orch/Piero Coppola) (Lebendige Vergangenheit 89011)

G–ta Ljungberg, abbreviated (8:22), rec. 1929 (Berlin State Opera Orch/Blech) (Pearl 9257)

Alessandra Marc, rec.2000? (NDR-Sinfonieorchester Hamburg/Donald Runnicles) (Apex  0927 41379)

Rose Pauly, rec. live 1937, NY Phil/Rodzinski  (Eklipse 40)

Leontyne Price, Boston SO/Leinsdorf (rec.1965-763 - date not given) (RCA 60398)

Leonie Rysanek, rec. live Vienna 1971 (Orch/Leitner) (HRE 1005)

Else Schulz, 34 min. of excerpts from two 1942 performances at the Vienna State Opera with Strauss conducting (Koch Schwaan 1453)

Julia Varady, rec. 1999, Bamberg SO/Fischer-Dieskau (Orfeo C 511 991).

Ljuba Welitsch, rec. 1949, Met. Opera O/Reiner (Sony Classical MH2K 62866)  

Ljuba Welitsch, rec. live 1943, Austrian Radio O/Matacic (EMI CDH 61007)

Ljuba Welitsch, rec. 1948, Vienna PO/Karajan (incomplete) (EMI 66394).

Ljuba Welitsch, rec. 1951, Vienna PO/Krauss (incomplete)

Outstanding among these are the acoustic snippets by Gadski and Destinn, the superb recordings by Barbara Kemp, G–ta Ljungberg and Liselotte Enck (all truncated), and the remarkable French version with Marjorie Lawrence. Rose Pauly and Maria Cebotari are splendid. Of course the Else Schulz 1942 excerpts from a Vienna State Opera performance with Strauss conducting are of prime importance.  Phyllis Curtin's live 1968 recording is of great interest (she was a superb interpreter of the role, and looked the part), as is Leontyne Price's studio recording of music she often sang at concerts but never performed on stage. Of current sopranos, Jane Eaglen and Alessandra Marc have big voices that can negotiate the music although the latter, on a CD not issued in the U.S., is strident above the staff. Neither will be remembered for their interpretations of this music, nor will Julia Varady.  I've also heard a superb performance by Julia Migines issued on LP; there also exists a pirate live recording of the complete opera from Geneva about the same time (1983) that is commendable. American soprano Susan B. Anthony offers a superbly sung performance on her recent (2001) Arte Nova issue.

And, saving the very best for last, the operatic world is indebted to "alvianosalvago" who has uploaded on YouTube the finest performance you will ever hear of the final 10 minutes of the opera, with Welitsch, the Vienna Philharmonic and Clemans Krauss. The tempo is slow, bringing out all of the erotic sensuousness of the score, and Welitsch is SPECTACULAR. This seems to be from a live studio broadcast recording—let us hope the entire performance will eventually appear. In the meantime, don't miss it. It is audio only in quite good sound, and on-screen we see several photos of Welitsch as Salome. YOU TUBE WELITSCH 1951 SALOME



When Ljuba Welitsch first arrived at Philippe Halsman's studio after her sensational Met debut as Salome, he took this picture, doubtless the only photo of Salome in a fur coat and cap holding the head of John the Baptist



It's doubtful Welitsch ever did the Dance of the Seven Veils in this ornate cape

Ljuba Welitsch obviously was having a great time at this party; in the background Maria Callas seems rather subdued  (date unknown)

R.E.B. (June 2002) (Rev. July 2003)