RICHARD STRAUSS: Salome
German soprano Anja Silja (born 1940) started her singing career early. At 16 she made her stage debut as Rosina in The Barber of Seville; her early repertory also included Queen of the Night from Mozart's Magic Flute. She soon went on to heavier roles and was acclaimed for her Senta in The Flying Dutchman at the 1960-61 Bayreuth Festivals. She continued to perform at Bayreuth until 1966, also appearing in Vienna, Hamburg and Paris with great successperhaps more for her acting ability than for the quality of her voice. Later in her career she specialized in operas by Berg and Janacek. This Myto release affords us the opportunity to hear Silja in her supposed prime: a Vienna State Opera performance of Salome from November 25, 1965. It is a mixed bag, indeed.
It is rare that a performance of Salome is recommended more for Narraboth than for the title role. Apparently this is the only recorded Narraboth by Fritz Wunderlich, and it is glorious, another reminder of the loss to the musical world when he died in 1966 at the age of only 36. Astrid Varnay's Herodias is a known factor and this is one of her early performances of the role, more on-pitch than those to follow. Gerhard Stolze's Herodes here is quite histrionicas it was on his Decca recording with Cristl Goltz; and his characterization is strong. Eberhard Waechter's Jochanaan is superb, the finest singing to be heard in this performance aside from Wunderlich, and conductor Kosler keeps things moving. Which brings us to Ms.Silja.
Silja, like Gwyneth Jones, was a singer whose promising voice began to disintegrate early. Her sound is white, chalky and without vibratowith a slow wobble that can be distressing. Often her pitch is suspect, her sound more functional than beautiful. Visually she must have been quite striking, to say the least (see photo above); however, as Salomes go, hers is near the bottom of the list. There is a comical scream (actually an EEEEKKK!) as she is being killed by the soldiers at the conclusion of the opera, rather as if she had seen a huge mouse instead of being crushed to death.
Ailja's inadequacies are made all more apparent by the generous fillers on the second CD. Three different live performances of the final scene, all of which totally eclipse Silja in all aspects. First Astrid Varnay from a 1953 performance; she is vocally secure, at times reminiscent of Birgit Nilsson. Then Inge Borkh from a 1952 performance in which again she shows her ability as a singing actress. The best is saved for last, the famous 1949 Met broadcast with Ljuba Welitsch and Fritz Reiner on the podium.
Sound quality for the Silja performance is well-balanced and natural; on my copy there was a tracking problem with track 8 on CD 1; three different players could not track it properly. A libretto in German only is provided
R.E.B. (March 2000)