Opera review: ‘Salome’

Voigt and Grimsley in ‘Salome,’ Photos by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera.

The Dallas Opera’s second title of the season is the outrageous Salome. Perhaps the most depraved plot in all opera — and that’s saying something — this retelling of the Bible story is adapted from a German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play. Richard Strauss’ very challenging music only adds to the electrifying story. This lustful and sordid work, with a macabre conclusion, made it a good pick to open the week of Halloween.

Princess Salome (soprano Deborah Voigt) is a young woman whose powerful stepfather/uncle Herod (tenor Robert Brubaker) can’t keep his eyes and hands off her. She, in turn, is infatuated with prisoner Jokanaan aka John the Baptist (baritone Greer Grimsley) who is locked in an underground cistern. As a holy man, Jokanaan wants nothing to do with the spoiled, grasping Salome.

Voigt’s voice has a clear and pleasant tone, but unfortunately she is not well-suited for the title role. She’s more than a little too old to portray a deranged teenager, and the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” falls flat. The choreography by Yael Levitin is fine, and the backup dancers (in flowing and beautiful dresses from costume designer Anita Yavich) are wonderful, but Voigt’s dancing is clumsy and labored.

KA2_0553AThe standout among the singers is Grimsley. His baritone powerfully reaches to the top of the Winspear, even though most of his performance comes from the underground prison. Herodias, wife of Herod and mother of Salome (mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley), was able in her limited role, while tenor Joseph Hu delivers a forceful and spirited performance as First Jew. Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson (in a trousers role) as Herodias’ page blasts a clear and sonorant voice of caution in this dark story (though why she was dressed as a soldier remains a mystery). Tenor Scott Quinn as Narraboth is strong, if not memorable.

Stage director Francesca Zambello manages to punctuate the heaviness of the story with light-hearted moments of humor. Conductor Evan Rogister marks a successful Dallas Opera debut with this musically challenging piece. Strauss wrote for a large orchestra with particularly difficult passages for the woodwinds. The musicians played admirably, especially the oboes and bassoons in their exposed passages. Though just a compact 100 minutes, it is a tough slog in the orchestra pit.

Peter J. Davison’s modernist scene design is odd-looking, though ultimately effective. The set is divided by what appears to be a giant clear shower curtain, but it was enhanced by the excellent lighting by Mark McCullough. The costumes are colorful and detailed, except for Salome’s primary costume; her dress lacks the splendor of the others at the palace. The soldiers’ costumers are strangely reminiscent of uniforms in sci-fi films. Wig and make-up design by David Zimmerman appeared to be flawless, particularly in the gory final scene.

Check out Salome if you can. The standout performances make it a far more engaging option than other ways you could spend two hours.

— Alicia Chang

—  admin

Overtures: Cliburn competition concludes next weekend in Fort Worth

KholodenkoVadym2

Overtures is our monthly look at what’s going on in the classical music scene: 

The 14th International Cliburn Piano Competition winds up next week, and already you can have caught the next generation of concert stars as they vie for the big prizes: lots of cash and three years of concert management.

The semifinal rounds conclude Tuesday night (including a performance by hopeful Vadym Kholodenki, pictured), as the concerts alternate solo recitals with chamber music performances. The chamber music features the Brentano String Quartet, arguably one of the best in the world. The final rounds are concerti with orchestra. They are Friday and Saturday, June 7–8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 9, at 3 p.m. The awards ceremony is a separate ticket at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

• Still need a piano fix? Piano Texas holds court at PepsiCo Auditorium on the Fort Worth Campus of TCU. Faculty recitals are June 10—15. Check the website for specific concerts and times.

• Looking forward, check out the Mimir Chamber Music Festival, also at TCU. This outstanding group brings in the best players from around the world and presents excellent concert. The concerts are July 2—7. Check out their site for details.

• And if you don’t mind leaving Texas for your classical experience, the Santa Fe Opera opens on June 28 and runs through August. Lots of folks from North Texas head west every summer. Of greatest interest is Susan Graham staring in the frothy comedy The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein by Offenbach. The new music director of the Dallas Opera, Emmanuel Villaume, conducts. Rossini’s La Donna del Lago is rarely heard, and La Traviata always makes an appearance. But the big buzz (with gay appeal) is for Oscar, composer Theodore Morrison’s opera based on the life of Irish bon vivant Oscar Wilde. It stares the hunky countertenor David Daniels. Another local favorite conductor, Evan Rogister (quite a hunk himself), conducts.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My way or the highway: Gay etiquette book trades on stereotypes and typos

The Gay Man’s Guide to Timeless Manners and Proper Etiquette, by Corey Rosenberg. (2011, Chelsea Station Editions) $15. 120 pp.

Oscar Wilde, as usual, said it best: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”

Corey Rosenberg’s current-day homage to homosexual decorum, The Gay Man’s Guide to Timeless Manners and Proper Etiquette, deftly seizes upon Wilde’s Victorian-era kernel of truth and expands it into a post-modern banquet of American gay, fast-food sensibilities.

More pamphlet, unfortunately, than book, Rosenberg’s opus would have benefited greatly from decent editing: Wise amelioration would certainly have gone a long way toward persuading Rosenberg’s readers to trust his voice. When he refers to himself in the preface as, “the consummate host,” the reader is absolutely ready to follow him down the path of how to do the right and proper thing; sadly, when he goes on to own up nobly to some “shear [sic] and vile behavior,” the reader is caught flat-footed by poor editing.

Unacceptable typos aside — even in a book professing to divulge proper gay etiquette — Chapter 1’s title alone, “The truth about ‘pleases’ & thank you’s’” is too littered with grammatical heresies for any person (say nothing of whether they’re gay) interested in learning proper behavior to take cues from this puffery of sheer syntax laziness; that said, Rosenberg is spot-on regarding why one should never forget to say “please” or “thank you.”

How this common-sense wisdom applies to gay men exclusively is not elucidated upon, except the dismissive assertion that, “attitudes of entitlement are a commonality in the gay community.” Bullfeathers! This reviewer, as a card-carrying member of the club himself, has a very difficult time accepting the cliché of all gay men being self-centered prima donnas.

The book is a puzzling

parade of mixed-message brevity. Chapter 3’s full 110 words, entitled “The Gym,” rather preciously proclaim, “Please remember that the only person you are meant to compete with at the gym is yourself;” yet, Chapter 13’s subject, “Being Attired Properly and Appropriately,” states, “A respectable gay man never wears a skimpy Speedo unless his stomach is tight, his skin is a few shades darker than a wintry shade of pale and he is under the age of 50.” Which is it: Are gay men only complete with themselves when they’re young and physically attractive to others; or are they only complete with themselves once they’re too old to pass for under-50?

At worst, Rosenberg’s guide to gay propriety is an innocuous piece of fluff, like bellybutton lint illuminated by a reflected disco ball’s ray upon your trick’s glistening, shirtless torso.

Rosenberg does offer useful visuals on how to loop a genteel bow tie knot, even if he doesn’t tackle acknowledging the difference between modern life and yesteryear: As he attests in Chapter 18, “Social climbing is a sleazy act of using people to quickly achieve higher rank or status within the community. A proper young man knows the difference between innocent social networking and skipping lines and climbing ladders.”

Here’s to all “proper” young men, then — past, present and future.

— Howard Lewis Russell

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Cross-dressing B’way comedy plays at Angelikas

Lady Bracknell is one of the zoom-bang greatest characters in all theater, the pinched, appearances-heavy doyenne on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The ladies, of course, always get this juicy role. Until now.

Gay actor Brian Bedford donned a frock as the director and leading lady of the current revival of the play, now on Broadway and up for three Tony Awards later this month. But you don’t need to go to New York to see it. The Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano are screening the direct broadcast of the actual play three more times this week: Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Mockingbird Station, Sunday at 2 p.m. and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Plano.

Tickets can be purchased at AngelikaFilmCenter.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones