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.
The 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