Hell hath no fury: Salome

Pasatiempo - - JENNIFER GOES -

The new pro­duc­tion of Richard Strauss’ Salome af­fords as fine an evening of mu­si­cal drama as the com­pany’s au­di­ence can hope for. It con­veys the tale with clar­ity and some inspired flashes of unortho­doxy, cap­i­tal­izes in­tel­li­gently on the avail­able stage re­sources, and boasts a cast that is spo­ton from start to fin­ish.

Di­rec­tor Daniel Slater sets the ac­tion in turn-of-the-cen­tury Mit­teleu­ropa, where Herod’s royal court dines in full re­galia of medals and sashes. He reaches back to the source of Strauss’ li­bretto, Os­car Wilde’s stage play Salomé, to re­cover a de­tail that be­comes cen­tral to his in­ter­pre­ta­tion: that (as he notes in a pro­gram es­say) “the man who be­comes [Salome’s] sex­ual ob­ses­sion is im­pris­oned in the same cis­tern where the fa­ther she barely knew was held cap­tive for 12 years and then mur­dered.” Slater shines the light on this nor­mally dark cell, show­ing Jochanaan scrib­bling his prophetic writ­ings and, later, dis­play­ing his dis­mem­bered parts ooz­ing a stream of blood while Salome takes her time hon­ing in on the mouth she has been so in­tent on kiss­ing in what is now an es­capade of Freudian trans­fer­ence. Slater also plays out the back-story in Salome’s no­to­ri­ous “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Rather than stage it as a solo num­ber for Salome, he opens up the set into a rear com­part­ment, then another, then yet another, in which are played out the events that lurk in the re­cesses of her mem­ory: Herod stran­gling her fa­ther with his belt, hov­er­ing too close to her and leav­ing her feel­ing un­clean, ren­der­ing her frozen in hys­te­ria.

As Salome, so­prano Alex Penda ren­dered the por­tions of the dance that em­pha­sized her own move­ment with ex­pres­sive grace. She is a crea­ture of the stage, po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous even when wear­ing a gown of lacy white and aqua lay­ers that sug­gest a vir­ginal Madonna, down­right psy­chotic when stripped down to her slip. Her voice was pow­er­ful enough to cut through Strauss’ huge or­ches­tra, though with op­u­lence rather than shrill­ness. Her in­ter­pre­ta­tion just kept on grow­ing in vo­cal lux­ury and dra­matic hor­ror all the way through her daunt­ing fi­nal scene.

The other four prin­ci­pals proved ex­em­plary in their roles. Bass-bari­tone Ryan McKinny in­fused Jochanaan with sonorous res­o­nance, and tenor Robert Brubaker’s tight, com­mand­ing tim­bre etched a pre­cise im­age of Herod. Dra­matic mezzo-so­prano Michaela Martens, as Hero­dias, sang stun­ningly with bur­nished tones of deep ma­roon. Tenor Brian Jagde rang out ar­dently as Narraboth. The or­ches­tra, con­sid­er­ably ex­panded for the oc­ca­sion, played mag­nif­i­cently un­der David Robert­son’s ba­ton. The mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, pre­cise and col­or­ful through­out, in­te­grated singers and in­stru­ments into an en­tity that gripped with mo­men­tum and thrilled at its mo­ments of vol­canic out­burst.

Ad­di­tional per­for­mances of “Salome” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 11, 18, and 27.

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