Hell hath no fury: Salome
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.