Salome, Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera’s new production of Richard Strauss’ staged tone
poem sung in German (with English surtitles) took its viewers into the blackest
heart of darkness as a daring choice to open its new season. Based on Hedwig
Lachmann’s translation of Oscar Wilde’s play SalomÈ, the
110-minute production (no intermission) directed by MO general director/CEO
Larry Desrochers featured an expanded Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led by the
company’ principal conductor/music advisor, maestro Tyrone Paterson. The
three-show run held November 19 to 25, 2011 at Winnipeg’s Centennial
Concert Hall notably marks only the company’s second staging of the 20th
century classic in 23 years.

The gritty, one-act opera based on the New Testament story of the beheading
of John the Baptist deals with incest, prophecy, and madness — and yes,
ultimately, love. Young Princess Salome has become obsessed with prophet
Jokannan who is imprisoned by her stepfather/uncle, King Herod. He, in turn,
lusts for her and cajoles her to dance for him. She agrees only after he
promises he will give her whatever she desires — in this case, the
Baptist’s head on a silver platter.

Russian-born soprano Mlada Khudoley has performed the title role
approximately a dozen times over the past 13 years. Her riveting portrayal
displayed her impressive dramatic range that had her pounding her fists like a
tempestuous teenager before morphing into a hell bent, vengeful woman on the
brink of insanity. The US-based powerhouse’s well-paced vocal delivery
allowed her to save her last breath — if it were possible — for her
final declamatory “If you had seen me, you would have loved me”
that is the impetus for this opera. Strauss’ dissonant, through-composed
score proved no match for this dynamo, with her soaring voice effortlessly
projecting over the knotty, Wagnerian-scale orchestration.

Tenor Dennis Petersen crafted his lecherous Herod, at times, as a
sickeningly juvenile ruler who plays peek-a-boo with Salome during her erotic
“Dance of the Seven Veils” choreographed by Brenda Gorlick. His
penetrating voice grew more desperate as he lured his stepdaughter in
“Dance for me, Salome,” later stamping his feet in a sudden,
volatile outburst after the princess insists on her prize. His
wife/sister-in-law Herodias sung by the incomparable Canadian mezzo-soprano
Judith Forst sputtered as a long-suffering partner, attempting to pierce her
husband’s growing obsession for Salome like a knife.

_TNK2456.giflada Khudoley as Salome and Gregory Dahl as Jokanaan [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]

Special mention must be made of Winnipeg baritone Gregory Dahl’s
chain-shackled Jokanaan, who immediately asserted his booming presence even
from the depths of the cistern with his first vocal entry, “After me,
will come one.” The charismatic singer brought both requisite strength
and nobility to the role, with his robust voice trembling with fury as he
foretold the coming of the Son of Man.

Lyric tenor Michael Colvin performed Captain of the Guard, Narraboth with
focused clarity, growing increasingly agitated as Salome ignores his advances
for Jokanaan. Mezzo-soprano Marcia Whitehead’s Page set the stage for the
entire tragedy to unfold with her ominous “Something terrible will

The chorus of five Jews (Mark Thomsen; Michel Corbeil; P.J. Buchan; Keith
Klassen; David Watson) brought contrapuntal might to the stage with the two
Nazarenes (Mark Bodden; Peter Klymkiw) telling of miracles.

_TNK2809.gifMlada Khudoley as Salome and Dennis Petersen as Herod [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]

Several intriguing directorial choices underscored the love triangle —
if you will — between Herod, Salome and Jokanaan, with Salome quietly
slipping a veil into the cistern while also gravitating towards it during her
famous striptease, creating multiple layers of sub-text. The closing image of
Salome bathed in white light after being killed by Herod’s guards also
suggested her own redemption (by love?); a purifying baptism of sorts that made
her a sympathetic character to be pitied, not abhorred.

The production featured Boyd Ostroff’s set design created for the
Opera Company of Philadelphia with a large, luminous moon radiating throughout
the show, as well as blood red lighting effects by Bill Williams. Costumes
designed by Richard St. Clair included jewel-encrusted robes for Herod and his
wife and a series of voluminous veils for Salome’s seductive dance.

Salome is not an opera for the faint of heart — nor is it the
safest box office draw. There are no jocular drinking songs or bands of dancing
gypsies for levity. Salome’s chilling aria “Ah, you would not let
me kiss your mouth” sung to the bloodied, severed head before she does
just that still resonates with horror even in the 21st century. Salome
remains a fiercely relentless opera that deserves to be seen by any serious
opera lover. After nearly a quarter century hiatus, MO audiences were finally
given that chance.

Holly Harris

image_description=Salome Poster [Manitoba Opera]
product_title=Richard Strauss: Salome
product_by=Click here for cast and other production information.
product_id=Above: Salome Poster courtesy of Manitoba Opera