Whether your orientation is religious or secular, if your culture is western the name Salome probably conjures up images of seduction and grisly obsession. She is depicted in the bible. She is seen frequently in European painting. The gruesome image of John the Baptist’s head upon a silver platter originates first in her mind or her mother’s, depending upon which tale you are reading. The height of her lasciviousness culminates in the 1892 play by Oscar Wilde. Richard Strauss adapted the Oscar Wilde text in 1903 for his opera, “Salome.”
“Salome” is a marvelous vehicle for a diva who also wants to act. In addition to having the voice that can stand up to the challenge of the role, Patricia Racette throws her all at bringing her character to life. Magnificent to listen to, Racette also does an excellent job with choreography that would be challenging for a professional dancer, freely falling backwards from a high cistern into the arms of four male dancers, for example. She is coquettish with an adolescent’s total sense of entitlement and willingness to ignore danger. The only problem is she is not an adolescent. An actor friend suggested that rather than conceptualizing Salome as a teenager, one should think of her as the older seductress. Zsa Zsa Gabor is a good example. I have tried, the problem is that my memory still contains the images of Maria Ewing in the LAOpera production of some 30 years ago. True, that is my problem more than Racette’s but the youthful image Ewing projected was so strong few who saw the earlier production have forgotten.
While we are on the subject of LAOpera’s previous production, little has changed in the intervening decades. The backdrop is different … so? It is certainly not memorable. Except for many of the costumes it is a minimal rather than minimalist production and deserves a respectful retirement. The drabness of this production is in particular contrast to the creative and visually arresting production that preceded it, Mozart’s “The Abduction From The Seraglio” colorfully staged as if on the Orient Express.
Gabriele Schnaut cuts a distinctive figure as Herodias, Salome’s mother. She struts in her jewel encrusted gown leaving no doubt as to where Salome’s sense of entitlement was nursed. Alan Glassman is a lust driven, nasty old lecher as Herod, promising his step-daughter anything if only she will dance for him. And that, dear children, is how John the Baptist’s head ends up on a silver platter. It leads to no joy for anyone but Salome and her mother, and an opportunity for Strauss to dramatically polish off his hour and forty minute creation with an aria that is one more chance for Racette to shine, both musically and theatrically.