Confessions of a First-Time Opera Patron: Salome at The VO

by Catherine Carlson

As the opera begins, Herod the King entertains on the terrace of his palace – an artistically staged setting with large palace walls lit to evoke the warm ambiance of desert moonlight. Being greeted by such a unique , atmospheric setting, it was clear that director Joseph McClain’s production of Salome would be anything but dull.

An opera in one act, from the New Testament story of the beheading of John the Baptist, Richard Strauss’ Salome is the story of King Herod – elegantly portrayed by John Mac Master – a man married to his murdered brother’s wife Herodias, who accuses her husband of lusting after her daughter Salome.

salome

With vocal prowess, Greer Grimsley as Jokanaan the prophet, calls Heriodias’ incestuous marriage to Herod sinful. The beautiful Salome, presented with both vocal and emotive brilliance by Mlada Khudoley, persuades the captain of the palace guard, Narroboth, to bring the shackled Jokanaan to the terrace. Salome becomes infatuated with the wild Jokanaan, praising his white skin and black hair, and begs him for a kiss, but he rejects her as he is returned to the cistern. The rich voices and spectacular acting – not only by the lead actors, but from the collective ensemble – combined with the colourful costumes and brilliant choreography, is riveting to watch.

As Herod and his wife, and court enters the terrace, Herod slips in the blood of Narraboth who has just killed himself because he cannot bear Salome’s desire for Jokanaan. In this slightly political scene, Herodias tells Herod to hand him over to the Jews, who refuses to endanger the holy man. A group of Jews quarrel about Jokanaan, adding to the performance an unanticipated, but well appreciated bit of lively comedy.

As the story builds to its climax, Herod convinces the lithe Salome to dance a beautiful, erotic dance for him in which she slowly removes seven veils to reveal her naked form. A condition of her dance for Herod, Salome is granted the right to anything her heart desires and in the opera’s most shocking moment, Salome demands the head of the prophet Jokanaan on a silver platter.

In a deliciously horrifying, quasi-Brechtian moment, Jokanaan’s head is brought out of the cistern on a platter by the muscular executioner. Salome clasps the severed head that drips blood onto her white dress, as she passionately kisses the prophet’s lips, and becomes a gruesome show of shocking madness. Khudoley’s performance of Salome’s actions is simultaneously fascinating, beastly and riveting. Finally, after witnessing such an abhorrence, Herod orders his soldiers to kill Salome.

Vocally and musically, accompanied perfectly by Jonathan Darlington’s delicately sublime score, the opera was both an auditory and emotional treat. As a first-time patron of the opera, I can attest to the fact that you do not need to be an opera buff, possess in-depth knowledge of concertos or need even to speak German or Italian to wholeheartedly enjoy the opera. The fantastic performance of singing and acting, a powerful orchestra, beautiful Middle Eastern costumes, erotic dance, and a finale of shocking gore were the perfect components for a memorable and enjoyable evening.

I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the 50th anniversary season of the Vancouver Opera which debuts near the end of 2009. For more details on future showtimes, visit the Vancouver Opera website.

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