The Dallas Opera opened a star-studded production of Salome just in time for Halloween. With a combination of biblical, erotic, scandalous, and murderous themes throughout, it’s almost a crime it’s not being shown on Friday night (10/31) as well. As soon as the commanding (even below stage) Greer Grimsley cuts through Strauss’s monster orchestra from his cistern prison, the audience is drawn in completely for the one-act opera.
Director Francesca Zambello allows for each of the stars of this work to bring out their own takes on these characters which buck some of the original intentions of Strauss, but in a way that makes you question Strauss rather than the artists. Greer Grimsley is not the pious prophet, canting uninterpretable prophecies from afar. Instead, Grimsley turns his role of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) into a character of power. His booming bass-baritone demonstrates clearly why he has been cast in Verdi and Wagner roles at some of the top opera companies in the country. The command of his voice coupled with his on-stage presence bring a clear meaning to Salome’s final aria in which she says “Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see his God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Jokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see.”
Grimsley was not the only man on stage with a new take, however, as tenor Robert Brubaker flips the script to make King Herod a believably comedic character. In both his singing, and his acting, Brubaker had the audience appropriately uncomfortably chuckling throughout. While his counterpart Susan Bickley as Queen Herodius aided in the comedy, she was impressive in her general performance. Bickley not only owned her role, she held her own vocally against both Grimsley and Deborah Voigt — no small task.
Deborah Voigt in the role of Salome showed the Dallas audience why she’s one of the top dramatic sopranos in the business. In one of the most difficult roles in the repertoire, Voigt shines by making it seem effortless. Salome is generally portrayed as a hormone-driven teenager who simply amuses herself with Jokanaan. Voigt challenges this characterization by playing a deranged, crazed Salome from beginning to end; and it works. Voigt creates a Salome that doesn’t shock you when she practically makes out with a severed head. Instead, with her performance, you almost expect it.
Choreographer Yael Levitin took the most famous scene of the opera, “Dance of the Seven Veils,” which can often be awkward, and presented a perfectly dazzling scene. The challenge of the dance is that it calls for the main dancer to be Salome, but the talent combo of powerful dramatic soprano and graceful ballerina doesn’t come around very often these days. Levitin spares both Voigt and the audience by bringing in fantastic dancers around Salome. Voigt almost seems to be conducting the other dancers, making them the focus of the dance, while still exposing the seductive nature of the scene.
There have been some outstanding productions in Dallas the past few years, Tristan & Isolde, Turandot, The Barber of Seville, but this production of Salome just might be the best. With a performance that had the audience applauding Deborah Voigt before she could even get off the stage and giving a well-deserved, raucous standing ovation for conductor Evan Rogister when he came on stage completely drenched in sweat, Salome is an absolute, must-see performance.