Review: Toledo Opera’s ‘Salome’Written by Chad Meredith | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Opera’s latest production of “Salome” was tantalizing. In Richard Strauss’ one-act opera, “Salome,” a woman named Salome falls in love with John the Baptist. After discovering that he cares more for God than her, she demands from her stepfather, King Herod, the severed head of John the Baptist. The setting placed the audience in a courtyard of King Herod’s palace.
On the upper left hand corner of a backdrop was a full moon. This moon accentuated the color changes throughout the production. It also added a sense of mystery to the plot. In front of this backdrop was a tall white stone arch. This arch was part of King Herod’s palace. The immense size of this arch made King Herod’s wealth unavoidable. From this arch, a path of stones led to a horizontal row of stones at the front of the stage. On either side of the path was the orchestra. On the far right of this horizontal row was a rectangular platform. This platform was made of glass, and was the entrance to the dungeon, where John the Baptist was imprisoned. There was a tall metal bridge in the center of the stage. This bridge was used as a lookout structure for Herod’s soldiers. It was also a place where Salome contemplated her next move. As Salome, Amy Johnson was diabolical.
Johnson’s voice illustrated the contrasting outward beauty and inward corruption of her character. When Salome announced who she was to John the Baptist, her extremely high pitch in her introduction let the audience see that she thought too highly of herself. Wherever she danced or walked, Johnson did so off the ground. When Salome demanded the head of John from her father, Johnson’s swift transition to a deeper pitch reflected Salome’s determination to see him beheaded. As she danced the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” Johnson seduced the audience.
In Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils,” Johnson’s sultry choreography entranced the audience. As drums began to thunder, Johnson and six dancers rushed onto the scene. Johnson danced without hesitation. In one of her moves, Johnson moved her arms up and her body downward, simultaneously. As Johnson moved her arms in circles, the dancers would do so synchronously. After a few notes from a harp, the dancers circled Salome, and made it appear as though Salome was magically manipulating them. The fact that Johnson enthralled and appalled the audience is a testament to her acting prowess.
As John the Baptist, Bradley Garvin was sensational. When John would cry out from the dungeon, Garvin’s booming voice foreshadowed his fate. When John emerged from his dungeon, Garvin’s strict blocking reflected John’s strong devotion to God. When John rebuked Salome’s mother, Garvin lashed the ground with the rope he was imprisoned with. Even though Salome would compliment him, Garvin’s booming voice made it clear that John’s heart belonged to God alone. Whenever John would talk about God, Garvin would reach outward and upward, as though God was right next to him. Garvin stayed true to John’s unshakeable devotion. As the mother of Salome, Herodias, Deanne Meek was darkly comical.
As John would sing about God’s wrath coming to Salome’s family, Herodias would loudly complain. She wore a green and brown dress with emeralds in it. As she took sips from a glass of wine, Herodias became increasingly drunk. The way Meek dizzily leaned on the dungeon door for support conveyed a woman who had too much to drink. Meek portrayed Herodias’ emotions with vivacity. When Herodias laughed and cried out “She’s her mother’s child!” after Salome demanded John’s head, the audience cracked up. When she laughed in her victory, Meek let the audience see that Herodias had serious mental issues. As King Herod, Adam Klein was also entertaining.
Dressed in a red cape and golden crown, King Herod looked like an ancient warlord. Herod was so mentally skewed, that he flirted with his own stepdaughter. He even had her dance for him. When Herod drank wine with Salome, Klein would lightly touch Salome’s hair to illustrate the strange fascination Herod had for her. When Herod would hear “wings” from an unknown source, Klein would instantly fall to the ground, as though being attacked. After Salome insisted on the severed head of John, Klein desperately fell to his knees, and let the audience see that Herod was desperate. The way Klein laid helplessly on the ground while Salome kicked him asked the audience “who has more power: King Herod or Salome?” The instrumentation was also impressive.
Whenever John would talk about God and Judgment Day, a grand fanfare would play. This fanfare sent the message that Salome’s family will one day pay the consequences for their reckless behavior. When John and Salome were playing a cat-and-mouse game of Salome complimenting John (and John rejecting her), a light melody emphasized how Salome expected to be successful at seducing John. As Salome ascended the steps to the bridge after being rejected, a bassoon solo reflected her dark desires. The quick, complex orchestration of the “Dance of the Seven Veils” helped keep the audience’s gaze fixed on Salome. Whenever Herod would talk about “wings” coming near him, pulsating violins gave the audience the mental picture of something winged flying toward him. There would occasionally be moments without instrumentation, such as when John’s head was severed. When there was no music, the suspense was heightened. These silences also enhanced the emotions felt by the audience.
As Renay Conlin, the Artistic Director of the Toledo Opera stated before the production began, the theatre is meant to provoke and inspire us. How does “Salome” provoke us? It asks us to question the nature of relationships, power, and the role ideology plays in our everyday lives. It is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of spoiling our children. How does “Salome” inspire us? It inspires us to accept when a relationship is over, or when things do not go our way, rather than seek violence (or have anyone beheaded).