Magazine article Opera Canada

Salome

Magazine article Opera Canada

Salome

Article excerpt

Salome as hypnotic dance of death, Salome as discomfiting domestic drama: both aspects of Strauss's multifaceted master-work were served up by David McVicar's new production at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Feb. 21, With the action moved ahead to the 1930s, give or take a decade mid-20th-century cultural allusions abounded. The program illustrations brought home a few, with images of ill-fated formal dinners from films of Sternberg and Bunuel, fascist pedophilia from Pasolini, war-haunted guilt and isolation from de Sica via Sartre. Es Devlin's tiled "downstairs" quarters (the intermittently visible upstairs exposed the Herods' dining room, host and hostess at either end of a lengthy table) recalled not just Dante Ferretti's decor for Pasolini's Salo but Richard Peduzzi's for the premiere of the three-act Lulu--another tale of a complex, death-dealing, death-destined demoiselle fatale. Andrew George's spare choreography more than once evoked the more elaborate Totentanze of works such as Balanchine's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Helpmann's Red Shoes ballet. And Salome herself, in the gracefully alluring person of Nadja Michael, allusively embodied both the louche, lithe, loose-limbed Claudette Colbert (so sexily modern a Cleopatra and Poppea in her De Mille costume epics) and a whole bevy of willowy ballerinas (most especially Tanaquil Le Clercq "avid for the experience that would doom her," as Bernard Taper described her) in Balanchine's La Valse, a score that, along with Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils, is perhaps the most popular piece of overt musical eroticism penned. Indeed, Ravel never seemed far from Philippe Jordan's mind's ear in his dancingly prismatic account of the score, executed with precision and power by the splendid orchestra.

McVicar's production drops the seven veils for seven doorways, through which Salome--a private dancer for her predatory, partnering stepfather--passes in a symbolically suggestive progress from little-girl innocence to bruised experience. Her unflinching pursuit of Jokanaan is her declaration of independence from the man whose passive victim she no longer allows herself to be, and from the mother who turns her lacquered head from her husband's intramural sports, even as she rails at him that "you look at her too much." Salome's Liebestod--her neck snapped by Jokanaan's hulking, blood-drenched executioner, she dies, ballerina-like, in his arms--is her own personal triumph of the will. …

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