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BWW Review: Racette Strips to Essentials as Opera's Ultimate Mean Girl, SALOME, at the Met

Patricia Racette as Salome. Photo:
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
The cast of SALOME at the Met. Photo:
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Despite some fine singing from soprano Patricia Racette (who also went the Full Monty in the title role), the Met's revival of Richard Strauss's SALOME was a little tame--something that it should never be.

Strauss's take on opera's ultimate mean girl--compliments of a libretto taken from Oscar Wilde's version of the story written for Sarah Bernhardt--is a powerhouse of emotions. Considered morally and musically outrageous, it was pulled from the company's repertoire after a single performance in 1907 and did not return to the house until 1934. It's based on a biblical story of a young, unnamed princess who dances for her stepfather (the famous "Dance of the Seven Veils" in the opera) and asks for the head of St. John the Baptist--Jochanaan here--on a tray as a prize.

Of course, Oscar Wilde being Wild(e), he took it one step further and had her demand a kiss from the imprisoned St. John--which was denied--and then plant a wet one on his severed head. It's still pretty shocking in 2016, so you can imagine how it went over more than a century ago.

The teenage heroine might seem tricky to pull off dramatically for any soprano with the vocal heft needed for the role, but having heard Karita Mattila in the first run of this production in 2004, and seen the great Leonie Rysanek as Salome in her 50s, extreme youth is not a major requisite for it. (As for looking the part, one needs to go to the film version, available on DVD, with Teresa Stratas from 1974, even if her voice was a little light for it.)

Racette has only taken on the role recently and she's more on the lyric side with it--certainly a valid way to go--but was a bit careful when it called for something more manic. Still, she handled the music with aplomb and was game (if not overly dancer-ly) in "Dance of the Seven Veils," though the production's choreography by Doug Varone was pretty bland except for the striptease. When she finally kissed Jochanaan on the mouth, it was truly horrifying. (It would have been more so if there had been a trace of blood dripping from his beheading.)

There were two other standouts in the cast, both tenors. Gerhard Siegel as Herod (Salome's step-dad/uncle) threw everything he had into the role, bold and chilling vocally and gross and lusty dramatically. At the end, even he was too shocked to handle Salome's repulsive request for Jochanaan's head. As Narraboth, the suicidal soldier smitten with the princess, Kang Wang had an impressive house debut, ardently sung and full-throated. Mezzo Nancy Fabiola Herrera was less the harridan than I have come to expect from Herodias, Salome's mother, bringing more voice to a role often given to singers past their prime.

As Jochanaan, baritone Zeljko Lucic had a variable evening; he was more urgent and effective when locked away in his cistern than when he was face to face with his tormentor, Salome. The other soloists in lesser roles--various Jews and Nazarenes--did well, particularly Allan Glassman and Mark Showalter. As the executioner, Reginald Braithwaite had the right physical presence but was hobbled by the dull staging.

In fact, the only element of the production by Jurgen Flimm (sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto) that stood out, for me at least, was the legion of angels of death looming over the action, standing dead still for much of the opera, stage left. If only they had been transported down to the stage when (spoiler alert) Herod calls for Salome's death, that might have been the coup de theatre the proceedings needed.

The much-anticipated debut of German conductor Johannes Debus was hard to measure, with the Met orchestra surprisingly unexciting in this most exciting of scores.

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There are additional performances on December 12 (tonight), 17mat, 24eve and 28, with varying curtain times. Running time: 1 hour and 38 minutes, no intermission.



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From This Author Richard Sasanow