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A Knock-Out Salome

San Diego
Civic Theater
01/28/2012 -  & January 31, February 3, 5, 2012
Richard Strauss: Salome, op. 54
Lise Lindstrom (Salome), Greer Grimsley (Jochanaan), Allan Glassman (Herod), Irina Mishura (Herodias), Sean Panikkar (Narraboth), Suzanna Guzmán (A Page), Jamie Offenbach (First Soldier), Philip Skinner (Second Soldier), Joseph Frank (First Jew), Doug Jones (Second Jew), Simeon Esper (Third Jew), Joseph Hu (Fourth Jew), Kristopher Irmiter (Fifth Jew), Scott Sikon (First Nazarene), Nick Munson (Second Nazarene), Ashraf Sewailam (A Cappadocian), Patricia McAfee (A Slave)
San Diego Opera Orchestra, Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Steuart Bedford (Conductor)
Seán Curran (Director and Choreographer), Bruno Schwengl (Scenic and Costume Designer), Christopher Maravich (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer)

(© Ken Howard)

Despite a shocked audience on opening night in December of 1905, Salome was an immediate success, and to this day the one act opera continues to raise eyebrows while allowing wide berth for directorial approaches and varying degrees of controversial flavor. San Diego Opera’s Seán Curran production is riveting, yet conservatively compelling.

Based on Oscar Wilde’s play, Richard Strauss pared the French text to make a score void of any impertinent embellishments with a storyline that is concise, clean, but filled with emotional drama. The demands in finding five principals to fill the roles in Salome are immense, but San Diego Opera fortunately has the opportunity of securing a stalwart cast to make this production a riveting spectacle.

After Lise Lindstom’s successful Turandot last year, she returns to sing and act the leading role. Ms. Lindstrom weaves us through her twisted psychological path with such intensity that it grabs one by the throat. She handles the seemingly difficult vocal reaches with great fortitude while at the same time gyrates through a mixture capricious feelings with assuredness.

The staging and choreography is terrific, thanks to Seán Curran’s professional dance background. Lise Lindstrom completes the “Dance of the Seven Veils” with wisps of erotic and seductive movements without excessive vulgarity. Many might expect a half-crazed necrophilic Salome in the end, but Lindstrom takes a more softened and humane approach. In an earlier interview with Dr. Nicolas Reveles she says, “I find something redeemable in anybody, Turandot, Salome, Lady Macbeth. I will find something redeemable about these woman…I feel huge empathy for this young woman.” Super star, Lise Lindstrom sets herself apart: she approaches a project with selected thought, respect and decorum, no matter how harsh or questionable the subject matter might be. Lise Lindstrom is any director’s dream.

If there was ever one to dramatically shake the walls of the Syrian palace, it would be Greer Grimsley. Instead of a villain, this time he’s the hero Jochanaan, bowling us over with his physical presence and powerful, mighty bass-baritone voice. Few, if any, can rise to this caliber and stature as a biblical prophet. Additionally, Sean Panikkar has an remarkable clarion tenor timbre and sparks a polished and rapturous tone upon seeing Salome in the opening moments of the opera.

Allan Glassman’s Herod is remarkable. While the vast majority of Herods are character tenors, Glassman interprets the tetrarch as a more lyrical tenor. His inflections are animated as he manages to radiantly fly through the difficult complexities of his notes with the utmost ease. Rounding out the top five is debuting Irina Mishura as Herodias, dressed in a Bruno Schwengl shimmering green sequined black gown whose smoky, broadened voice is well suited in overcoming the fortissimo stints from the orchestra.

Schwengl’s set of four angled planes are drawn toward a backstage cistern with an elliptical opening that instantaneously sucks the viewer into the drama. This special effect is strongly enhanced by Christopher Maravich’s dynamic lighting, strategically positioned in order to capture silhouettes on the walls. It’s magnificent. Returning Steuart Bedford conducts a streamlined version of the original 105 member orchestra Richard Strauss used in his 1905 premiere.

This 2012 season opens with a bang. Though Salome may not be for the weak at heart, this production is carefully planned in order to mitigate offending its audiences to any outrageous extremes. Well handled and well done.

Christie Grimstad



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