- Cory Weaver
- Get out the binoculars.
Last Friday the Portland Opera premiered an all-new production of "Salome." Before you scroll away because I’m talking about opera (which is arguably not your thing), HERE, three interesting facts about Friday's performance: (1) there were waves of uniform audience laughter during the performance(!); (2) it was weird; (3) it was racy. Par exemple (warning, SPOILER): the starring role makes out with a severed head. Also, there is an oddly beautiful, incestual dance sequence...if...that means anything to you.
So, tonight, the Portland Opera resumes its adaptation of "Salome." Last week the Portland Opera received a standing ovation, namely for the incredible Kelly Cae Hogan (of the Metropolitan Opera) as Salome.
"Salome" is Richard Strauss’s first major opera, which debuted in 1905. It’s sung in German with English supertitles. The opera is based on an 1884 play by the beloved devotee of decadence, Oscar Wilde. However, the plot is biblical, telling the tale of the death of the martyr, John the Baptist (David Pittsinger), co-starring King Herod (Alan Woodrow), Princess Salome, and Herodias (
Joan Rivers Rosalind Plowright). King Herod is married to Herodias; Princess Salome is the daughter of Herodias but the step-daughter to King Herod. This particular production of Salome is staged in the modern-day Middle East.
A bit about the plot: Princess Salome hears and becomes fascinated by the voice of John the Baptist, who is imprisoned in a water tank. (John was imprisoned by King Herod for saying illustrious things about Herodias.) She wants to speak with the mysterious captive. The guards relent. John is released, in chains. As he emerges from the water tank, Pittsinger performs a song with a bag over his head—which, by the way, is incredible. Meanwhile, Salome is creeped out by the pale sight of John, but then falls madly in lust with him. But then comes to hate him. But then lusts after him again. She cries out, “He is truly terrifying!...His eyes are like black caverns where dragons live!” The next minute she is fawning over his feet, which are apparently “redder than the feet of the doves who live in the temple.” The audience chuckles at Salome's flip-flopping. John refuses any advances from Salome, because, G.O.D. Salome is furious with John's refusal and demands his head on a silver platter. She gets it, but not before something amazing occurs.
It's called the Dance of the Seven Veils, and it’s one of the most hypnotizing things I’ve seen at an opera. Salome does this dance to excite King Herod (who is lusting himself, only, after Salome, his step-daughter). She hopes the dance will please Herod and make him give in to her beheading demands. This is a unique staging by the director, Stephen Lawless; the dance consists of seven performers with coral-colored fabric draped over their head, concealing their faces. There’s sequins. The seven dancers ghostly whisk on and off the stage. You can’t tell if there’s one dancer that’s moving REALLY fast, or if there's several doppelgangers. We're left guessing which dancer is the coveted Salome. Once Herod reveals Salome from under her veil, John is killed. Salome finally gets her (necrophilic) kiss with John's head. At the end, we're left with more than one tragedy.
When "Salome" premiered in Dresden in 1905, the dark, sexy, and incestuous subject matter was shocking. It was banned in a number of cities. Similar to "Madame Butterfly," "Salome" is one of those uber-sensational operas, which gives it more mass appeal than your average opera, especially given, in this case, the mastery of Hogan, who plays the tempestuous and wily Salome with such ease and youthfulness. If you only see one opera, I’d propose this one. The show runs tonight at 7:30 pm and on Saturday at the Keller Auditorium. Tickets can be found here.