By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Allan Glassman as Herod and Patricia Racette as Salome in LA Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Salome,” now playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Ken Howard/LA Opera

Los Angeles Opera: Richard Strauss’ Salome
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Next performances: March 2 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. March 5 and 19 at 2:00 p.m.
Pre-performance lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
NOTE: The opera runs 90 minutes without intermission, not counting the lecture.
Information: www.laopera.org

(With apologies to Peter King of SI.com, who runs “10 Things I Think I Think About” in his weekly “Monday Morning QB” column)

1. James Conlon and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra are, once again, worth the price of admission. The orchestra occasionally swamped the singers but, in his pre-performance lecture, Conlon said that was the composer’s design (the Pavilion problems also accentuated that problem — see No. 7 below).

2. Strauss reportedly told the original portrayer of the title role in his version of this story that Salome was supposed to be a teenager who could sing the role of Isolde. The singer replied, “You can have one or the other, but not both.” Patricia Racette, singing the role during this production, came darn close to the ideal. As she cavorted about the stage, she gave a great approximation of a bratty teenager (quite a feat for someone who is age 52) and her singing was riveting all the way up to and through that ridiculously daunting final scene.

3. Racette’s early costume — a sort of tunic/pants suit — didn’t exactly look like something the original Salome would have worn (the story dates to Biblical times). On the other hand, Racette’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” would certainly have captivated the original tetrarch, Herod. Overall, the new costumes, by Sara Jean Tosetti (in her company debut), were striking.

4. Peggy Hickey — who made her company debut in 1989 as a dancer in Orpheus in the Underworld and her choreography debut in the company’s 1992 presentation of Don Giovanni — gets high marks her choreography for this Salome, her fifth LAO choreo job in the last three seasons.

5. The balance of the cast was uniformly strong, particularly Issachah Savage, making his company debut as Narraboth, and Allan Glassman as Herod. This was Savage’s second strong performance in a month; he was one of the stars of the production of Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars, the final part of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s “Lift Every Voice” series in January.

6. The issue of the five Jews often causes some people heartburn but I thought this quintet did a fine job of elucidating the tensions that Jews struggled with about Jesus (and John the Baptist) in Palestine during the time of the Biblical story.

7. Once again, the Pavilion’s sound problems when it comes to singers were audible. The farther back onstage the singers are, the harder it is to hear them, even with the raked stage floor. This won’t ever be solved until there’s a major renovation of the Pavilion, which is now well into its second half century of usage, but — given the cost of such a project — I don’t expect to live long enough to see that happen.

8. This production was the third ever mounted by the company, in 1986 during its original season (see my preview article HERE). To my memory, the original lighting scheme had a richer blue cast, but the basics remained the same and quite effective.

9. Conlon revealed in his pre-performance lecture that he saw his first Salome performance at the age of 15 in the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Karl Boehm conducted (“for about the 150th time,” said Conlon). Birgit Nilsson sang the role for the first time, he remembered. It’s kind of hard to go anywhere up from there.

10. Conlon also told the pre-performance crowd that the first two notes of one of Salome’s theme were the same as the last two notes of Isolde’s “Liebestold” (in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde). “It’s not crucial that you know this,” said Conlon with a chuckle. If you will be attending one of the final performances, don’t miss the lecture, which as usual is erudite and worth the time, even if you know the opera.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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