"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." This is the theme of many blood-curdling tales from Medea to Salome, which the New Orleans Opera Association recently presented to a full house at the Mahalia Jackson Theater.
Salome is an archetypal figure who emerged over the course of centuries. Her stepfather, King Herod, and his wife, Herodias, formerly the wife of Herod's brother, are prominent in the brief biblical account. John the Baptist railed against this "incestuous" marriage, so Herod imprisoned John (or Jochanaan) and eventually executed him.
Oscar Wilde created the basis for what became Richard Strauss' opera. Wilde essentially invented the Salome we think of, as well as "the dance of the seven veils" that we associate with her.
Salome (soprano Mlada Khudoley) bolts onstage, fleeing a banquet given by the lecherous Herod. She enters a palace terrace where several Roman soldiers stand guard over Jochanaan (Ryan McKinny), who is imprisoned in a cistern. Salome is intrigued by Jochanaan's imprecations against her mother and insists the prophet be taken out so she can see him. "Seeing" in this drama almost always has a sexual subtext — whether it's Herod ogling his stepdaughter or Salome devouring Jochanaan with her eyes.
When she sees the frail man, she falls madly in love with him. She praises his body and asks to touch it. When he refuses, she reviles him, but praises his hair, his eyes and finally his lips. Jochanaan is tempted by her desire, but Jochanaan rejects and curses her as a whore and a daughter of Sodom. He entreats her to seek Jesus, who is preaching in the wilderness. Then he's put back in his cistern dungeon. Unable to watch Salome throw herself at the prophet, her suitor Narraboth (Sean Panikkar) takes out a dagger and kills himself.
Herod (John Mac Master) and Herodias (Gwendolyn Jones) come onto the terrace. From his cistern, Jochanaan continues to curse the queen. She wants him killed, but Herod is afraid to mess with a man of God. The king is distracted by Salome and begs her to dance for him. She agrees, but only after he promises to reward her with whatever she requests. Kudoley contrives a lovely dance (choreographed by Gregory Schramel), dropping the occasional veil. She casts off all her clothes in the end and prostrates herself before his highness.
As her reward, she demands the head of Jochanaan. The king tries to wriggle out of his vow, but his stepdaughter will accept nothing less. A horrifying climax follows as Salome kisses Jochanaan's lips as his head lies on a silver platter. The enraged king orders Salome's execution, and his wife stabs him from behind as the Roman soldiers rush toward the doomed Salome.
Katrin Hilbe's stage direction was effective, and the one-act opera held the attention. The singing and the playing of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Robert Lyall, were splendid. Bravo to a daring and well-done production. — Dalt Wonk