I was not disappointed. Salome tells the Biblical tale of the fate of John the Baptist—also known as Jochanaan the Prophet in this German opera. The opera begins with Jochanaan already imprisoned by King Herod of Judea. Salome, Herod’s step-daughter, is intrigued by this prisoner and uses all her wiles to convince him to kiss her. Jochanaan (who apparently lacks all sense of self-preservation) roughly rebukes her, cursing her for her mother’s iniquities, and refuses to let her kiss or touch him. In life, and especially in opera, there really is no fury like a woman scorned… Herod makes no secret of lusting after his teenage stepdaughter and begs her to dance for him, promising her anything in the world in return. You see where this is going don’t you? After Salome dances the ‘dance of 7 veils’ she demands the head of Jochanaan on a silver platter. She then sings longingly to the head about how he ‘would have loved’ her before kissing it. And not just any kiss, but a kiss with the power to shock (or repulse) audiences both 107 years ago, and apparently in some conservatives circles, today…(I’ll admit I squirmed a little uncomfortably after a minute or two.)
The performance was magnificent. Everything from the staging to the orchestra to the performers was impeccable. Alan Woodrow was a wonderful Herod: a man both powerful, but also fearful, of killing a man they say comes from God. Also, apparently, a man who has no shame about propositioning his wife’s daughter… repeatedly, in front of her. You almost have to admire his brazenness. Kelly Cae Hogan as Salome achieves the perfect balance of a young woman who is both seductive but also a bit naively foolish. Michael Chioldi as Jochanaan has a powerful voice as he holds fast in his religious conviction.
The Dance of the 7 Veils is an iconic moment in the Biblical tale and the opera’s interpretation of the dance was nothing short of hypnotizing. And for me, much unexpected. When Salome first placed the veils over her head, covered from head to toe, I wondered just how seductive could this dance be! By the end of the dance when she was joined with 6 other dancers, twirling with beautiful glittery veils, I could understand Herod’s captivation.
If you’ve ever been curious about checking out an opera, this is definitely the one to see! It’s hypnotic, engaging, and as far as opera’s go pretty short—only one act with no intermission. Salome is a wonderful addition to Virginia Opera’s 40th anniversary season. You can catch Salome in Norfolk, Richmond, or Fairfax.