Thursday, October 07, 2010

Voigt in D.C.

Surely the perfect antidote to a spate of neither-here-nor-there Ballo's is a ballsy, cathartic Salome. If the new revival at WNO isn't quite in the league of Salome's that make you forget your name and moral compass, it's nonetheless a rich and effective reading from an excellent cast and new music director Phillipe Auguin.

We saw Debbie V's Salome's in Chicago a few years back, and I think its safe to say her Salome is more secure and exciting today than it was then, which was a pretty high standard already. The key money music was positively thrilling, with Voigt bringing the big rich pealing sounds we all know and love. Naturally, there is a bit more "negotiation" today as compared to her former peaks of effortlessness, and there were a handful of rocky moments in the high soft business (her middle seemed to carry poorly too, though this may be partially Auguin's fault). Her portrayal also remains on the efficient side: her motivations are clear in the moment but she never quite grasps the longer game necessary for a truly devastating Salome. But "settling" for this level of commitment and sheer vocal splendor ain't much of a chore.

Rest of the cast was pretty strong. Daniel Sumegi's ruddy-voiced Jokanananaaan captured the terror of the character and was also deliciously LOUD. Doris Soffel's vampy Herodias delivered a truly musical reading of that oft-shrieked role. Sean Panikkar gets the requisite "oh what a nice sounding Narraboth" mention.

If anything though, it was the pit that set the musical standard for the evening. Auguin led a sweeping account, long on majesty and grace, and the band played with great authority.

The production isn't much to look at. From the press photos I couldn't figure out if this was the same Zambello Salome Voigt did in Chicago, or if it was an entirely new production, which seemed unlikely. Turns out it's the Chicago production--Jokannanan with dreads, check; garish O'Hare tunnel to Terminal C lightshow, check; massively unimaginative dance of the seven veils, check--but WNO couldn't afford the sets. So the nondescript desert-flavored business in Chicago has been replaced here by a manhole cover on an empty stage surrounded by shimmery shower curtains plus maybe some arches in the back that you can't really see. That's it. I could probably move the whole thing in my car if you let me do a couple of trips. It is being billed as a "new production" replete with Zambello actually in house for a curtain call, but "reheated" would be more accurate. Ragging on WNO for lame productions when they are in dire financial straits feels mean, but it would be nice to see them embrace the situation and get creative, rather putting up distractingly half-hearted stuff like this. (BREAKING: Anne Midgette's generally enthusiastic review is here--seems WNO disputes the earlier report that it was a cost issue, and that the Lyric sets just didn't fit in the KC. Either way, the result was bleh--I mean, its Salome, the physical production just needs to get out the way, but throw us a bone.)

All the more a pity because the staging does have some striking moments. The Jokanaaanan preaching to Salome section was particularly tender and moving, especially given Sumegi's uncompromising characterization. I also loved Salome addressing the "I will now kiss your mouth Jokaaanan" speech directly to the horrified Herod/Herodias, a choice which emphasized what is surely one of the best instances of sticking it to your parents ever.

A lot more performances left--tonight a BUNCH of the upper tier was empty, which seems like a scandal of some kind. Go git a ticket.

UPDATE: See Downey's review at DCist here, including an amazing DV-as-character-on-True-Blood shot from the curtain call...


Anonymous said...

Great review. I was ambivalent about Voigt's Salome with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie a few years ago, mainly becuase I couldn't hear her over the orchestra very well. (Sat way back in the parterre.) On the other hand, the MET Orchestra totally rocked their Strauss. I still would love to see her live on stage as Salome. I know it is one of her favorite parts (second to Annie Oakley).

This may still be my favorite Salome:


Alex said...

Heh, I love that kid, surely a portrayal for the ages.

I fear Voigt doesn't quite have the acting chops to enter the pantheon of great Salome's, but I think she has demonstrated that she is fully the equal of this music and how often does one get to hear that, rite? I have the nagging feeling that I keep faint-praising it, but it was what it was: a Salome that you didn't leave exhausted or grossed out, but nicely satisfied with the execution of a score that doesn't tolerate any phoning in.

Sheldon said...

Did you go to any of the other performances? As a die-hard fan, I went to all 7 (a first for me, but she was in my home town, so whatever), and she got better and better. The final performance took place under a blazing full moon (the real one in the sky, not the drunken woman/moon referred to in the opening minutes of the opera), and Debbie was crazed, bloody and sang like the Debbie of old. Creamy middle voice, floated soft high notes--you name it, she nailed it.