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Published: Monday, 3/16/2009

Toledo Opera review

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

Opera gives us many twisted heroines, but surely no other femme is quite so fatale as Salome. In today s celebrity-fixated world, Salome would be part Britney and part Paris, a juicy, amoral beauty who answers to little past her own twisted ambitions.

The girl who has everything can t achieve what she so desperately seeks: true love. Instead, she destroys her only agent of salvation.

Toledo Opera s new production, Salome, which opened last night in the Valentine Theatre for a three-show run, is magnificent. It pares away extraneous elements, the better to bring into focus the force of the Oscar Wilde version of the story and the far greater power of Richard Strauss musical setting.

Created right here is the sort of wonderfully bold and artful performance one might expect to see in bigger cities: Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, where innovation is expected.

Soprano Amy Johnson embodies all of Salome s contradictory qualities in an all-out vocal and dramatic performance that is constantly engaging and always surprising.

Beneath a mane of hair a la Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, Johnson floats and gyrates across the stage in an insatiable and, of course, ultimately fatal quest for love. All the while she is belting out difficult arias and recitatives that make this role a musical marathon.

Bradley Garvin as Jochanaan conveys the severe righteousness of the prophet whose mission on Earth requires him to proclaim the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth as savior of the world. Garvin s strong and slightly edgy bass-baritone and rigid posture provide an implacable foil for Johnson s vocal gymnastics and intense characterization.

As Herod, the rich fool for love who nevertheless grasps the significance of Jochanaan s prophecy, tenor Adam Klein creates a tortured ruler torn between primal lust and reality, a jejune leader who only realizes what he has agreed to after it is too late.

Deanne Meek, in wonderful wild red hairdo, is Herodias, the hedonist and manipulator who manages to turn her daughter to her own ends, however destructive they are.

On Clayton G. Peterson s stripped-down set, the action is all downstage, but just behind is the wonderful landscape of black-clad musicians providing the exquisite musical matrix. Set in sections around a central ramp and beneath a diagonal scaffolding, the orchestra breaks the old rule heard but not seen and becomes a living, breathing accompaniment where every part projects with only a few moments of overpowering volume.

James Marvel s staging is irreverent and fresh, and Tlaloc Lopez-Watermann s lighting perfectly expresses the story and emotion in color washes ranging from rich to riotous. Nigel Burgoine transforms the dance of the seven veils into a series of subtle surprises.

This is a must-see performance.

The Toledo Opera production of Salome will repeat at 7:30 p.m. March 20 and 2 p.m. March 22 in the Valentine. Tickets are $29 to $95 at www.toledoopera.com or at the Valentine box office.



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