In 100 riveting minutes, Virginia Opera is serving up Richard Strauss’ biblically inspired kinkfest “Salome” with all the efficiency its bloodied executioner brings to serving up John the Baptist’s severed head to the willful Princess Salome on a silver platter.
And what does the sexually precocious teenager Salome, exhausted from her famous — and musically overrated — Dance of the Seven Veils, do with that head?
She extracts the deep kiss from its lips that John the Baptist denied her in life as he went about his business as the herald of Christ.
Strauss’ long one-act opera was difficult to watch when it premiered in Dresden in 1905. It’s no easier to watch now in the production that closes today with a 2:30 matinee in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage.
But it’s impossible to dismiss, much less forget.
Kelly Cae Hogan’s effortlessly soaring soprano take on perhaps the craziest princess in opera has a way of reverberating in the mind long after you’ve left the theater. Michael Chioldi’s strong and pure baritone furnishes the perfect counterpoint to Salome’s heedlessness.
Alan Woodrow claims the character-actor honors of the evening as the lecherous King Herod, who couldn’t care less that Salome is his stepdaughter. And the rest of the cast, backed by a large orchestra that demands to be a vital part of the action, is in generally fine form as it negotiates the moral miasma in which it finds itself.
On first encounter, the scenic concept would seem to make no sense in this production that originated two seasons ago at Oregon’s Portland Opera.
Director Stephen Lawless and scenic designer Benoit Dugardyn have set these biblical shenanigans, as reimaged by Oscar Wilde in his drama “Salome,” not in biblical times but in today’s war-ravaged Middle East.
It all seems to take place in a palace so bombed-out that the ceiling is missing and the floor has crashed into the basement, which accounts for the presence of the large cistern in which John the Baptist is imprisoned. But it’s an eerie place where crystal chandeliers seem to hang from the heavens and sway at every unseen wind that blows.
Ingeborg Bernerth’s costuming is eclectically over the top as well. Salome spends the first half of the opera running around in what suggests nothing so much as a tattered 1950s prom dress. Herod wears a modern white suit a la Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” And the military types who populate the stage are dressed in modern battle fatigues and have itchy fingers on their military rifles.
As it turns out, Lawless and company have actually set their “Salome” in a moodily lit surreal palacescape — so underlit at times by Marc McCullough that it’s impossible to see who’s singing — that lives a life of its own.
In such a universe, it makes perfect sense for that Dance of the Seven Veils to be performed not just by Salome but by six identically clad and veiled look-alikes to septuple Herod’s lusty delight as he watches it. They’re all dancing in his head.
Virginia Opera’s “Salome” ends — literally — with a crash. Whether you savor its decadence or recoil at its excesses, here’s betting you won’t be bored.