Wednesday, May 08, 2013

An Evening of Desire, Lust & Death


Last night Mr.Z and I met for dinner at Sushi Queen before heading over to the COC for their Atom Egoyan production of Salome. I have never had the pleasure of seeing Salome and always found the music hard to enjoy so I was looking forward to seeing how it came across on stage. The set featured a selection of odd angles enhancing the dissadence of the music. From stage right a giant walkway that was semi-transparent climbed into the rafters creating a giant triangle across the top of the stage. Under this were three walls again on a sharp plane moving away from stage left to the back of stage right. Cut into these were three doors that never really made any sense in how they were used. At the back of the stage the back wall served also as video screen for the mouth and voice of Jochanaan as he vented from his cell below the stage. This was designated by a hole in the stage that had light emanating from it so the audience could see it. The walls a vertigre like green were worn but had none of the luster of a palace, more a prison. There was also a swing hanging from the ceiling, that seemed odd, but that actually was used effectively, more about that to follow. At the front of the stage a ramp made its way from stage left to stage right mirroring the triangular angle of the ceiling walkway, that led to Jochanaan's cell. I guess I came in with an idea in my head of a giant circular like ramp that led down to a pit and up to a palace, but Egoyan's set worked to set the mood for what followed. 

In the opening scene two guards sing about the princess Salome who is seen on a giant video screen. These video effects which seem to be all the rage, they were used to annoyance in Tristan & Isolode, never really help further the plot, character development or narrative. They seem more like showcases of the artist's work and ideas about the piece. There is nothing wrong with an artist interpreting a piece, indeed that is what the medium is about, but sometimes it offers nothing new but distraction and the giant segmented video screen offered nothing to the production. Thankfully when Salome arrived on stage it disappeared into the rafters not to be seen again. 

The costumes were twentieth-century modern, with a focus on dark colours for the guards, blazing white uniforms for the nurses (why they were there never really made sense), the doctors (who were the rabbis, think Sigmund Freud and you get the idea), a white bathrobe and gown for Salome, tattered white clothes for Joachim and some strange orange bathrobes for Herod and Herodias. I couldn't help thinking that Joachim could have been a little more wild and sexy, the image that came to mind was any of Caravaggio's St. John's with the scarlet cloth, but it all worked. It also would have been nice to have a little more luxury in the outfits of Herod and Herodias. Maybe some better colours, more tailoring and style. I understand the desire to minimize these things but when everything else is so drab in colour and tone a little punch of luxury can make a phenomenal statement. They were odd choices but thankfully did not really distract from the performance. 

The dance of the seven veils featured the swing mentioned above. Salome was surrounded by the doctors and nurses and dressed and attached to a harness behind them so that when she ascended the swing it rose to the heavens trailing a giant piece of parachute silk that was stunning. This allowed the dance to take place behind this beautiful scrim, a masterful stroke of direction. There were stunning moments in the dance but too much of it again featured the video work of the video artist ruminating about childhood, a swing, a forest and a giant eyeball. This tedious imagery was however offset by a beautiful child's carousel that featured ballerinas that cast shadows against the curtain. It was beautiful and magical and everything that video can never capture or create. 

The voices in the production were not stellar, but helped bring the story to life. Too often the staging meant the voices somehow were lost in the singer's throat. Erika Sunnegardh as Salome carried the evening along with Hanna Schwarz as her mother Herodias. Herod and Jochanaan never really crafted anything special, but again that could have been the often stilted staging and movement. Too often director's forget that movement on the back of the stage has to be perfectly choregraphed to enhance the meaning of the singing. Often people moving around from place to place was choppy and distracted rather than enhancing what was being played out by the performers. In the end I was glad to finally see Salome in person. I still find the dissodence of the music difficult and spent most of the evening on the edge of my chair, never really relaxing, but is probably what Strauss wanted from this tale of desire, lust and death. 

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