I was unprepared for the orchestra. It blasts you out of your seat. Strauss unleashes one outrageous salvo after the next. It’s glorious. I couldn’t resist it if I tried. But it also makes sense, dramatically. He never just throws notes out. He always makes sure you know what’s going on. I realized this is the secret to his popularity, why his dissonance is appreciated and that of Schoenberg is not. Every jolt has a dramatic purpose. He never gets ahead of the audience. I get why people love him.
But the drama itself? It’s not a drama at all, but a black comedy. The L.A. Opera audience got it—there was a lot of laughter. Both Wilde and Strauss were having fun on two levels. One was the comedy of an impossible, rebellious daughter cutting loose. For Wilde, Salome is another name for Cecily Cardew, the too-bright no-longer-little troublemaker.
Patricia Racette was excellent, making herself heard over the hooting orchestra, dancing, doing a strip-tease and fondling a decapitated head for twenty minutes. What a workout! This role is not for sissies!
The other level is the comedy of Authority struggling to hang on. Narraboth (the excellent Issachah Savage) gets what’s happening early on. Then no less than John the Baptist (also excellent Tómas Tómasson) arrives to proclaim that Herod’s whole world is finished. And Herod (excellent Alan Glassman) really is the protagonist. He suffers the fate of all fairytale characters that get their wishes granted.