Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

I’ve always found Oscar Wilde’s story of Salome to be faintly ridiculous, way too morbid and over the top, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the opera Richard Strauss made from it, SALOME, which is now enjoying a sold-out run at the Music Center.

photo by Ken Howard
Strauss’s music, which one critic described as “a lightning blast which ignited the 20th century,” packs a great deal into one package: polyphony, polyrhythms, bitonality and swirling counterpoints. From all that ferocity and clamor beauty somehow emerges.

Patricia Racette, the American soprano (who has sung at LA Opera four previous times), attacked the lead role with ferocious intensity and courage. Its difficult vocal demands did not faze her; neither did its physical challenges, such as tackling a dance sequence that becomes a strip-tease (with full nudity). The fearless Racette scored a triumph as Salome, managing to turn a somewhat monstrous character into a damaged but sympathetic heroine.

A strong supporting cast also did wonders with Strauss’s score, especially Allan Glassman as Salome’s stepfather, King Herod, and Gabriele Schnaut as her incestuous mother, Herodias. Tomas Tomasson as John the Baptist and Issachah Savage as the captain of the guard Narraboth also gave strong performances.

photo by Ken Howard
The deliriously decadent story, which ends with poor mad Salome placing a kiss on the severed head of John the Baptist, takes place on John Bury’s garish set (the terrace of Herod’s palace), under a gibbous moon.

An Englishman, David Paul, directed (after Peter Hall’s original production), but the man who really made all the craziness work was conductor James Conlon. He and Racette are close friends and collaborators; once again they (and the large orchestra) truly made beautiful music together.

L.A. Opera’s coming attractions include Offenbach’s THE TALES OF HOFFMAN (March 25-April 15); Puccini’s TOSCA (April 22-May 13); and Britten’s NOAH’S FLOOD (May 6). For tickets and information call 213-972-8001 or visit