salome by Richard Strauss and Hedwig Lachman, directed by Atom Egoyan, conducted by David Atherton, with Helen Field, Tom Fox, Robert Tear, Karan Armstrong, Roger Honeywell and Krisztina Szab. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). January 27 at 2 pm, January 31 and February 2 at 8 pm, February 5 at 7 pm. $38-$135. 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
credit atom egoyan for making opera exciting and relevant to a 21st-century audience.The filmmaker's production of Richard Strauss's disturbing single-act shocker about the demented princess of Judea who obsesses over John the Baptist (especially his head) employs some bold theatrical means for maximum emotional and thematic effects.
Taking surprisingly few liberties with the libretto -- a minor character switches gender, the final scene changes slightly -- Egoyan uses film to suggest a world of voyeurism and sexual abuse, all of which explain Salome's unique erotic proclivities.
The director even solves some staging problems. By projecting an image of John the Baptist's mouth onto a screen and miking his voice, Egoyan lets the audience see and hear the character (nobly sung and performed by Tom Fox) even when he's stuck way down in a cistern.
The famous dance of the seven veils becomes a scene that's simultaneously nightmarish, psychologically apt and emotionally moving, thanks also to designers Derek McLane and Michael Whitfield.
Strauss's huge, overpowering score (dramatically paced by David Atherton) demands big singing, especially from its title character. Helen Field is convincingly youthful, sexy and impetuous, her early dance training making her movements believably feral even if her vocal resources are stretched. Robert Tear effectively uses tone colour to make his Herod, Salome's stepdad, lascivious and weak.
There are some missteps. A drug theme, for instance, comes out of nowhere. But this bold, ballsy, intelligent production is exactly what the Canadian Opera Company needs.