Houston Symphony Performs Strauss' Salome

A Perfect Concert Evening

By: - Jun 13, 2024

The Houston Symphony presented Richard Strauss’ Salome. It was a perfect concert opera production.  All the singers were not only off book, but costumed to perfection (or unveiled when that critical moment arrives).  Salome (Jennifer Holloway)  and her mother Herodias (Linda Watson) glittered in sequins. Herodas  (John Daszak), was regal and sinister. Jochanaan’s white prison uniform was thrust about his body emphasizing his long black hair that Salome repeatedly expresses the desire to touch. Jochanaan (Mark S. Doss) is of course a soul in union with God. He precipitates the drama before we meet him, prophesying more incest in an already incestuous kingdom.

Strauss, using an edited version of the Oscar Wilde play Salome as his libretto, creates Salome, not as the 12-year-old innocent of the Bible, but rather as a femme fatale.  Narraboth (Issachah Savage) is infatuated with her alluring sexuality. Both Salome and the moon glow at the opera’s start. Onl a blood red moon  prophesied by Jochanaan, gleans at the end. We gaze at prophecies coming true and see his faith validated.

The set design by James Maloof wrapped the stage and outward to the auditorium walls with video images of a temple’s columns and reflections of cell walls. Lighting by Jim French and Susan Eader helped create the set and enhanced the singer’s movements and their shadow reflections as well as the images of the cell walls.  Colors were oriental and various. Orientalism suggested eroticism and perversion. 

Jochanaan was imprisoned on a ‘cistern’ riser. Walkways through the orchestra provided a pathway for Salome to move, prancing or dancing. The stage is packed with instrumentalists, principal singers, pages, soldiers, Nazarenes, and Jews.  

Adam Larsen is creative director.  Emma Griffin of the Mannes School, who recently mounted an hour-long excerpt of Phil Kline’s new opera on Nikola Tesla, gave us the same packed feeling at the Guggenheim Museum (NY).  It’s an eye-catching and exciting image for the audience.  

Mark S. Doss (Jochannan) colored his stories with rich texture and beauty.  John Daszak (Herodes) has the required helden edge and great drama in his voice. Jennifer Holloway started tentatively in the lead role, but grew to magnificent proportions in the second act, bringing down the house. Linda Watson as Herodias brought frustration and then fury to her maternal role. The feminist take in this performance saw both mother and daughter kicking Herodas. 

Juraj Valcuha conducts the Houston Symphony with sensitivity to all of Strauss’ details. Strauss’ seven main phrases which underline character and emotion were called out and yet did not obscure the emotional drama. The string section was precise, the horns, a blast, and the overall richness of Strauss’ music conveyed. The audience, many of whom represented the major orchestras of America, was enthralled. 

The Houston Symphony production is a model for orchestras who are finding a new audience with opera in concert.