Saturday, May 9, 2009

So Good We Had to Bring Her Back

Tonight is not only the final performance of Salome but when it wraps, it'll be the 3rd Salome that Vancouver Opera has produced in its 49 year history. Fortunately, each time the same opera is performed, the look and direction are always different, thus ensuring a different experience for opera-going audiences.

Curious to see what the other Salome productions looked like, I scoured VO's old binders with the hundreds of slides of past shows (this was obviously the era before digital cameras)

In 1991, Glynis Leyshon, who most recently directed Rigoletto this season, helmed Vancouver Opera's first Salome. Stephanie Sundine starred as Salome, William Neill as Herod and Victoria Vergara as Herodias. The set as designed by Pam Johnson who envisioned an end of the century desert resort. Sundine's Salome took inspiration from Marilyn Monroe with her billowy pleated white skirt.

Six years later, Vancouver Opera would mount Canada's provocative filmmaker Atom Egoyan's vision of Salome. This version was controversial because of Egoyan's use of multimedia techniques in the visually stunning but minimalist set. (although i would say egoyan's vision was ahead for its time). For example, Herod would spy on Salome using video cameras and what the audience would see are images of Salome projected on screens.

The majority of the cast would wear antiseptic white uniforms in a medical-like setting and that combined with the stark lightning, would result in double shadows.

With overtones of voyeurism, this daring production also gave some insight into Salome's childhood, including abuse and gang rape. Filmed projections of a young Salome included her swinging on a swing set and walking through a primordial forest blindfolded. For her dance of the seven veils, it was done behind a thinly veiled scrim.

Egoyan's version has been called part art exhibit, modern dance production and classical concert. And I would've loved to have seen this one.

Mary Jane Johnson starred as 1997's Salome, Gregg Baker as Jokanaan, Jacque Trussel as Herod and Judith Forst as Herodias.

And although each production is different from each other, there are a few small factoids that link them all together:

Benoit Boucher played Narraboth in the first and second Salome.
Judith Forst would play Herodias in 1997 and 2009's Salome.
The 1997 and 2009 production of Salome have raked (slanted) stages, symbolizing the dysfunction of the family.

However the most common thread in every VO production of Salome remains: the opera audiences losing their minds over Strauss' music and also the need to engage in conversation of one of the most disturbing yet compelling operas of all time.

I wonder what the next vision of Salome may look like. It might be years from now but our girl Salome will never really be far away.

Cuz everybody knows, you can't keep a bad girl down.

Photos by Tim Matheson

~ Ling Chan

editors note: Salome 2009 is the 4th time Vancouver Opera produced Strauss' opera. The very first one was in 1969. Unfortunately, there does not exist any pictures in our archives from that production. Thanks to the Director of Marketing for the correction.

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