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Pittsburgh Opera

In Review Pittsbugh Salome Patricia racette hdl 1116
Patricia Racette's Salome with Robert Brubaker (Herod) and Michaela Martens (Herodias) in Pittsburgh Opera's production
Photo by David Bachman Photography
In Review Pittsburgh Salome lg 2 1116
Nmon Ford's Jochanaan
Photo by David Bachman Photography

PATRICIA RACETTE HAS BEEN FLIRTING with Salome for a few years. The soprano did a concert version of the opera in Ravinia in 2014, and sang her first staged performances the following January, with San Antonio Opera. Pittsburgh Opera’s splendid revival of this work turned out to be an unexpected preview of Racette’s Met role debut as Salome in December; on November 7, the Met announced that Racette had agreed to take on Salome in New York, replacing the originally announced Catherine Naglestad in this season’s revival of Jurgen Flimm’s production. Racette will also sing Salome for LA Opera in February and March 2017.

On November 5 in Pittsburgh, Racette showed that she has the makings of a major exponent of this most difficult and demanding role. First and foremost, Racette can sing the music—really sing it all, with no faking or strain from the top to the bottom of the scale, no evidence of tiring during the character’s grueling nonstop ninety minutes on stage. Her voice had a shimmer and edge that easily rode the orchestra, and her superb technique allowed her to paint individual words while at the same time delivering the German text with clarity. Notable were her distinctions of vocal color between the alternating seductive and wrathful segments of her central confrontation with Jochanaan. Even more subtle were her gradations of verbal intent in Salome’s repeated demands to Herod for the head of Jochanaan. And in the final scene, the soprano’s sound took on new tints and shadings that ran the gamut from depravity to fulfillment.

Racette may not be Strauss’s longed-for sixteen-year old with the voice of an Isolde, but at fifty-one, her timbre retains a youthful sheen, and her demeanor seemed as lithe as any teenager might hope to be. The only disappointment was her dance—weakly choreographed by Michele de la Reza with three male dancers manipulating the veils. There were too many meaningless gyrations, mostly out of the sightlines of Herod (placed too far upstage), though Racette managed the final flash of nudity—directed more at the audience than Herod—with aplomb and not a hint of awkwardness. 

On the musical side, conductor Antony Walker brought out the best work from the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra, augmented here to seventy-five players. Not only was there a high degree of precision in this complex score, but also innumerable moments of ear-catching sonic colors and intriguing turns of phrase. For accuracy in an intricate moment, the ensemble work of the quintet of Jews (Michael Papincak, James Flora, Adam Bonani, Eric Ferring and Andy Berry) deserves particular praise.

On an attractive set by Boyd Ostroff, director Andrew Sinclair moved the protagonists efficiently, but at times in opposition to the printed directions. His choice to have Salome stabbed in the back rather than pummeled by the soldiers’ shields detracted from the effect of Racette’s powerful delivery of the final scene. 

Nmon Ford’s agreeable baritone was light for Jochanaan and insufficiently nuanced, but he looked the part of the ascetic prophet, and countered the heroine aptly in their tense altercation. 

Jonathan Boyd was a superb Narraboth, handsome in voice and physical appearance, while Robert Brubaker’s tight, dry but penetrating tenor conveyed Herod’s nastiness and insecurity with conviction, especially in his jewel exhortation. Micaela Marten’s whitish mezzo and bland presence, however, missed the requisite malice for Herodias. 

Filling out the cast were deep-toned basses Joseph Barron and Matthew Scollin as the two soldiers, Leah de Gruyl an ardent Page, and Brian Vu, imparting lyricism to the euphonious solo of the second Nazarene.  —Robert Croan 

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