More than a century after its premiere in Germany, the Richard Strauss opera "Salome" can still stir something deep within. In the opera, Salome, who is leered at and lusted after, famously dances for her father Herod in exchange for the head of John the Baptist.
“This is a very dysfunctional family,” laughs soprano Patricia Racette. Racette is performing the title role in Salome next week at the Tobin Center for Opera San Antonio.
Striking a serious tone, she adds, “When you think of Salome as likely victimized from incest by these horrible people, I think what we have is a broken person.”
Yet there’s a well of strength in the character, too, according to Racette. “This is someone who is absolutely realizing her power. Her power as a female. Her power as royalty. A well-behaved, well hard-wired person might make other choices, but she isn’t [that]. She’s sort of damaged goods.”
Strauss’ tight and compact opera packs its intense narrative into one act, and culminates with the famous, or infamous as the case might be — after all, it caused delicious scandal at its unveiling at its original premiere, and was even briefly banned, here in the United States — “Dance of the Seven Veils.”
Over the course of nearly 10 minutes, Salome dances before an amused Herod, removing veils one by one until she lies naked at his feet. The furious music draws on Eastern modes, and Racette says it works beautifully for the choreography. “I sat with a pad of paper and just listened to it. Without looking at the score, I noted my impression of when a veil was removed or a change happened in terms of costuming…and lo and behold, there were seven of them! Musically, it’s a magnificent piece,” Racette says enthusiastically.
“I think it’s a fantastic descriptive element of who Salome is,” Racette adds. As Herod agrees to Salome’s request for the head of John the Baptist, “she literally sees the effect of her manipulation and power.”
"Salome" will be Opera San Antonio’s first full-scale production in the H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center. It’s Racette’s second time singing the role; she previously sang "Salome" in a concert version, onstage at the Ravinia Festival in 2014. Racette praises the “wonderful cast” that Opera San Antonio has assembled, and says she looks forward to taking on the role in a fully-staged version.
“I’m someone who needs the scenery to chew up, and I need a great deal of theatrical energy around me, and enjoy it,” she says. Richard Strauss’ electrifying "Salome" will, no doubt, give her — and San Antonio — the same opportunity.
"Salome" will be performed on Thursday, Jan. 8 and Sunday, Jan. 11 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Ticket information is online at the Tobin Center's website or by phone at 210-223-8624.