The setting, originally intended to be the palace of Herod Antipas in Judea circa 30 A.D., was altered in Atlanta to portray an ambiguous era. Ulrich’s inventive costumes were both antiquated and modern. Jochanaan (Nathan Berg) wore a soiled, first-century-style tunic, but Herod’s (Frank van Aken) clothing was contemporary—black slacks, a violet button-down shirt, and gold-tipped cowboy boots complemented his gold crown. Herod’s soldiers wore 2020-style battle dress uniforms and held machine guns as if guarding the Israeli-Palestinian border. Jennifer Larmore looked regal and glamorous as Herodias in a ruby-red gown, dressed like an evil queen in a Disney movie. Rom’s set was off-kilter and industrial: a cistern with a massive, metal grate atop dominated the space. Above all hovered a hulking, omnipresent moon that grew larger and glowed red after Jochanaan was beheaded.
Jennifer Holloway, last seen here as Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte in 2011, returned to Atlanta to sing the title role. Once billed as a mezzo-soprano, Holloway is now a dramatic soprano who sings Strauss and Wagner. Her Salome was supercharged with acoustic power, kaleidoscopic vocal colors, spellbinding inflection, and a characterization that developed throughout the act. Holloway evolved from teenage tenderfoot to femme fatale, and finally arrived as an unhinged anti-hero.
Kudos to choreographer Amir Levy who created a hypnotic rendering of the Dance of the Seven Veils.” Holloway began the dance alone, but was soon joined by six ballerinas in gauzy, white dresses who ultimately seduced Herod into offering Salome anything her heart desired.
Zvulun assembled a cast of notable singers for this production. Jennifer Larmore was a standout as the brazen Herodias, egging her husband on with feisty declarations. Tenor Frank van Aken made for a greasy-looking Tetrarch Herod, his penetrating voice relentless as he begged Salome to dance for him. Adam Diegel sang Narraboth with a heroic-sounding tenor. Canadian bass-baritone Nathan Berg was an edgy Jochanaan—not the raging Baptist who is portrayed in the Bible. Berg’s stately singing of “Wo ist er” was simply gorgeous. Conductor Arthur Fagen expertly coordinated the singers and players in what is likely the most difficult score the Atlanta Opera Orchestra has ever attempted. —Stephanie Adrian