Dallas — Deborah Voigt pulled out of Wednesday’s Dallas Opera performance of Salome because of complications from a hip injury. She was replaced by a hurried-in Lise Lindstrom, who we remember as the steely-voiced Turandot in the TDO production of the Puccini opera in April of 2013. Apparently, Lindstrom appeared on notice.
As we arrived, ticket holders were greeted with signs announcing the substitution and many were disappointed because of Voigt’s superstar status as the leading Wagnerian soprano of our era and the rare opportunity to hear her in this role. Probably no one was more disappointed than Voigt.
That disappointment soon faded as Lindstrom delivered a very different, but truly magnificent and memorable, powerhouse of a performance. Her voice is more treble than Voigt’s, lacking the deeper overtones that are Voigt’s trademark. Lindstrom may not have the same strength in the middle voice as Voigt, but her trumpet-like high notes were just as thrilling as we remembered from her Turandot. Further, she did a fine job of recreating the stage movement, but the most remarkable aspect of her stepping in was how well she mastered the complex choreography of the veil dance in so short a time.
In the two performances that Voigt sang, Thursday’s opening and Sunday’s matinee (both heard by this critic), Voigt’s more deeply burnished voice sailed out over even the loudest moments of the orchestration. Lindstrom struggled to be heard in the middle range. This could have been the result of a lack of a rehearsal with the orchestra. However, because of the vast difference between the voices of the two sopranos, making a comparison would be futile gesture, like comparing a Merlot to a Bordeaux. The final assessment: both sang the role masterfully, but in their own different way.
An aside: Since this opera has been the object of lifelong study and interest, I planned to attend as many of the performances as time would allow. Although the circumstances were unfortunate, the chance to hear these two leading proponents of the role, one right after then other in the same production, was a rare and unexpected opportunity.
The role of Salome is one of the most grueling in the repertoire, requiring a soprano with a huge range and Wagnerian sized voice with the ability to sound out over one of the largest orchestrations in opera. She also must act well enough to create the illusion that she is a young girl just barely over the line of womanhood. Oh yes, and she has to dance an eight minute-long solo ballet, where the dropping of the famous seventh veil reveals her in all her nubile splendor. It is basically uncastable and opera companies do the best they can with the fewest compromises.
Voigt’s characterization, like her voice, was darker. Her Salome was more introverted and observant of the perverted machinations of Herod’s court. She was aware of Herod’s lust, but she reacted as she felt his stepdaughter should, rebuffing him with ever in creasing irritation. She used her beauty as a shield.
Lindstrom, on the other hand, reveled in her obvious gift of sexuality, projecting it everywhere to everyone. She irradiated her sensual and erotic “vibes” wherever she thought they would work to get whatever it was she wanted at the moment. When she rebuffed Herod’s clumsy advances, it was with a sly seductive smile.
For the curious: At the end of the ballet, both sopranos “took it all off.” Voigt wore a body suit to create the effect of “simulated” nudity. Lindstrom showed us her ta-tas.
The two sopranos showed a very different approach to portraying their character’s desire for John the Baptist. Voigt wanted him because he was forbidden to her by daddy and rejected by him as a piece of filth. No one ever told her “no” before or called her names.
Lindstrom, on the other hand, was also driven by her desire for the forbidden, but her driving force was an unquenchable lust for a more and more macabre sexual experience.
Thus, the final kiss to the severed head of John the Baptist was also different. With Voigt, it was her triumph over what seemed impossible—to kiss his lips. To Lindstrom, it was a close to actual coitus with the prophet as she could manage.
It was not for vocal reasons that Voigt pulled out. It was for completely avoidable ones. Mention must be made of what appears to have aggravated if not caused this situation. The blame has to be laid at the feet of the production director, Francesca Zambello.
The opera is staged on a shiny black vinyl covered open courtyard with the massive cistern containing the prophet in the middle. There is no place to sit down anywhere to be seen. A chair is finally produced near the end of the opera, but only because the text calls for one (Herod offers Salome the throne of her mother).
The result of this vacant minimalist set is that everyone has to sit on the floor. Many times. Up and down. Salome spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor. Even Lindstrom had occasional trials with all of this, but Voigt, with her injured hip, had troubles throughout both shows. Many in the audience felt her pain. Getting up off the floor is a universal trial for many of us. We have learned that the best remedy for this is to simply not get down on the floor in the first place.
Directors make accommodations to their actors all the time. Staging is frequently modified as situations change as the show progresses. It is to Voigt’s credit that she gamely went on with what she was assigned to do.
The simple solution to this problem was to place some benches around—it is a courtyard after all—or raid the dinning room in the back of the stage behind the vinyl curtains and bring out some chairs. After all, this is a royal court of the king of Judea. They have servants that, among other duties, make certain that they have a chair whenever they want to sit down. Salome could easily, and believably, have her own “chair slave” that follows her around with a royal seat so faithfully that she wouldn’t even need to look behind her before sitting. For those few the times she really needed to get on the floor, it would have been a much easier task.
All this aside, TDO has presented a fine Salome—no easy task—with two world-class sopranos in the role and an equally fine supporting cast, and conductor. There is one performance remaining on Saturday. No word yet on who will sing it.
» Read our review of the opening night performance with Deborah Voigt