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Dance Of The Seven Whales

November 4, 2009

6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a66b9d4e970c-500wi.jpgWhen headliner Nadja Michael (pictured) became "indisposed" last Friday for that evening's performance of Strauss' Salome at San Francisco Opera, stand-in soprano Molly Fillmore was flown in from Arizona at the last minute and hustled on stage.

Considering the fact that Fillmore, who is performing the role at Arizona Opera this month, had very little rehearsal time, she did a serviceable job, though the orchestra was too loud and it was quite often difficult to hear the soprano's voice especially in the higher part of her register.

If only Fillmore hadn't had to do any dancing.

Salome is not one of those "park and bark" operas, where a singer can get away with standing on stage more or less stock still or walk about a bit. There's a 20 minute exotic dance routine for the titular character right in the middle of the show. It's the pivotal moment of the story in fact: The princess wiggles lasciviously for the king and coaxes him into making her a rash promise that will cost him his kingdom.

I gather from Opera Tattler that Fillmore, though she had had an opportunity to rehearse the role with San Francisco Opera early in October, had not had much of a chance to learn the choreography. The dance, which in this production draws inspiration from early 20th century choreographers like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis and Martha Graham, has some tricky moments in it, particularly involving the skillful manipulation of a variety of gauzy veils.

Fillmore moved awkwardly throughout. It was rather painful to watch her go through the motions. I was terrified that she was going to get herself tangled up in a veil or, worse, still, trip over her own feet. Plus, she lacked grace and lyricism, making the dance more clumsy than sexy. The twenty minutes went by agonizingly slowly.

I suppose it's mean-spirited of me to fault an underrehearsed performer who stepped up to the plate at such short notice. And it's not as if Michael had been earning raves herself in the role. Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times reviewed the production on October 22 and had trouble with Michael's intonation, though he at least found her slightly more convincing in the part from a physical perspective.

But I won't forget Fillmore's Dance of the Seven Whales in a hurry, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

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