Molly Fillmore was flown in from Arizona yesterday to replace an ailing Nadja Michael as the lead in San Francisco Opera's Salome. General Director David Gockley, in his own inimitable way, took great pains to pronounce Michael's name correctly, and then told the audience we were about to hear and see "Molly Dill," even though he had a note in his hand. Thanks David- the season has been so strong thus far I haven't been able to say anything snarky about you lately, so I appreciate this opportunity and I'm sure Ms. Dill, I mean Ms. Fillmore, will get over it. I suppose there's a good reason there wasn't a cover already in place, but maybe that's besides the point.
Since I was at the previous performance it was a great opportunity to see what performers bring to a role and how they put an individual stamp on it. For the people who will only get to see last night's version, you saw a nice performance but missed out on a great one. Fillmore's Salome was well sung and she did an amazing job of learning the blocking and other elements of the production on such short notice I suspect she was the cover and was released early to prepare for her upcoming performances of the role with Arizona Opera. Overall, Fillmore did an excellent job in what must have been difficult circumstances. She has a good, steady voice that sometimes strained at the top but was mostly clean and easily heard.
Fillmore however, is no Nadja Michael. What was creepy and unsettling on Tuesday brought laughter and titters on Friday. Completely gone was the tension and psychological freak out of Michael's portrayal, which was replaced with a good voice and a sincere performance which had the unfortunate result of turning Strauss' lurid masterpiece into camp. Fillmore can sing the role, but Michael embodied it. The difference in impact between the two performances couldn't be greater. Imagine seeing Monster and then re watching it with Reese Witherspoon as Aileen instead of Charlize Theron. What was almost unwatchable on Tuesday was just another night at the opera on Friday, albeit a bloody one.
Fillmore also had an effect on Kim Begley's Herod as well, who didn't seem as afraid of this stepdaughter, nor was he as pervy toward her. His singing remained strong and fluid and Greer Grimsley sounded even better last night than he did earlier in the week. Fillmore performed the dance scene with more modesty than Michael, but did it justice.
On second viewing, this time from the balcony instead of the orchestra, the sinkhole stage's impact is diminished from higher up, though the blood on the floor makes an impression not seen from the ground floor. The orchestra sounded fine for the most part except for the last section of the dance when things seemed to momentarily fall apart, as if Luisotti was trying to follow what was going on rather than lead it. This was also my first encounter with the Operavision screens in the balcony. They're pretty distracting and the subtitles on them are unnecessary, but the close-ups of the singers faces are nice to have from the cheap seats. Overall I think I would prefer to see a performance without them- unless Nadja Michael was in it.