Never let it be said that opera is dull.
Richard Strauss’s Salome returns to Covent Garden, and it has lost none of its power to shock, writes Christopher Walker.
There were kerfuffles in the stalls on opening night, and who can blame them. It is a powerful work more akin to horror than entertainment. Not bad for a 117 year old piece.
Strauss and his librettist Hedwig Lachmann based their work on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, which was banned in London.
In Wilde’s imagination Salome was clearly mentally unbalanced and sexually deviant from the start.
She takes a perverse fancy to the imprisoned John the Baptist and when he spurns her affections, determines to kill him.
Surprisingly Strauss dedicated his version to the “father of the London Tube” Sir Edgar Speyer.
He used a lot of his fortune made digging tunnels to support music.
Give that a thought next time you get stuck on the Northern line.
What Sir Edgar thought of Salome is not recorded. But its twin themes of insanity and sexual deviance deterred a lot of contemporary performers.
Like the play, the opera was banned in London until Thomas Beecham spearheaded though a censored version years later. It was a complete sell out of course.
The music that accompanies this is utterly wonderful, but oh so hard for a singer. Across the piece the composer requires one of the highest and one of the lowest notes for a woman.
As Salome performs for her wicked stepfather King Herod (an accomplished John Daszak), she leads him through a series of roll-on roll-off scene changes accompanied by disturbing videos. Herod may regret when this is over, but the audience doesn’t.
Devlin’s costumes and sets give this production a decided 1930’s feel (perhaps a reference to the decadence of Weimar Germany?).
This means some of the ladies’ costumes are particularly stylish, though poor Katarina Dalayman’s Herodias is as tarty as ever.
Thank God she can sing.
Salome remains a wonderful old shocker.
Take smelling salts.
Pictured~ Malin Byström is Salome Picture Tristram Kenton ROH
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