SALOME | Royal Opera House, London

Richard Strauss’ shocking and debauched 1905 opera, based on Oscar Wilde’s infamous play, is given even more orchestral whammo, nudity and blood in this third revival of David McVicar’s 2008 production.

Despite the overwhelmingly dramatic story and Strauss’ magnificent, post-Wagnerian, pre-expressionist score, the drama all takes place in real time (just under two hours, with no interval) and in one place: Tetrarch Herod’s cellar; a vile, unclean place, half kitchen, half prison cell (designer Es Devlin). Salome’s dance of the seven veils for her step-father becomes a psychological journey through seven doors.

Soprano Malin Byström received a standing ovation for her wild, schizophrenic Salome, who turns a lengthy, difficult epilogue into a tour-de-force. Michael Volle created this production’s Jokanaan (John the Baptist), and his clarion baritone captures the voice in the wilderness so strikingly that it truly could be the voice of God. Tenor John Daszak is poisonously charismatic as gluttonous Herod, offering a performance to rival the title role.

Even with this world-class cast, some of the score’s highlights are purely orchestral; conductor Henrik Nánási brings out the intense drama of the proto-silent-movie moments. It’s been nearly six years since the Royal Opera last staged this production, and it’s hard to imagine a better cast or orchestra. Two thousand years later, the sin and sickness of Salome’s story still fascinates and amazes.

Salome will be demanding heads on platters six more times until 30 January 2018.

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