BWW Review: SALOME, London Coliseum
In opera, there is often nothing more dangerous than female sexuality. Salome is a story where a woman's love becomes dangerous obsession, leading to bloodshed and necrophilia. From a feminist perspective, the story is challenging to say the least, but as Richard Strauss' opera, the result should be both brutal and beautiful. In this new production from the ENO, Australian Director Adena Jacobs makes her UK debut with a supposedly feminist perspective of the story that at times entertains, but more often baffles.
Allison Cook takes on the title role. As a mezzo, rather than a more usual soprano, she brings a deeper range of expression as a replacement for the higher sections. She sometimes lacks a little of the power needed for the role, but the real strength is that Cook is a talented actor who takes on the wide variety of elements to the character. She excels particularly in the final scene where she is both passionate and compelling, swinging the severed head in a plastic head with eerie nonchalance. Salome's transgressive desires are meant to be challenging to the audience and Cook conveys all the unsettling aspects necessary to quietly trouble and unnerve.
Michael Colvin's Herod is suitably both disturbing and disturbed as he rolls around on the blood-soaked stage. His vocals are tortured and powerful, but he is dressed in such a bizarre outfit that unfortunately makes him look like an exotic Father Christmas; this makes his role as demonic patriarch less than convincing.
Stuart Jackson makes a compelling Narraboth, using beautifully shaped phrasing and variety in his clear tenor. David Soar is strong as Jokanaan, although his bass is restricted by the baritone necessary for the role, especially in his opener. Susan Bickley makes an emotional Herodias and her exchanges with Herod are sharp and snappy.
If this production relied simply on the talented performances, it would succeed. However, Director Jacobs has a reputation for reimaging classics from a feminist perspective and her intention is to subvert the patriarchy within the story. This is a potentially brilliant and interesting idea, but it doesn't quite come off. From Jokanaan lying in his prison in pink high heels and wearing a strange facial camera to capture a huge live backdrop of his mouth, to the pink and fluffy headless carcass of a My Little Pony bleeding flowers, the ideas do not click into a coherent production that bemuses rather than challenges.
Salome's refusal to dance the 'Dance of the Seven Veils' is probably intended as a message of female empowerment, as is the alteration of the ending so Salome kills herself rather than being killed. However, I suspect that if you were new to this opera, you would be completely lost in interpreting what is trying to be said.
Marg Horwell's set and costume design is often striking, but there is an over reliance on large dark spaces. The opening scene is completely black with a strange water tank hanging overhead where a naked woman languorously moves around, like a budget section of a James Bond title sequence. Pink is a continuous theme, presumably to challenge the feminine suggestions of the colour.
What saves this production from total confusion is the masterful performance by the ENO orchestra, conducted with both subtilty and enormous emotion by an intense Martyn Brabbins. The music soars but unfortunately, this production flops.
Photo Credit: Catherine Ashmore