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Review: SALOME, Royal Opera House

Review: SALOME, Royal Opera House

A girl who definitely knows how to get a head...

Review: SALOME, Royal Opera House If you thought horror as a genre wasn't something opera dabbled in, think again. The fourth outing for David McVicar's 2008 production of Richard Strauss' is as bloody and gruesome as it gets in Covent Garden.

The story of Salome - a girl who definitely knows how to get a head - is from the New Testament even if it does the gory traits of a tale from the OT. This exquisite take marries expressive and eye-catching staging with a range of excellent performances, not least from stars Malin Byström in the title role and John Daszak as her lusting stepfather King Herod.

Salome is, at heart, about deep desire, stoic denial and grim acceptance. Herod desires Salome; she desires Jokanaan (John The Baptist, played this time around by Jordan Shanahan). Herod is denied by Salome who in turn is denied by Jokanaan. The priest eventually accepts his execution, the temptress accepts she will have to bargain with Herod and the King? In an incredibly emotive final scene, he looks around the court and accepts that his groin's desire must be put to death.

McVicar knows how to craft an entrance. Byström first appears swathed in a bright light, clothed in a white dress and seems utterly angelic. She soon disabuses us of that notion and, whether as Salome falling for and verbally sparring with the imprisoned apostle (despite the warnings of the lovelorn Narraboth) or tempting King Herod with her dance (choreographed by Andrew George), Byström brings a sensuous presence bolstered by a rich voice.

Opposite her, Daszak gives a towering acting performance. His body language and singing amplify the powerful lyrics, drawing us into the war between his baser urges and his desire for supreme power and court acceptance. His physical and facial reactions to seeing Salome dancing around with Jokannan's head elevate and expand on the horrific nature of his stepdaughter's actions.

The set and costume designs by Es Devlin are - as ever - a revelation. A wide staircase joins the royal banquet to the oubliette down below, leaving plenty of space for the impeccably attired characters to express themselves and the visual detail is exquisite, not least the drips of blood onto Salome's dress as she holds aloft the decapitated head. Revival director Barbara Lluch ensures that this one-act work never drops in pace, aided and abetted by the revival choreographer Emily Piercy.

Down in the pit, Alexander Soddy is no stranger to German opera, having been a Kapellmeister at the Hamburg State Opera, a musical director at Nationaltheater Mannheim and chief conductor at Stadttheater Klagenfurt. He wrings every emotional drop from Strauss' score: when Jokanaan is taken from his prison to meet his fate, there's a real sense that he is ascending into the sky.

McVicar has created a theatrical marvel for the ages which doesn't stint on the profound horror in the hearts and minds of these well-worn characters.

Salome continues at the Royal Opera House until 1 October.

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

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