Strange sensual energy: Salome at ROH
Last night's production of Salome at the Royal Opera House was an aural experience: Strauss' music never ceases to astonish me with its otherworldly decadence. The production itself didn't do much for me - with music so extraordinary, I would have liked to have seen something a little more lush, a little more fin-de-siécle. The grime was too 21st-century, too obvious. I wanted something otherworldly and overwhelming.
However, the singers delivered both of these things in spades. Particularly, Malin Byström was astonishing. She balanced madness and sensuality with a childlike petulance, rounding out the enigmatic character of Salome from every angle. Her intensity gave real direction to the overwrought lust and impetuousness of story. Her singing was remarkable. She was gorgeous from the beginning, but only became more powerful and extraordinary as the work progressed. I always forget how lengthy and vocally demanding her final scene is - she was a bottomless fount of unrestrained strange sensual energy, dragging the audience into this world, strange and uncomfortable and ravishing beyond belief.
Michael Volle was also wonderful as Jokanaan, playing a powerfully dogmatic and determined character, both with his body and voice. David Butt Philip was a stand-out as Narraboth - his beautiful voice soared through the long phrases and he was admirable in his ardour for Salome. The singing of John Daszack wasn't so beautiful, on the other hand. It was almost too harsh at times, though he was an eminently convincing villain.
I didn't love the conceptual presentation of the Dance of the Seven Veils. It felt contrived and obvious, with its Freudian symbolism. I wanted more mystery, more horror and more beauty from it. Like the set, it felt distinctly 21st-century. It lacked the fragrance and uncomfortable beauty of Strauss' score and the original text itself.
Salome continues at the Royal Opera House through January 30. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.
Malin Byström takes on the title role in Richard Strauss’s searing opera, as featured in the V&A exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.