This is as extreme as opera gets! Richard Strauss’s Salome goes to the very edges of human experience, encompassing the lewd, erotic, forbidden, sanctimonious, deranged, macabre, grotesque. And yet it is also humorous and entertaining.
This Opera Australia production directed by Gale Edwards has wit, imagination, and daring, and is certainly not for anyone with a feeble constitution. The Biblical story of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome, infamous for requesting – and receiving – the head of John The Baptist on a silver platter, has been an inspiration for many creative minds over time, including Oscar Wilde whose play, Salome, is the basis for the libretto here.
Lise Lindstrom is spellbinding in the central role; vocally riveting, but also intriguing in her physicality and emotional expression. It’s a uniquely demanding role, full of vacillating passion, and a final gruesome 10 minutes or so of intimacy with a very real looking head. The interpretation of Salome’s iconic Dance Of The Seven Veils is genius (it’s too much of a spoiler to say any more). Andreas Conrad as Herod and Jacqueline Dark as Herodias, display a comic-level of disdain for each other and have some wonderfully vitriolic repartee. Alexander Krasnov is imposing as Jokanaan (John The Baptist) while still showing believable vulnerability.
The set is very clever, establishing mood and making visual commentary. A backdrop grid of animal carcasses intimates decay and morbidity. At the rear is a long table occupied by guests at a feast, eating and drinking and separated from centre stage by a ribbon curtain. At the centre is a raised, circular platform, surrounded by steps. In the middle of this is a dimly lit grill – the trap door to the cell in which Jokanaan is being held captive and from which his voice ascends at given moments.
Audience response is unified and palpable; all the jokes land and you can hear a pin drop during the final scenes. Followed by a standing ovation.
Until Mar 26. Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $47-$361+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.opera.org.au
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich.