Review of ‘Salome’

A feminist interpretation of “Salome” opens the ENO’s woman-focused 18/19 season, directed by Adena Jacobs

It was thrilling to see the eighty-strong orchestra sitting in the pit. Unfortunately, that’s where, for me, the visual magic of the evening ended.

The erotic, murderous and decadent themes of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play were sanitized and dislocated by a series of seemingly pointless gimmicks. Why was:

  • Jokanaan (John the Baptist) wearing pink stilettoes in his prison cell?
  • A giant pink, headless ‘My Little Pony’ hoisted up on the stage?
  • The dance of the seven veils reduced to a series of keep-fit postures?
  • Jokanaan’s severed head contained in a sealed white plastic bag?

The stage direction was sadly lacking in physicality throughout.

But ah… the music! The orchestra, under Martyn Brabbin’s assured direction, delivered an interpretation of Richard Strauss’s 1905 score that was both subtle and rich in flavor. It soared, it seduced and then, finally…it consumed.

Alison Cook’s Salome is a powerful and fatally flawed character possessed by ‘lodesliebe’ (death-love). This Salome is curiously unerotic, despite her stripping off and simulating masturbation early on in the show. Cook’s voice, though in tune, could not always match the emotional intensity of the music.

The relationship between Salome and her mother Herodia (a solid performance from Susan Bickley) is revealed as a love deeper than maternal. Their final duet (a highlight) climaxes in a passionate kiss.

The male characters came across as weak or impotent or vulnerable. David Soar was (unusually) vocally disappointing as Jokanaan – perhaps hampered by having a video camera strapped across his face, which displayed a close up of his mouth on the set’s backcloth? Michael Colvin’s Herod was a grotesque and almost comedic character.

But ah…the music! I walked home with it ringing in my ears, it haunted my dreams. It was thrilling!

This production of Salome though compromised by its direction, choreography and staging does not disappoint musically.  The orchestration is magnificent. Definitely worth a listen.

Until 23rdOct.  www.eno.org0207 845 9300

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