Review: Salome at the English National Opera
The classic opera is reimagined with a lesbian twist
A feminist interpretation of Salome opens the ENO’s woman-focused 18/19 season, directed by Adena Jacobs.
It was thrilling to see the, 80 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 sanitised 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 ahhh… the music! The orchestra, under Martyn Brabbin's assured direction, delivered an interpretation of Richard Straus’s 1905 score that was both subtle and rich in flavour. 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 character 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, almost comedic, character.
But ahhh… 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.
Salome is on at the English National Opera 12 - 23 October
Get your tickets: eno.org/whats-on/salome
Find out more about Trudy Howson, LGBT Poet Laureate at lgbtpoetlaureate.org.uk