Salome - Royal Opera House, 3 July 2010 (first night)
Justin Way’s revival direction seems under-rehearsed, to conjecture kindly. Even the experienced Johan Reuter looked as hesitant and uncertain as a last-minute replacement straight from the airport. Yet paradoxically on its first return to the Royal Opera House David McVicar’s Salome emerged more clearly and coherently than it did on its premiere. It's a society on the brink of the apocalypse prophesied by Jokaanan, and acknowledged by Herod as he throws a party for the end of the world before retreating to his Führerbunker below. McVicar’s 1930’s update points up the decadence which a modern audience is inclined to mistake for mere extravagance in a more traditional swords’n’sandals production. The child abuse implied by McVicar's imaginative but clunkily-executed seven veils dance explains Salome's destructive, and self-destructive, impulses.
A decent cast offered a solid team showing without star turns. Salome herself emerges as a last-hope beacon of purity and refinement – more so in Angela Denoke’s elegant characterisation than Nadja Michael’s rampant physicality first time round. Denoke hasn’t got all the top notes, nor the consonants for that matter, but her steel-edged white tone is as close to ideal as you’re going to get without casting dead people, so let’s be grateful for what we’ve got.
Any Jokaanan needs the awe-inspiring vocal power and physical magnetism to rabble-rouse and terrify. Johan Reuter can sing the part, no question, but he offers a hill instead of a mountain. There was a whiff of Berlusconi about Gerhard Siegel’s tinpot dictator Herod. On technical grounds he was perhaps the best singer on stage, impressively firm and well controlled – more than you could say about the wobbly Herodias of the statuesque Irina Mishura. A camply comic turn played up their physical disparity. Andrew Staples and Sarah Castle as Narraboth and the Page sang nicely enough, but neither registered as strongly as they should in the opening scene - perhaps a fault of the production and its diversionary tableau of naked flesh.
The Royal Opera House orchestra played the difficult score well, if not flawlessly, for Hartmut Haenchen, who brought exemplary pace, balance, and the hard-edged discipline demanded by McVicar's unsentimental vision.
(*thx Ronan Collett!)
Thanks to Michael for taking most of the curtain call photos: