Salome dances again

Caught the last night of the run of Salome at the ROH.  A good outing for the production, a strong cast and some fantastic orchestral playing and conducting.  And a lot of blood.

(Sir) David McVicar’s production continues to deliver the full-on decadence-and-gore experience, with a bit of titillation thrown in from the thoroughly-muscled naked executioner. Some of its flaws became a little more evident.  In particular, the Dance of the Seven Veils is imaginatively done, and for the most part effective, but it doesn’t end confidently, rather it just fizzles out, particularly noticeable given that the music has that fabulous scurrying flourish at the close.

Will Hartmann confidently opened the scene as Narraboth, in strong and pleasing voice, supported by the anxious page of Sarah Castle. Egils Silinš had the notes, and most of both the vocal power and the characterisation for the role of Jokanaan. I would have liked just a bit extra of the resonant ‘voice of God’ quality in the stentorian denouncements, plus a little more of that ambiguous quality of a man being severely tested by the come-on of the 16-year-old daughter of the Whore of Babylon. His more straightforward ‘disgusted by everything around him’ approach was perfectly valid, but it pushed it all back on to Salome to bring out the sinuously entwined love-hate quality in those early passages, so crucial for setting up the events that follow.

Fortunately, as Salome, Angela Denoke was well-inside this tortured and torturing young woman; a thoroughly absorbing portrayal. Judged on purely vocal terms, it would not be so successful, with some thinness of tone in the higher reaches, and a slightly unsteady pitching in some of the higher-lying declamatory phrases. Nonetheless, she did not significantly tire through the evening, and brought a wealth of light and shade to the singing: in some of those rare moments of softer singing, she sang beautifully and seductively. And as a complete musical-dramatic portrayal, it was fantastic.

Veteran Stig Anderson was Herod, moving fluently from oily seducer of his step-daughter to jabbering in torment when asked for Jokanaan’s head, through to disgusted tyrant. Herodias has to be the hostess of the least successful dinner party up until Beverly invited the neighbours round to her Essex semi, and Rosalind Plowright brought both poise and an acidic grandeur. I couldn’t take my binoculars off her for most of her scene.  Supporting cast all made excellent contributions, including silent Duncan Meadows who reprised his enticingly distracting Naaman, the executioner.

The orchestra were on stunning form for Andris Nelsons, and the orchestral colours brought out in the Dance of the Seven Veils (most particularly, but elsewhere too) were extraordinary. A terrifying sound accompanied some of the climactic moments, including the appearance of the head of Jokanaan, all the more impactful for having been preceded by some wondrously dramatic silences, punctured by jabs and wails from parts of the orchestra. The one down-side was a tendency to keep the volume a little too high for some of the singers, notably Salome herself, but overall it was an exciting reading that built to a shattering close.

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