Salomé magazine – mortal desires and emotional extremism | royal opera
HAfter canceling Thursday’s performance of Don Giovanni as a mark of respect after the Queen’s death, the Royal Opera continued the following night with its revival – the fourth – of David McVicar’s 2008 production of Strauss’ Salome, conducted by Alexander Soddymaking her company debut, and with Malin Byström returning in the title role, which she also sang at Covent Garden in 2018.
Inevitably, we were aware of hearing it at a turning point in history. A book of condolences had been opened in the hall. The EIIR monogram on the Opera curtains had been blacked out. People sang God Save the King after a minute of silence. I wondered if Strauss’ tragedy of uncontrolled desire might seem incongruous or surreal in the context. In fact, his emotional extremism was even more cathartic than usual.
Strauss called the opera “a scherzo with a fatal conclusion”, a remark which some have interpreted as ironic but in this case is an entirely apt description of Soddy’s interpretation: fast from the start without ever being rushed, the shimmering, slippery orchestral sound, the gooey harmonies insidiously prized in broad daylight. But when he reached the final scene, he let the beat slow, and the dissonant lyricism and searing nostalgia that surged from the pit was simply breathtaking. It is a marvelous orchestral direction by Strauss and a most promising debut.
Byström’s tone, meanwhile, has darkened slightly since 2018, and a nervousness has crept into its lower registers, meaning those unsettling descents of Salomé’s usual soprano range into low G-flat of a viola no longer have quite the strange warmth they once had. Yet she remains a terrific singer and a true theatrical animal, just keeping us on the bright side of empathy as she charts the development of Salome’s deadly obsession, then matches Soddy’s approach by unleashing a torrent of engulfing emotion in the final scene.
However, what surrounds it is sometimes uneven. Jordan Shanahan sounds good like Jokanaan but doesn’t capture the man’s charismatic fanaticism. John Daszak’s sinister and procrastinating Herod is sometimes pushed into its upper registers, even if Katarina Dalayman makes a terrific Herodias, both neurotic and unimaginative, as Strauss had intended. Reignited by Bárbara Lluch, McVicar’s production, relocating the work to the fascist 1930s and drawing some of its imagery from Pasolini’s Salò, has seemed more tense on previous occasions, but retains its horrifying power.