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A chilling dance with death

Malin Byström is an impressive Salome in the Royal Opera House revival of Richard Strauss’s opera

11 January, 2018 — By Sarah Dawes

Michael Volle as Jokanaan, Malin Byström as Salome. PHOTO: ROH/ Clive Barda

If you hate the sight of blood and have nightmares, The Royal Opera’s production of Salome is not the show for you, or perhaps it might cure you of these things.

There is plenty of bloodshed, from the beginning when the Captain of the Guard kills himself for love of Salome, to the final decapitation of John the Baptist.

A tale of horror with no relief, Richard Strauss’s opera is based on Oscar Wilde’s play about the biblical story.

This revival of David McVicar’s 2008 production is directed by Bárbara Lluch and is in modern dress. An impressive spiral staircase links an upper story to the main stage which is a basement, with showers and a dry “cistern”, where the ill-fated Jokanaan (John the Baptist) is imprisoned.

The decadent “upper class” are feasting upstairs, being entertained by half naked, drugged prostitutes. Downstairs, soldiers guard the prisoner who condemns King Herod and his wife for being immoral.

Jokanaan’s powerful voice (Michael Volle) reverberates from the underground pit as he prophesies the coming of “the Saviour”.

Malin Byström is an impressive Salome. As she listens to the voice of the prophet in the pit, it is almost believable that she might fall in love with him – until he appears, looking like a tramp, not a bit like the person she has imagined.

It is not clear whether her demand for his head is revenge for his rejection of her amorous advances or due to his condemnation of her mother as a whore.

But certainly it is a means of humiliating Herod as he lusts after her, following her through a series of rooms as she dances for him.

Salome’s final soft elegant aria is at odds with the horror of her blood-stained clothing. The effect is paradoxical but very special.

Salome is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on January 12, 17, 21, 23, 26 and 30, 8pm, no interval. 020 7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk

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