Sunday, March 10, 2019

SALOME - Opera Australia

Alexander Krasnov (Jochanaan) - Lise Lindstom (Salome) 
Conductor: Johannes Fritzsch – Director: Gale Edwards
Choreographer: Kelly Abbey -Set Design: Brian Thomson
Costume Designer: Julie Lynch - Lighting Design – John Rayment

Presented by Opera Australia – Joan Sutherland Theatre
Sydney Opera House – 6th to 26th March 2019.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Jacqueline Dark (Herodias) - Lise Lindstom (Salome)
It may be 114 years old but the Richard Strauss opera, Salome, has lost none of its ability to shock and unsettle, particularly as presented here in Gale Edwards extraordinarily visceral production. Brian Thomson’s setting, brilliantly lit by John Rayment, has a curtain of animal carcases forming  the backdrop for a lavish banquet hosted by Herod (Andreas Conrad) and his wife Herodias (Jacqueline Dark. Their daughter Salome (Lise Lindstrom) is obviously bored by the banquet, until attracted by the calls of the prophet, John the Baptist, known as Jochanaan, (Alexander Krasnov), imprisoned in a nearby cistern, condemning her licentious mother Herodias and proclaiming the eminent arrival of the Messiah.

As Salome becomes more and more fixated on the idea of seeing Jochanaan, a young guard Narraboth (Paul O’Neill) who is secretly in love with Salome, tries to warn her off.

Used to getting her own way, Salome seduces Narraboth into disregarding Herod’s orders and opening the cistern. When Jochanaan emerges Salome immediately tries to seduce him, but he repulses her advances, telling her to seek out Christ and beg redemption. Realising the hopelessness of his own situation, Narraboth commits suicide, unnoticed by Salome, who is distraught by Jochanaan’s rejection.

Having noticed her absence from the banquet, Herod comes looking for Salome, who has now become obsessed with the idea of kissing Jochanaan’s lips. When Herod implores Salome to come back to the banquet and dance for him, she refuses, until he offers her “anything” if she will dance. Salome seizes the opportunity to avenge herself on Jochanaan and agrees to dance for Herod, and having danced, when Herod asked her name her reward, she asks for the head of Jochanaan.

Lise Lindstrom gives a truly remarkable performance as Salome. A true dramatic soprano, on stage for almost the entire opera, her presence is magnetic and compelling, her sense of stillness as affecting as her singing. She dominates the stage seemingly effortlessly as she negotiates the complexities of the Strauss score, both her voice and diction ravishingly clear and controlled throughout.

Sophie Holloway (Dancer) - Andreas Conrad (Herod) 
She moves so gracefully that you feel she could have performed the famous dance had she chosen. However, Edwards’ concept of having the veils represented by episodes illustrating different aspects of seduction provides a diverting sequence. Full marks to choreographer Kelly Abbey and dancers, Emma Goh, Eloise Harpas, Sophie Holloway and Alexis Strumolo for their imaginative realisation of this concept.

Lise Lindstom (Salome)
Lindstrom’s Salome is used to being indulged, getting her own way, being refused nothing. Therefore, when her lustful advances are rejected by Jochanaan, it tips her over the edge into madness. Lindstrom’s depiction of this decline is riveting, especially in her marathon 20 minute solo during which she appears to masturbate with the bloodied head of Jochanaan.

Alexander Krasnov (Jochanaan) 
Although he has relatively little onstage time, Alexander Krasnov as Jochanaan, in his first appearance with Opera Australia, makes a big impression. His rich stentorian baritone separates his from all the other voices on stage, which together with his commanding stage presence brings plausibility to Salome’s depraved responses.

Andreas Conrad also gives a compelling performance as the lustful Herod willing to trade away half his kingdom for a few minutes of vicarious pleasure with his step-daughter, while Jacqueline Dark, looks and sounds magnificent, as his conniving, licentious wife, Herodias.

Andreas Conrad (Herod)
Benjamin Rasheed, Virgilio Marino, Thomas Dalton, Andrew Moran, Brad Cooper

Both Paul O’Neill as the unfortunate young guard, Narraboth, and Sian Pendry as Page, sing superbly and infuse their roles with dignity and pathos, while the excellent voices and stage presence of Virgilio Marino, Brad Cooper, Benjamin Rasheed, Thomas Dalton and Andrew Moran as the five Jews, and David Parkin and Christopher Hillier as the Nazarenes, contribute greatly to the overall success of the production.

Masterful playing by the Opera Australia Orchestra, under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch, who took care that Strauss’ various leitmotifs were clearly delineated, and that the moments of  unsettling dissonant achieved their desired effect, insured a thrilling performance that will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to have experienced it.

                                                       Photos: Prudence Upton
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.