Richard Strauss, libretto by Hedvig Lachmann, German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome
Irish National Opera
Irish National Opera, Dublin, Ireland

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Sinéad Campbell Wallace (Salome) Credit: Patricio Cassinoni
The Cast of Salome Credit: Patricio Cassinoni
The Cast of Salome Credit: Patricio Cassinoni

Richard Strauss’s opera premièred in Dresden in 1905 with colossal success, taking thirty-eight curtain calls. The combination of Oscar Wilde’s pseudo-biblical shocker, with its jewelled and perfumed prose, and Strauss’s dramatic, erotic score made for a heady, decadent, vulgar, obscene mixture, which revolted many critics and audiences. And, like the play, it also had its banning in many cities, including New York.

Salome has no name in the Bible. She is merely the daughter of Herodias. The Dance of the Seven Veils is Wilde’s invention. Herod swears an oath, offering her anything she wants, half his kingdom, the largest emerald in the world, one hundred peacocks, jewels, topazes, opals, onyxes, moonstones and the veil of the temple, if only she will dance for him. She dances and demands John the Baptist’s head on a silver dish and will accept nothing else.

The opera is a riveting, stupefying experience. Strauss doesn’t let up, sparing neither singers, orchestra nor audiences. The score, overwhelming in its hysterical intensity, builds to a horrifying, bloody climax in which Salome, her passion unquenchable, dementedly kisses the mouth of John the Baptist’s decapitated head.

Sinéad Campbell Wallace as Salome is particularly impressive, especially in the final arduous scene, one of the most demanding ever written. There are also powerful performances by Vincent Wolfsteiner as Herod, Imelda Drumm as Herodias and Tómas Tómasson as the erotised John the Baptist who refuses to be seduced by Salome.

Bruna Ravella directs and Fergus Sheil conducts. The cast is costumed in modern clothes, wearing either military uniform or evening dress. Salome wears a yellow dress. I should have preferred something more Biblical, something more Byzantine, something less abstract, something more sumptuous, decadent and extravagant. Strauss’s music is a knock-out regardless.

Irish National Opera’s Salome can be watched free on YouTube on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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