Salome, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2018

This third revival of David McVicar’s production sees subtle changes in Salome’s dance. She engages in a more sensuous interaction with Herod, without the rag doll she used previously, but it suited the conducting of Henrik Nánási, more lyrical than lecherous at this point, while the restrained power he produced from the orchestra drove Strauss’s music forward superbly.

All images ROH/ Clive Barda

In this lyrically compelling interpretation of the score, Swedish soprano Malin Byström provided well-nuanced emotion with effortless power and marvellous diction, developing from petulant curiosity to calm determination. As Jokanaan, Michael Volle returned to the role he created when this production was new in 2008, the depth of his performance providing a wonderful contrast to the decadence of Herod’s palace. Hated by Herodias — in a gloriously dramatic portrayal by Michaela Schuster — and feared by Herod in a gripping realisation by John Daszak, his insistent voice carried the performance until his decapitation, when Ms Schuster and the orchestra drove us to the final moments.

Jokanaan and Salome

As the executioner, actor Duncan Meadows repeated a role he has owned since the production was new, his powerful presence seen in the background from beginning to end when he finally breaks Salome like a rag doll. In an excellent cast, David Butt Philip as captain of the guard Narraboth showed lyrical passion and despair as Salome bamboozles him, with German mezzo Christina Bock singing very strongly as the Page of Herodias. Among other roles, the five Jews provided an eloquently argumentative quintet, Levente Páll was a strong vocal presence as the First Soldier, and Kihwan Sim as the First Nazarene sang movingly of the miracles that Jesus has been performing in Galilee.

Herod tries to dissuade her, Herodias behind

During the dance

A superb re-staging by Barbara Lluch, the placing and slow movement of the performers carrying a power of its own. I loved the image of Jokanaan with arms outstretched and Salome in front of him as he calls her to seek out Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, and when she determines she will kiss him on the lips, Narraboth’s quiet suicide is centre stage. Throwing herself on the cover of the cistern after Jokanaan has re-entered it shows her desperation for a man she can respect, and Emily Piercy’s adaptation of the choreography gives the dance an edge of paternal abuse suggesting how Herod has interfered with his step-daughter’s natural sexual development.

Dark lighting enhances the intensity of this gripping performance, with Salome brilliantly realised by Malin Byström, who only performed the role for the first time last June with Dutch National Opera.

Performances continue on various dates until January 30 — for details click here.

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