The Royal Opera’s first revival of David McVicar’s staging of Salome is a distinct improvement, in almost every respect, on when it was new two years ago.
Better cast, played and conducted it has at its centre a magnificent performance from the German soprano Angela Denoke who at last has been afforded a role here in which she can show her true mettle.
The first night of McVicar’s Sal-inspired staging of Salome in 2008 was a distinctly fraught affair there was a substitute Herod and for some unfathomable reason someone sought fit to substitute a soprano in the title role for a wayward, pushed-up mezzo. The conductor didn’t have the measure of the score and a s a result the orchestral playing was sloppy and out of focus.
Thankfully for its first revival all the elements which contrived against a success first time round have now been rectified and last Saturday’s performance packed an emotional punch that left me reeling – it’s a long time since I’ve been left so shaken by a performance of Strauss’ unflinching opera. In the title role Angela Denoke gave her all and after seeing her as the Woman in Erwartungand Pauline in The Gambler it was good to be able to see her in one of her signature roles where one could really appreciate her artistry. The role of Salome is notoriously difficult and whilst there were a few top notes that didn’t quite speak’ as she intended, her stamina, colouring of the voice and physicality far outweighed any shortcomings. She has a magnetic stage presence and made far more sense of McVicar’s staging than Ms Michael did last time round.
Gerhard Siegel was the best Herod I’ve seen, whilst Irina Mishura’s over-the-top drag queen of an Herodias was maybe played too broadly but at least she raised a few needed laughs in what was otherwise an unrelentingly bleak evening. Johan Reuter was singing his first jokanaan and although he projected well, missed some of the crazed fervour that Michael Volle brought to the role two years ago.
McVicar’s staging seemed far more focussed this time round (revival director Justin Way) although the over-staged Dance of the Seven Veils still seems incongruous within Es Devlin’s otherwise brilliantly observed designs. We’re presented with a fin-de-sicle decadent society that seems hell bent on its own destruction and within that Salome, who begins the evening as a spoiled teenager, soon degenerates into bloodlust. It’s uncompromising and relentless yet captures the essence of Strauss’ original.
In the pit Hartmut Haenchen draws out all the myriad colours of the score, is always attentive and supportive of his singers, and never allows the orchestra to play louder than required. He’s rewarded with plenty of full-blooded playing with the climatic dissonance for once, rightly, being the loudest part of the evening. Terrific, if nerve-rattling stuff!