A Slice of Operatic Cake 10: Salome
Well, there certainly is a lot to Richard Strauss' Salome, isn't there? And Opera North's latest concert staging somehow brings this complexity to the fore more effectively than a fully staged production might. Perhaps allowing for Strauss' musical layers to shine through, or exposing the pure emotion of the piece has done this, as these things are complex in and of themselves and may indeed have been hidden by full set and costume. Whatever the reason, the effect is pretty mind blowing.
A relatively short work, Salome is a little like a slap across the face. Its music and content are both controversial in different yet complimentary ways. PJ Harris' simple direction and Jamie Hudson's equally simple but extremely musically sensitive and effective lighting consolidate the plot and the music wonderfully, even though there might have been less going on visually than somebody who went to see last year's 'Turandot' might have come to expect, even from a concert staging.
Performing such a piece anyway is no mean feat, but with no set or props, acting the part as well as singing well seems like an incredible daunting task. The cast, however, were nothing less than stellar. Jennifer Holloway as Salome really did steal the show in all of these ways and more. She offered genuine flashes of pure evil, mental torment and brief glimpses of something that may have caused something similar to pathos, combined with breathtaking vocals in a role which is offered very little rest.
The scale of the orchestration is one of the factors contributing the decision to stage this production in Leeds Town Hall, rather than in Opera North's regular venue of Leeds Grand Theatre. This came with the happy consequence of being able to witness the wonderful Orchestra of Opera North absolutely boss such a difficult score. Sir Richard Armstrong's faultless conducting is something which was a given, naturally. While there were some issues with balance (as there inevitably would be with an ensemble this size), the singers did incredibly well to remain as prominent as they did, and the orchestra under Armstrong maintained the rich or terrifying tones where appropriate. In fact, I'd argue that it would have been a shame for the orchestra to have played such a seminal, blood-curdling score any quieter.
Salome is not necessarily a 'fun' trip the opera, and certainly isn't heartwarming, but as a piece itself it really is thought provoking and very impressive. For it to be performed in such an impressive way was a true treat, with all of the overwhelming, mind-blowing elements highlighted expertly. The wit, sensitivity and musicality were all executed faultlessly, making this a production to remember.