Baritone Thomas Hall is playing the part of John the Baptist in Opera Australia's <i>Salome</i>.

Baritone Thomas Hall is playing the part of John the Baptist in Opera Australia's Salome.

"I THINK it's a good likeness," says Thomas Hall, staring down at the mould of his bloody, severed head.

"Since I have all the makeup and stuff on anyway, I don't really look like that, but I think it's a good resemblance." The dramatic baritone is playing the part of John the Baptist, or Jokanaan, in Opera Australia's new production of Richard Strauss' Salome, in which the scorned anti-heroine demands the head of Hall's character, the man who rejected her.

The last in a series of particularly bloody productions this season at Opera Australia, Salome is perhaps the goriest yet, with the back of the stage decorated with macabre animal carcasses, and an extended scene in which Salome violently takes out her frustrations on the severed head of the man who did not return her affections.

Hall, an American, went to Sydney for his costume fitting and to have the mould cast earlier this month. The head took almost three weeks to make and passed through many hands at different stages of construction. Taking the cast for Hall's face took half an hour.

"It was an interesting feeling. It was like being at the dentist when you can't swallow," he said. "Not swallowing's the hard part when you're sitting with your mouth open for a long time."

Moulding the head was one day's work for one person, while it took a full day to make the silicon skin, and another prop maker a half day to create the fibreglass skull. The blood effect was a full day's work, as was the attaching of the beard and wig and painting of the face.

As well as bearing a remarkable resemblance to Hall, the head had to be durable. Once the executioner presents Salome with the severed head, she stalks the stage, holding the head by its hair, then throws it across the floor, retrieves it, rolls around on the ground with it and, in a final act of madness, kisses it passionately on the lips.

The kiss is made more shocking by the fact that just minutes before, Salome reached into Jokanaan's mouth, wrenched out his tongue, and hurled it across the stage. The removable tongue is fixed in place with magnets and re-attached for each performance.

As the execution takes place off-stage, Hall is spared the bloody excesses of the scene, unlike Cheryl Barker who plays Salome.

The cast of Hall's head was ready just days ago, so performers have been rehearsing using the head of John Wegner, who played Jokanaan in the Sydney season. It's unclear whether Hall will be able to take his severed head home after the production. "It might be interesting to get that through security at the airport," he says.