Cheryl Barker as Salome and John Pickering as Herod. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
The Arts Centre
Until December 15
SALOME shocked Europe in the early 1900s and a century on it is still shocking. Opera Australia's new production is chillingly intense and, despite the infernal red lighting through most of it, intensely chilling. Gale Edwards' production is highly eccentric, even vulgar - but no matter, it is also compelling, effective and deeply dramatic.
The last Salome in Melbourne was the brilliant 2001 Kirov production; this is very different but just as successful.
Edwards has huge advantages. First is the raw material, the genius of Richard Strauss in portraying the psychological obsessions of the protagonists as the single-act drama surges to its appalling conclusion.
Second is her singers. Cheryl Barker is mesmerising, an extraordinary actress and a Straussian soprano at the height of her powers in this famously impossible role requiring ''a 16-year-old princess with the voice of Isolde'' (Strauss). Despite occasional struggles to project vocally, she was sumptuously rich, subtle, and utterly convincing. Edwards' solution for the Dance of the Seven Veils, a parade of supposed male fantasies, was intelligent and entertaining but mixed.
Thomas Hall as John the Baptist was immense, noble-voiced and full of prophetic conviction yet vulnerable. John Pickering caught the dissolute Herod's confused desires, while the minor roles were strong, especially David Corcoran (Narraboth) and Sian Pendry (the page). A monodimensional tendency spilled over with Jacqueline Dark (Herodias), turned by Edwards into a constantly over-emoting caricature.
Third is the augmented but still excellent Orchestra Victoria. Conductor Simon Hewett opted for a lushly romantic but sometimes unclarified reading and, again, it worked well. Julie Lynch's costumes were sometimes bizarre: Roman breastplates topped by bandoliers of bullets over camouflage pants for the soldiers, gold tuxedo for Herod, ornate costume and bishop's mitre for the Christian who doesn't actually exist yet. But again, it worked.
In all, garish, risky, decadent - and glorious.