Salome review: Perversion writ large in this thrilling production
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Salome review: Perversion writ large in this thrilling production

SALOME
Opera Australia, Joan Sutherland Theatre, March 7

★★★★½

Oscar Wilde's play Salome, on which Strauss' eponymous opera is based, emphasises the gaze: a page looks at a captain who looks at Salome who looks at Jokanaan. Herod looks at Salome's dance and his patriarchal gaze destroys her just as her sexuality had devoured Jokanaan and released Herod's deep insecurity.

Lise Lindstrom's performance is a long crescendo.

Lise Lindstrom's performance is a long crescendo.Credit:Prudence Upton

And all of them look at the moon, which reflects their gaze back to them, becoming a dead woman, a princess, a chaste woman and a mad woman seeking lovers.

This is a thrillingly-sung revival of a Gale Edwards production that emphasises the perverted, fetish-like aspect of Strauss' sadistically sensationalist reading of Wilde's Symbolist text.

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Over Strauss' sinewy music, itself a winking parody of oriental eroticism, the seven veils of Salome's dance (lithely executed by Emma Goh and Sophie Holloway and choreographed by Kelley Abbey) become a tawdry parade of debased male projections of female sexuality – an innocent child, a pole dancer, a naughty maid, an acrobat doing the splits, a Marilyn impersonator. With patriarchal religious figures ogling in the background, the contemporary relevance is all too obvious. As a prelude to International Women's Day it is depressingly appropriate.

Lise Lindstrom as Salome began with soft sullenness, even allowing Sian Pendry's page to out-sing her in the opening scene, but flaring to life with increasingly insistent passion at the sound of Alexander Krasnov's Jokanaan.

Her performance is a long crescendo. After pausing for the voiceless dance her demands for Jokanaan's head open out in ferocity over a range of more than two octaves leading to searing intensity in the final scene. With a strong stage presence of defiant young beauty and seething resentment it is a towering performance.

This irresistible force meets its match however, in the immoveable richness and sepulchral depth of Krasnov's Jokanaan. The musical drama of their confrontation was powerfully represented in the vocal conflict, though I wondered if the stage action might not have been better served by the eroticism of denial rather than the distracting sensuality of constant touching.

Edwards' production aptly balances the decadence of Salome with the depravity of Herod. Andreas Conrad sang the latter part with leering edge touched with excitable frustration. Jacqueline Dark's Herodias portrayed the mother-from-hell (literally in Jokanaan's view) with imperious strength spilling over into cackling vengeance. As the ill-fated captain, Narraboth, Paul O'Neill sang with pure romantic bloom and fresh colour, while Pendry's page was strongly projected and imploring.

The ensemble of religious leaders (Virgilio Marino, Brad Cooper, Benjamin Rasheed, Tomas Dalton, Andrew Moran, Alexander Hargreaves, David Parkin, Christopher Hillier), fussily squabbled about petty doctrine and created an effective moment of maddening, hectoring clamour. Gennadi Dubinsky and Ryan Sharp were dourly resigned as the soldiers. Conductor Johannes Fritzsch allowed the tempi to expand and swirl with the expressive current, and, with the Opera Australia Orchestra, created a wide tonal palette from languor to piercing climactic power.

Brian Thomson's circular set is built around the central focus point of Jochanaan's chthonic cistern, lit by John Rayment with inflammatory reds and golds.

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