Are you afraid of me, Jokanaan? (Salome at ROH, 17 January 2018)

what sticks in the mind above all is McVicar’s conception of Salome as a petulant pseudo-teen. She’s a riot of overwrought pouting, wheedling, sulking and foot-stamping. The gap between her mundane histrionics and her extraordinary desires could hardly be larger. – Flora Wilson for The Guardian

A pseudo-teen? Why, she’s supposed to be a petulant teenager, n’est-ce pas? There is no gap between her histrionics and her desires! Going for the extreme version of anything is exactly what a petulant teen would do.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Salome. She finds Jokanaan interesting because her elders are so scared of him. And when she – literally – possesses him, she scores the supreme goal against her parents. That’s quintessentially adolescent 😀

Salome: Malin Byström
Jokanaan: Michael Volle
Herod: John Daszak
Herodias: Michaela Schuster
Narraboth: David Butt Philip
Page of Herodias: Christina Bock
cast +1
Conductor: Henrik Nánási | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: David McVicar

This 2008 Salome is one of those good McVicar productions, it makes its point and doesn’t overdo anything. The stage has two levels but focuses on the lower tier, which is the seedy area underneath the banquet hall above, aka the dungeon. I liked that – at least from my seat in the gods (£19!) – you could only see the legs of those attending the banquet.

Hells, yea, that’s exactly what a girl like Salome would like, and she says that much when she descends: I like it here, it’s so breezy. I bet it was really stuffy upstairs.

I admit I didn’t get the dance of the seven veils scene, which was all intellectualised with no nudity whatsoever. In fact the nudity present in the production did not involve Salome at all. I don’t mind that, perhaps on the contrary. But I also don’t quite know what to say about the dance. With its threshhold and/or mirror it seemed to me like something having to do more with Herod’s boundaries rather than having us all part of the male gaze. If that’s what it was then good but I’m not sure; all of this is stuff I rationalised since, not something that hit me at the time.

But, as we all know, Salome’s interaction with Herod isn’t what makes this opera. Here Byström makes the boredom mixed with apprehension and uneasiness with Herod very apparent and comes alive (as Salome should) in her exploratory interactions with Jokanaan. He, rather than Herod, stands in for the unwavering, demeaning authority of the patriarchy, with his decrying of her mother’s debauchery and basically calling Salome an abomination by virtue of existing. She seems amused (and emboldened) by all this – as a teen would. She goes on to tell him she wants his various body parts and when he turns her down in disgust she says she hates the above mentioned body parts 😀 I don’t know about others but I remember those petulant reactions so well (and so fondly, now that I have just turned into a “respectable” 40 year old).

Salome herself gets the ax in the end (from supreme local authority Herod’s order) but it feels perfunctory. The bourgeoisie/parents/male authority (both secular and religious) has been dully riled up and the opera is named after her.

I’m not necessary a Malin Byström fan (my last encounter with her was as the Countess in Nozze, where she sang very well but came off very cold) but I liked her better here. Her embodiment of a willful teenager wasn’t bad from my faraway seat and her singing was good, her commitment even better. I guess I have a bit of a hard time warming up to her. Everybody else was good, no complaints from me, though not earth shattering. As far as Jokanaan, I really liked Samuel Youn a couple of years ago at the Proms and Michael Volle didn’t make a more interesting impression.

I loved Michaela Schuster as the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten and so I was thrilled to have her back here, though Herodias does not require much vocally beside shrillness. She still did a great job as a woman living her frustrations with the patriarchy through her rebellious daughter whilst realising she’s lost any grip on her. Points to Christina Bock who looked really cute and miserable as Herodias rather conflicted (and possibly bisexual) page. I also liked John Daszak’s Herod, especially his acting, as a very sophisticatedly depraved Herod.

I didn’t quite get Henrik Nánási’s take, which was, in my opinion, low on drama. Perhaps, volume-wise, he let the singers come forward? But still there was the matter of tempi, which were super relaxed, especially in the dance of the seven veils (and that added to my confusion regarding that scene). The libretto is so edgy, you want the music to have some bite.

It was a good night, just short of great. There is a 2008 DVD of this production (different cast), if anyone wants to check it out (this run has just finished).


  1. First Jew: Dietmar Kerschbaum
    Second Jew: Paul Curievici
    Third Jew: Hubert Francis
    Fourth Jew: Konu Kim
    Fifth Jew: Jeremy White
    First Soldier: Levente Páll
    Second Soldier: Alan Ewing
    First Nazarene: Kihwan Sim
    Second Nazarene: Dominic Sedgwick
    Cappadocian: John Cunningham 
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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on January 31, 2018, in 20th century, live performances, richard strauss, royal opera house, sopranos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. On reading the little programme sheet thing, the Seven Veils was, I gather, a sort of journey back through her relationship with Herod, hinting at the sleaziness and perviness. Obviously the programme put it better. I didn’t read that til after, so thought “oh, its Dance 1, now Dance 2 in a ballgown!” i.e. a bit of variety.

    • aha, thanks 🙂 but obviously the best dance of them all is the one with the severed head! someone should stage it as a dance of the seven heads 😉

      (and good to see you around 🙂 )

  2. I like me some McVicar before he went all Gelb. He’s not the only director to use the Seven Veils to imply that Salome and her dad have some history. Egoyan was very explicit about that!

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