IrelandOperaReview

Salome – Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Louise Tallon

Writer: Oscar Wilde (German translation by Hedwig Lachmann)

Director: Bruno Ravella

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is packed out for tonight’s impressive performance of opera Salome.

The drama in one act with no interval, is an edited libretto by Richard Strauss based on Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 French play, Salomé. It’s an operatic retelling of John the Baptist’s (Jochanaan) gruesome death at the behest of Herod Antipas’ (Herodes) step-daughter, Salome, after the Judaean Preacher spurns her amorous advances.

Leslie Travers’ set and costume design are a surprise when the lights come up to Narraboth (Tenor Alex McKissick) singing of the beauty of Salome. Other than an exquisite centrepiece resembling an ancient royal poinciana (flame tree) with orange/red blossoms on an island of green foliage in the sunken terrace, everything is stark and modern. Blonde Sinéad Campbell Wallace as the teenage seductress is reminiscent of the actress Grace Kelly in a 1950’s golden yellow dress.

Except for the violent red slashes of blood that come later, this is the only colour we will enjoy, as the miniature garden is soon raised to the rafters to reveal a low, grey stone font of water and the dress gives way to a silvery white slip during Salome’s dance of the seven veils. The decision to dress some members of the cast as militia with guns, in tuxedos, or as executive waiting staff is as intriguing as the backdrop which suggests the pale steel of the hull of a ship or container with a vertical hatch for a door.

The minimalist cyclorama does, however, serve as an excellent surface to exhibit the whirling shadows of Salome’s slightly underwhelming dance for Herodes. It leaves one wondering how the backdrop might have similarly displayed the majesty of the Qala’at Al Meshneq (Castle of the Gallows) and its fabled gardens, where Jochanaan the Prophet was beheaded, or the sumptuous magnificence of the banquet hall where Herodes was celebrating his birthday that night.

But, of course, the real magic of this production lies within the music. Every performer shines. Campbell-Wallace is the first Irish soprano to perform the role of the Jewish Princess and she is outstanding. Tenor Vincent Wolfsteiner as Salome’s lustful stepfather Herodes adds a small measure of levity to the brutal proceedings. Mezzo-soprano Imelda Drumm and baritone Tómas Tómasson as Salome’s manipulating mother, Herodias, and Jochanaan, the object of Salome’s infatuation, respectively, are also excellent.

Conductor Dr Fergus Sheils is commanding in the pit. He instructs with a fierce and passionate energy to which the Irish National Opera Orchestra responds in equal measure creating a truly first-rate performance.

Campbell-Wallace’s final aria is simply stunning. With the glorious music building to a dramatic climax, a triumphant yet sorrowful Salome brings the severed head to her lips – “You would not let me kiss your mouth, Jochanaan! Now I will kiss it”.

Lighting designer Ciarán Bagnall comes into his own as condemned by Herodes, the demented young temptress, encouraged by shadowy, writhing demons, walks along a beam of light, down into the cavernous black.

You don’t have to be an opera aficionado to enjoy the performance. Bruno Ravella’s interpretation and execution of this tale of unrequited desire and its diabolical, violent outcome is an all-round great production for every manner of theatre-goer.

Runs Until 16th March 2024.

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Resounding Success

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The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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