Once-Banned Opera Salome Is Back On The London Stage
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Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play of the same name, was banned in the West End once upon a time. But its instructive tale of corrupt sexuality and the female experience today feels like something that should scarcely be kept off the stage. Allison Cook makes a fearsome ENO debut in the title role.
At the dark heart of the Salome story is a woman so victimised by a powerful male that she cannot but lash out with equal, possessive violence. Many know what goes down here (princess’s advances spurned by John the Baptist; princess manipulated by weird step-dad Herod into doing a sexy dance; princess requests John’s head on a platter in return), but few of us will have seen it enacted quite as gratuitously as this.
It all unfolds as if an unhinged Turner Prize unveiling; each scene coming at you as a grotesque art installation might. Fleshy bodies appear in fish tanks, are scrutinised under huge light fixtures, or simply play as shadows across bare walls. Blood is everywhere; splashed about by Herod (a magnificently disgusting Michael Colvin).
Assumedly the story’s fixation with ‘gaze’ is responsible for all this. The most lurid provocation of all is Salome’s dance. Flanked by ponytail-waggling dancers who might have walked off the Ariana Grande tourbus, this key scene sees the princess get nasty with a baseball bat — and culminates in the literal flogging of a dead horse. Nothing’s shocking these days, but here’s a better operatic attempt than most.
Salome, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Tickets from £12, until 23 October 2018.
Last Updated 01 October 2018