A disturbing opera, masterfully presented
By Narelle Wood
Victorian Opera opens its 2020 season with a performance of Richard Strauss’s unsettling Opera Salomé, based on Oscar Wilde’s play by the same name.
The Opera opens with Narraboth (James Egglestone), the captain of the guards guarding the prophet Jochanaan (Daniel Sumegi), voicing is admiration and infatuation for Salomé (Vida Mikneviciute). Salomé soon enters, having left the banquet to escape her step-father Herod (Ian Storey), who is also infatuated by Salomé. The plot quickly thickens as Salomé demands to speak to Jochanaan. Upon meeting Jochanaan Salomé becomes intoxicated by his looks, but Jochanaan rebukes her advances, denouncing Salomé, her family, and their wickedness. Meanwhile, distraught at the sight of Salomé’s admiration for another, Narraboth takes his own life. And just when you think that this may be the climatic end to the story, Herod and Herodias (Liane Keegan) enter, and the plot takes yet another dark turn.
Conducted by Richard Mills, Orchestra Victoria bring a sense of urgency to the score that seems to foreshadow the impending tragedy, even when the characters are declaring their love for another. Director Cameron Menzies has capitalised on the uncomfortable themes of Strauss’s opera, bringing to the stage characters who are complex, unlikeable and disturbing, especially in their interactions with each other. There is no mistaking Herod’s leering, and almost predatory pursuit of Salomé’s affections, but he is also tormented and seems to have some resemblance of a moral compass. Herodias, while gleeful at the prospect of her husband’s potential demise, is also at times seemingly concerned for him. The setting, designed by Christina Smith, superbly mirrors some of the architectural features of the Palais theatre, and is almost dishevelled in appearance, but is still reminiscent of a ‘great palace’. The costuming by Anna Cordingley is stunning, but again there is something that is just ‘off’ enough, deliberately so, for it to look constricted, unsettled or out of place.
Everybody’s performances are exceptional, including the impressive ensemble. There is potential with this storyline for the characters to become more caricatures. And while there were certain character traits that each performer emphasised, it didn’t ever cross the line into something more farcical. And, again, this seemed to contribute to the troubling nature of the performance. Mikneviciute, for instance, moves from emotion to emotion, portraying Salomé as someone confident in who they are and what they want, despite how irrational or comedic her behaviour might appear to the audience.
While the opera is short – one act of 90 minutes – the impression it leaves is lasting. Victorian Opera’s interpretation of Salomé is tragic and uncomfortable, but captivatingly so.
Salomé is on at the Palais Theatre until February 27th. Tickets at http://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/salome
Photography by Craig Fuller