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Review: Salome at the Sydney Opera House

By Suzy Kemeny

Opera Australia’s Salome opened this week at the Sydney Opera House. Although far from the most beautiful opera, Salome holds an important place in the opera cannon. Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1893 French recounting of this infamous story, in 1905 Richard Strauss composed this German opera and it has been performed in all corners of the world since. The opera is performed in German with English subtitles.

The story is hard going – a true psychosexual drama. The biblical princess, Salome, asks for the head of the prophet John the Baptist, after he refused to kiss her, from her stepfather in exchange for her performance of a dance. Focusing on the themes of desire and depravity, she asks that the head is delivered on a silver platter in order that she may finally kiss it. As many have noted in the past, it is interesting that though this dance of hers changed the course of history in this time of the bible, not once is Salome mentioned by name throughout. The opera has been controversial since its inception – it took 13 years for it to first be staged (in Vienna) after Strauss composed it.

With this in mind, it was a brave inclusion in Opera Australia’s 2019 season, but one that once again proved the diversity of the company. Leading the company, Conductor Johannes Fritzsch, Director, Gale Edwards and Revival Director, Andy Morton, mastered this divisive opera and offered a new view on what is, by biblical standards, meant to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of female sexuality. Edwards (who is no stranger to the Opera Australia audience after directing Handa Opera on the Harbour’s Aida and Carmen, as well as La Boheme for the company) instead asks audiences to consider the dynamics of male dominance and power through her skilled direction.

Ultimately, it is thanks to the performances that we can overlook the goriness of this opera and focus instead on the supreme talent before us. As Salome, Lise Lindstrom is captivating. For over 100 minutes she was on stage and for the last half hour sang solo. Her stamina and divine voice left the audience awestruck. Hailing from America, Lindstrom has performed in operas around the world, including having recently performed Salome at the Wiener Staatsoper.

Matching Lindstrom, Alexander Krasnov in the role of Jokanaan was absolutely the tops. Krasnov is a world class talent who offered a performance of this role that was simply superb. Impressively, Krasnov took on this role in the midst of somewhat of a world tour – performing with companies in Germany, Holland, Chile, Estonia and of course, Australia.

One of the most impressive aspects of this opera is the Dance of the Seven Veils which was fabulous. Choreographed by one of Australia’s true gems, Kelley Abbey, the dancers performed with precision and in many ways distracted from the harshness of this Opera.

As a one act opera, Set Designer Brian Thomson opted for a singular set, the most interesting part of it being the trap in the centre in which scenes were cleverly played out. Julie Lynch’s costumes were impressive and made the show visually very pleasing.

Salome is in no way a favourite opera of mine. Strauss’ music is dissonant and the seared head, for me, do not match up to the beauty of many other operatic classics. That said, Opera Australia has delivered a new, highly engaging and perfectly mastered rendition of this classic and must be commended for this performance.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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