Salome: an opera review by Victor Grynberg

March 12, 2019 by Victor Grynberg
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Once banned. Still shocking. But Salome is bloody and fantastic.

Lise Lindstrom as Salome in Opera Australia’s 2019 production of Salome at the Sydney Opera House. Photo credit: Prudence Upton

Even in 2019 Richard Strauss’s operatic version of the famed Oscar Wilde play still shocks. Made famous by Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, it’s what happens after that caused all the furore. The play itself, written in French by the English -speaking Wilde, and only translated into English three years after its premiere in Paris in 1891. The play basically tells the story of the execution of John the Baptist, called by his Hebrew names, Jokanaan /Jochanaan, with all the many-faceted twists of lust and sexual longing and the Dance performed by Salome to make this happen.

This production is a great restaging of the Gale Edwards staging from 2012. Miss Edwards came to opera from a brilliant career as a director of modern musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess and Sweeney Todd. I’ve long thought that this background has made her such a great Opera Director as she always emphasises the drama within an opera, while never reducing the musicality at the heart of the production. Thus her new take on the Dance of the Seven Veils is totally thrilling.

Some critics have said the demands on the performer in the role of Salome make it impossible for anyone to be completely satisfactory in the role. It’s claimed that the vocal demands of singing over the strident brass and heavy orchestration written by Strauss make it impossible for the performer to still look like a teenage Judean princess. I’ve seen Salome perhaps six times before this production and till now I’d always felt the great Anna Silja, who’d I’d seen in Vienna in 1967 was the best.

Opera Australia, in another great example of casting, has been fortunate to score the amazing Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Despite her Swedish sounding name, this soprano is American but has performed the role of Salome to overwhelming applause and superlative reviews in many countries. If we’d done curtain calls the old-fashioned way there might have been 20 for Miss Lindstrom. Such was the reception she received from the opening night audience who were acknowledging that this was as fine a Salome as they were ever likely to see and hear anywhere in the world. Bravo Diva !

Opera is the most demanding of all live arts. So many pieces have to fall in perfect place to produce an unforgettable evening.

Alexander Krasnov making his OA debut as Jochanaan produced all the power and resonance, both singing and acting that this role demands.

In another bit of perfect casting Andreas Conrad from Germany, making his Sydney debut for OA was an absolutely perfect King Herod. Physically fitting this famously depraved character and with the voice that went with it, he was excellent.

Amongst a strong support I particularly enjoyed Gennadi Dubinsky as a soldier and the always immaculate Sian Pendry as a slave.

Victor Grynberg

The bickering amongst the religious leaders, the five Jews and the Nazarenes did not seem out of place even today. In that group, I commend Virgilio Marino, Brad Cooper, Benjamin Rasheed, Tomas Dalton, Andrew Moran, Alexander Hargreaves, David Parkin and Christopher Hillier. It’s a strong company that can cast so many strong performers.

Teaming with director Edwards and re-staging director Andy Morton is celebrated choreographer Kellie Abbey. Again her great background in musicals gives great strength in the theatrical way she has put together an entrancing Dance of the Seven Veils.

Full appreciation should be shown to those background creators who make an opera look great. A wonderful red coloured set by Brian Thomson, costumes by Julie Lynch and lighting by John Rayment. Another production that could be packed up on a plane and staged at La Scala, Covent Garden or anywhere where great opera is staged.

This score by Strauss has none of the sweetness and lilting melodies of his most famous opera Der Rosenkavalier . Yet it is a brilliant score, full of exciting sounds. Johannes Fritzsch, well known to many from his long role as Chief Conductor of the QSO led an invigorated orchestra with all the drive the music demands.

Finally , BLOODY. If you know the story you’ll understand. If you don’t, your visit to the opera will reveal all. A very bloody last scene, and at the same time an extraordinarily erotic and exotic one. An overwhelming triumph especially for Lise Lindstrom . Perhaps the greatest Salome opera has ever had.

Bloody fantastic

5 stars


Joan Sutherland Theatre

March 6 2019



One Response to “Salome: an opera review by Victor Grynberg”
  1. Gary Luke says:

    A trivial historical note – three very different interpretations of Salome were staged in the mid 1970s in Sydney. The Opera Company’s production in the Opera House (lead follow spot, me). Lindsay Kemp and company staged “Flowers” and his version of “Salome” (lighting desk operator, me). And the third was was Oscar Wild’s script at the re-opening of the Burley Griffin ampitheatre in Castlecrag (lighting designer & operator, me).

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