Salome is one of the most controversial operas ever written. Indeed, it was banned in Britain for a long time, and still has the capacity to shock. This afternoon, we are very fortunate to have Opera North’s concert production of Salome, which has had rave reviews in Leeds, in the perfect acoustic of Perth Concert Hall for its only Scottish performance. However, the audience aren’t shocked: they are enthralled at a superb performance of Strauss’s great opera.
Of course, it may help that this is a concert performance, so there are no bloody props or nude dances of the seven veils on show: just great singing and great acting. Often, a good concert performance of an opera is better than a badly staged one, because it enables us to concentrate on the music, the singing, and the acting of the singers, as they seek to convey the narrative.
Salome is really a vehicle for a great dramatic soprano, indeed without a good Salome there is no opera. We are therefore very fortunate to have one of the best Salomes around, the young American soprano, Jennifer Holloway, who is originally a mezzo soprano but is now moving into soprano roles. This is really important, as she has both the range of voice and the power to carry off this most demanding role, where she is on stage and singing straight through for 1 hour 45 minutes.
Not only does she sing the role wonderfully, with amazing power and melody, but she acts it superbly too, just using a few gestures to convey desire, hate and fury: it is a superlative performance. She is ably backed up by Dutch tenor, Arnold Bezuyen, as her step father Herod, who lusts after her (and in the end has her killed); by her mother, Herodias, played by Katerina Karneus, a previous winner of the Cardiff Singer of The World; by a superb Jokanaan, sung by well-established English tenor, Robert Hayward; and by a fine young singer, Oliver Johnston, as Narraboth.
All the minor parts are well sung and acted, despite the limited space on the stage. Special mention must be given to the superb orchestra of Opera North, under the experienced baton of Sir Richard Armstrong, the latter known to many of us as a past musical director of Scottish Opera. In the end, Salome is a great opera because it has great music, and that’s what we hear this afternoon: we are very lucky to be here.