The house was full on a Tuesday night for the third of eight performances of Strauss’s Salome. And I wonder if the audience was wondering the same thing I was: “I guess Salome wears a new dress with every show,” as her dress is covered in the dripping blood of the severed head of Jochanaan in what was, to me, the most striking visual in a show rife with overstimulation for your retinas.
Salome is a one-act opera, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s play, and tells the story of a girl who lives with her perverse and shameless stepfather, Herod, and her imperious mother, Herodias. Salome’s desire for the imprisoned Jochanaan is mirrored by a soldier’s tortured infatuation for her, and Herod’s own lust for his stepdaughter. Consumed by misguided passions, the family is inevitably torn apart by its destructive obsessions.
This Spring, as I’ve noted about Lucia di Lammermoor, the COC is debuting phenomenal talent from around the world on our home stage. And this production of Salome does not disappoint. In the titular role, Swedish-American soprano Erika Sunnegård is completely transformed from the head shot in the program to an unrecognizable girl consumed by passion and a darkness that is near terrifying.
Johanne Debus directs Strauss’s haunting score and every pause and staccato is enough to leave you hanging at the edge of your seat. You might almost close your eyes to heighten the intensity. You might also close your eyes because visually what was happening on stage was completely not working. Direction is so pivotal in any performance and overall direction drills down to costuming, staging, lighting and all visual aspects.
I will admit I am not a fan of Egoyan’s recent film and stage works. The staging here reminded me a lot of Cruel and Tender, which I also did not enjoy. I find Egoyan’s aim for shock value incredibly dated and perhaps the theatre community of Toronto is different than it once was, but regardless of my age and the septuagenarian to my right, no one was the least taken aback by the simulated fellatio on stage. Frankly, I was more taken aback by Hanna Schwarz’s (Herodias) ability to wear stilletos on the needlessly graded stage.
This is the second production this season that has integrated video elements into the performance, the other being Tristan and Isolde. I feel that the screen elements in both productions detract from the actors and have not integrated well on stage. Both productions phenomenally well acted and well sung, but that’s where the production similarities stop. On the upside, Salome is only one hour and 40 minutes, so if you are looking to lose yourself in the music and still want to know how the Leafs first playoff game in nine years ends, this just might be your ticket. Salome is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for five more shows until May 22.
For tickets, please visit coc.ca