Music and Vision homepage



Emotional claustrophobia

A concert performance of Strauss's 'Salomé',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


'There's enough material here for a whole conference' said the visiting psychologist in an episode of Fawlty Towers. Had he stepped into the world of Salomé he might well have felt that he had his entire career mapped out. Strauss's opera is a study in rancid obsession and emotional claustrophobia. What with Peter Bronder's finicky, schoolmasterish Herod and Anne-Marie Owens's stolid, domineering and permanently sour-faced Herodias, it's no wonder Susan Bullock's Salomé is desperate to get out. Bullock, rightly, presented a character who was more lost child than super-bitch, trying to escape the family frying-pan only to end up in the fire of a teenage crush on the prophet Jokanaan. She suggested depths of tenderness that might have surfaced in different circumstances (I hadn't noticed before how much of the score prefigures some of the love music in Der Rosenkavalier, lending weight to Michael Kennedy's contention that the two operas would have been no different if Der Rosenkavalier had been written first), and she was completely tuned out and in a world of her own after kissing the dead Jokanaan's mouth. The whole of her culminating monologue, in fact, was mesmerising, the result of a carefully-paced approach to the role.

Susan Bullock. Photo © Sussie Ahlburg
Susan Bullock. Photo © Sussie Ahlburg

If, as a recent Musical Times article asserts, Strauss intended to make Jokanaan a figure of fun, then as far as I'm concerned he failed. Yes, in his way the prophet is just as obsessed as the rest of them, but Daniel Sumegi gave him a chilling, aloof authority. Leonardo Capalbo's Narraboth was suitably ardent -- an idealist eventually crushed by disillusion.

Richard Farnes. Photo © Bill Cooper
Richard Farnes. Photo © Bill Cooper

But let's face it, none of the characters in Salomé is exactly three-dimensional (with the arguable part-exception of Salomé herself). Strauss was more interested in getting on with the story and telling it with all the vocal and orchestral relish at his command. So I didn't miss the visual element in Opera North's concert version as much as I might have expected. As someone behind me commented at the end, it forced you to concentrate on the music, and that was not short-changed in any way. Vocally there was not a single weak link, the Orchestra of Opera North played with both energy and a seductive sheen to the sound, and the whole experience was compellingly shaped by conductor Richard Farnes.

Copyright © 8 February 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


The performance reviewed took place on 2 February 2006 at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK. One further performance of Opera North's Salomé takes place at 7.30pm on Friday 10 February 2006 at The Sage, Gateshead, UK. Further details of Opera North performances at

 << M&V home       Ensemble home        Georgia Mancio >>