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Review: Opera North’s production of Salome, Leeds Town Hall

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I have to confess to experiencing some difficulty with Richard Strauss’ music. I can’t explain, for example, why I find the Four Last Songs searing and unforgettable; Der Rosenkavalier charming and hypnotic, yet Salome simply fails to thrill.

Opera North’s 2018 concert version is, as usual, magnificently played by a vast orchestra on the Leeds Town Hall stage under the expressive baton of Sir Richard Armstrong.

He extracts from the score the exoticism of Herod’s court and the erotic charge that so scandalised audiences in the early 20th century.

The singing, led by Opera North debutant Jennifer Holloway, is excellent.

As Salome, she is powerful and convincing. Jennifer Holloway is predicted to have a great future in front of her and it easy to see why. By turns, she is disdainful of the Captain of the Guard, Narraboth (sung by Oliver Johnson); baffled by her failure to ensnare Jokanaan or John the Baptist (Robert Hayward); seductive in her temptation of Herod (Arnold Bezuyen)

However, for once, the choice of this opera for a concert staging seems to me to be misguided after the many triumphs of recent years.

Without the use of props, director PJ Harris denies us the Grand Guignol effect of Salome kissing the mouth of John the Baptist’s severed head.

Equally, turning the Dance of the Seven Veils into an orchestral interlude robs the audience of a key dramatic moment in the story.

Salome is touring until May 16.

Dates include Sage, Gateshead, on Saturday May 5 at 7.30pm; Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Thursday May 10 at 7.30pm and Hull City Hall on Wednesday May 16 at 7.30pm.

The company returns to Leeds Grand Theatre with Tosca which runs from September 16 to November 16.

Puccini’s melodrama of lust and love, of cruelty and self-sacrifice, of freedom and repression, portrays human relationships at their best and at their worst with uncompromising force.