Wexford Festival Opera review: Salomé

A new production that is inert and lacklustre

Na’ama Goldman and Igor Golovatenko. Photograph: Eric Luke

Na’ama Goldman and Igor Golovatenko. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Salomé ***

Antoine Mariotte was not the first composer, and won’t be the last, to set a text without first acquiring the rights. His misfortune was extreme. He began setting Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in the original French, around the same time Richard Strauss began his setting in German.

But Strauss took the precaution of securing exclusive rights, and Mariotte found himself in an internationally reported legal quagmire, at the mercy of Strauss and his publishers when it came to permission for performances.

For more than a century now, Mariotte’s Salomé has also been at the mercy of public opinion and the managements of opera houses, and their verdict has not been kind. The enduring musical treatment of Salomé to come out of France in the first decade of the 20th century was not Mariotte’s but Florent Schmitt’s music for the ballet La tragédie de Salomé, which has been heard in both Dublin and Belfast within the last 10 years.

Mariotte seems to have known that his Salomé would live in an atmosphere of brooding and foreboding, and he wanted to draw his listeners into a world of decadent mystery and mysterious decadence.

His well-thought-out, late-romantic orchestration is his most effective tool. His harmony is often cliched, particularly in meanderings through the whole-tone scale that sound merely anchorless. His vocal writing is undistinguished. And he seems too beholden to the words to allow his music take full command of them.

The new Wexford production is inert and lacklustre. Director Rosetta Cucchi even forgoes the presentation of Iokanaan’s head. It’s not until halfway through that we encounter in Scott Wilde’s Hérode and Nora Sourouzian’s Hérodias singers who can consistently ride over the richness of the Wexford Festival Orchestra under David Angus. Na’ama Goldman’s Salomé doesn’t get into her groove until far too late. Even the famous dance is limp, as Nicolas Slonimsky put it (get your dictionary out, now), suggesting “orectic aprosexia rather than erotic parorexia”. Wexford Festival Opera runs until Sunday, Nov 2