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Salome, by Richard Strauss


Opéra Bastille / Paris / Music

You may remember Salome as the psychodrama of a Biblical princess who sheds seven veils for her lewd stepfather and demands in return the head of John the Baptist. “Spectacularly uninteresting,” sniffs the hot American director Lydia Steier, who in her debut with the Paris Opera presents the heroine not as the “weak little girl” of tradition but as “a revolutionary” hell-bent on destroying the decadent culture that surrounds her, an interpretation inspired by the “strong, spectacular presence” of the South African soprano Elza van den Heever in the title role. At least, so Steier informs us in a promotional video, though you might not get her message from the grim horror show she has staged in a concrete air shaft and peopled with masses of flamboyant exhibitionists. True, Van den Heever cuts an unusually Junoesque figure in the title role, no doubt more Symbionese Liberation Army than Lolita. Still, there’s no squaring either Oscar Wilde’s original play nor the musical setting by Richard Strauss with Steier’s agenda. Instead of the climactic striptease, we see an impassive Salome’s undergarments (though not her dress) removed by her lascivious stepfather, whom she proceeds to mount with abandon, only to be gang-raped by a small army of extras. Paris audiences are cheering Van den Heever to the rafters, whether for her intermittently thrilling singing or her brinkmanship in the sordid shenanigans who can say. —M.G.

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