The première of this new production of Salome was the centrepiece of a Richard Strauss weekend at Oper Leipzig featuring revivals of Arabella and Die Frau ohne Schatten, with roles taken by the house ensemble and regular guests, and all three conducted by the Music Director Ulf Schirmer. Before the performance there was a short tribute to the designer rosalie who had died a few days before. The programme book also commemorated the late Endrik Wottrich, originally cast as Herod.

Elisabet Strid (Salome) © Kirsten Nijhof
Elisabet Strid (Salome)
© Kirsten Nijhof

In the title role of Salome was the Swedish jugendlich dramatisch soprano Elisabet Strid making her role debut. Her 'blond' Scandinavian soprano and youthful looks made a great impact as the psychotic princess. From her first, hyperactive entry she convinced as the teenager with attitude manipulating all those around her to get her way. Strid has already sung the Siegfried Brünnhilde in this house and her voice is at the lyric end of the dramatic spectrum. She uses the text vividly with a pure legato, and is able to hone down her sizeable voice to an almost child-like whiteness for phrases such as “Ich bin nicht hungrig, Tetrarch”.

© Kirsten Nijhof
© Kirsten Nijhof

In Aron Stiehl's production and Ramses Stigl's choreography, Salome stage manages The Dance of the Seven Veils, as a play within a play like The Mousetrap in Hamlet. Dancers in cartoon-like masks take the parts of the dysfunctional Herod family, while the real Herod films it with his mobile. A very young Salome in party princess frock is pampered by Herod with a teddy bear, whose head she promptly tears off. The older Salome waltzes smoozily with her stepfather, arousing him to a frenzy, released by oral sex behind a convenient pile of rubble.

After the presentation of the head by a disembodied red arm appearing from the cistern, Salome wraps herself in a comfort blanket, and in a state of almost child-like transfiguration and fulfilment, Strid's voice fully encompassed the extremes of the last scene from silvery filigree in phrases such as “und wenn ich dich ansah, hörte ich geheimnisvolle Musik”, the darker register of “Das Geheimnis der Liebe its größer als das Geheimnis des Todes” through to the final ecstatic outburst “Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst, Jochanaan. Ich habe ihn geküsst, deinen Mund”.

Tuomas Pursio (Jochanaan) © Kirsten Nijhof
Tuomas Pursio (Jochanaan)
© Kirsten Nijhof

Her thwarted seduction, very physical, of Jochanaan was all the more credible for his being played by the tall, handsome Tuomas Pursio, almost too stentorian and vigorous of voice, and dangerously susceptible to her. As the medallion man Herod, pawing and groping any passing female, the powerful Heldentenor of Michael Weinius exuded a dangerous depravity and authority. As Herodias, Karin Lovelius avoided the exaggerated caricature from which the role can suffer with a well-placed, lyric mezzo. Fuelled by drugs and alcohol she took her own pleasures with the palace guards.

rosalie designed a huge constructivist zig-zag of a luxury palace, all bling and excess, on the brink of a war-zone in a contemporary Near Eastern state, with craters and a burnt out car in the courtyard. A silver satellite dish served as the moon. The split levels allowed us the see Herod's disco banquet, and formed a pulpit for Jochanaan's denunciations. Atmospherically lit by Michael Röger, the transparent panels turned blood red during the concluding bars and slid apart fully to reveal an Antony Gormley-like dark figure, The Angel of Death.

The supporting cast was uniformly well-sung with a mellifluous Narraboth from Sergey Pisarev and a notable Erster Nazarener from Julian Orlishausen, played as fresh-faced college boy missionary. The subordinate characters and silent extras, with many a random coupling, were deftly handled though making the action at times diffuse on the complex set. However, without imposing any startlingly original concept Stiehl's production focused intensely on the unravelling of Herod's family and Salome's mental journey and fate, killed by a single shot.

Michael Weinius (Herodes) and Karin Lovelius (Herodias) © Kirsten Nijhof
Michael Weinius (Herodes) and Karin Lovelius (Herodias)
© Kirsten Nijhof

With the Gewandhaus Orchester in the pit, Schirmer conducted the opera like a vast symphonic poem, with a unique depth of texture and sonority rather than shimmering exotic colouring, and skilfully balancing orchestra and soloist in the demanding final scene. There were many vivid orchestral touches, however, such as the brittle heartbeats of Salome as she awaits the head on a platter, and for once the low organ pedal notes were audible. It is remarkable that on the previous evening the Gewandhaus was able to field players both for Arabella and a Mendelssohn concert.

Strid received a great ovation and will surely go on to sing the role elsewhere, but not too often or in too large a house. In a touching gesture the producer left a single rose at the footlights in acknowledgment of rosalie.