The image of the moon plays a central role in Strauss’ Salome. Through repeated references in the libretto, it comes to represent notions of chastity, madness, voyeurism, fate and fear. So it is ironic that it was the moon that proved the downfall of Robert Carsen’s production of Salome in Turin. When, in the Teatro Regio’s new production of Turandot last month, a suspended model of the moon came unstuck, falling and injuring two chorus members, stringent security measures were put in place. Carsen’s production of Salome was subsequently dropped, with revival director Laurie Feldman stepping in to provide a semi-staging.

Erika Sunnegårdh (Salome) © Rammella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino
Erika Sunnegårdh (Salome)
© Rammella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

This might have been an opportunity to do something fresh, by stripping a work of stark psychology to its bare bones. Feldman opts for a black, brightly-lit stage featuring nothing for props save a small number of chairs. These are occupied by an entourage of male singers in dinner jackets and black shirts that play assorted roles including the five Jews, the soldiers and the Nazarenes. Largely motionless throughout, their constant presence is mainly irritating, and the suggestive, shadowy world that Feldman strives for never materialises.

The small number of interventions the director does make add little but often present difficulties. Minor details like having Herod slip not over blood but a jacket are gimmicky if inoffensive. Much more problematic is Feldman’s liberal reinterpretation of the “Dance of the Seven Veils”, which distorts the drama. That there is no dancing here (placing Salome under a spotlight merely creates a expectations that are never fulfilled) deprives the scene of sensuousness. And the narrative that the director chooses to spin, with Salome appearing to be molested by the male singers before sitting briefly on Herod’s lap, fails to explain why Herod feels obliged to give her what she covets most, even if it does turn the murder of Jochanaan into a more general rally against sexual predation. When the spotlight moves onto Herodias, who stares on motionless, is this supposed to signal consent of her daughter’s attempts to seduce her husband? Feldman gives us few clues, and poses more questions than she answers.

Joshua Sanders (Second Nazarene), Doris Soffel (Erodiade) and Robert Brubaker (Erode) © Ramella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino
Joshua Sanders (Second Nazarene), Doris Soffel (Erodiade) and Robert Brubaker (Erode)
© Ramella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

With so little to enjoy onstage, this performance requires a unanimously strong set of performances from the principal cast. We did not get one. Tommi Hakala was appropriately ecstatic as Jochanaan, and Doris Soffel made the best impression as a hard-hearted Herodias, but Robert Brubaker’s seedy Herod struggled badly with this demanding role’s high notes. When he spends much of the evening under a spotlight and staring at Salome, we needed to feel his lust more intensely.

Salome is one of Erika Sunnegårdh’s signature roles. Her tone sounded as bright as ever, but it was surprisingly difficult to hear the soprano over the orchestra. Most of all, hers was a performance lacking in venom, so that we did not feel the fervour in Salome’s pleas to Narraboth, nor her rage at being rejected by Jochanaan. The often potent attraction between Salome and Jochanaan was limp here, which robbed the work’s gory denouement of perversity. And Sunnegårdh barely looked at the severed head during her final solo, which hardly helped.

Erika Sunnegårdh (Salome) © Ramella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino
Erika Sunnegårdh (Salome)
© Ramella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

Even Gianandrea Noseda, this production’s biggest pull after the loss of Carsen, failed to convince. He drew pockets of fine playing, including an alluring “Dance of the Seven Veils” and a final climax that was properly exciting. But the conductor took a piledriver to the higher-octane sections of music, and the lusher passages that tend to follow rarely bloomed naturally. This was all in all a dispiriting performance, and one devoid of lunar magic.