Oscar Wildes dramatic study in necrophilia and general perversion, Salom, was originally written in French, a language the author regarded as more suitable for so shocking a subject. It came out in 1893, to be published then English with the famous illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley in 1894. Strausss version set to music, first performed in Dresden in 1905, inevitably caused considerable scandal, and even today comes across as very strong. However, such was the power of the orchestration and the relentless vigour of the drama that the work soon entered the standard repertory, the title role becoming a component of almost every dramatic sopranos armoury, and Strauss bought his splendid villa at Garmisch on the proceeds.

The cast here is of the first order. Siegfried Jerusalem, as Herod, incestuously married to a woman who is both his niece and widow of his half-brother, most convincingly communicates all the essential skulking treachery and lecherousness of that deplorably weak character. The women of the Herodian dynasty were notoriously depraved, Herodias being about the worst; Doris Soffel, with strong and steady voice, chillingly portrays the vicious bloodthirstiness of that terrible female. Jochanaans nobility and implacable contempt for the females of the royal family are admirably conveyed by Albert Dohmen, the distinguished Wagnerian baritone.

Poor Salome who is only 15 stands very little chance coming from such a dysfuntional environment, engulfed as she is in her mothers irredeemable wickedness and stepfathers oppressive concupiscence. In the last scene, set around the severed head of John the Baptist, in which she lurches violently from tender lyricism to savage eroticism and implacable gloating, the audience peers into the recesses of derangement, not like that in the charming mad scenes of Lucia, Elvira or Ophlie of the century before, but the real thing, and very disturbing it is. The role calls for the highest dramatic and vocal talents, and here Silvie Valayre, the young French soprano, with rock-firm and ringing delivery soaring over the densest orchestration, could not be bettered.

Dietfred Bernet, conducting the Orchestra dellAccademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia in the place of the indisposed Myung-Whun Chung, steered with unfailing assurance and perfect timing through the score, with all that particular loudness, gaudiness and sensuality which Strauss here demands.

Auditorium-Parco della Musica, Viale P. de Coubertin, tel. 068082058-0680242350/1. Performances in concert form, 18, 20 and 23 Nov.

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