To La Monnaie this evening to see and hear Richard Strauss’s revolutionary Salome. Unfortunately, Scott Hendricks, whom we had seen and admired at la Monnaie two years ago in his brilliant interpretation of Macbeth, was ill but nevertheless bravely mimed his portrayal of Jochanaan. Martin Zehetgruber’s mise en scène places the action in a Beirut-like modern Middle East bunker, with bullet-riddled walls and repair work still under way. Twitchily nervous body guards stalk the perimeter whilst their masters meet and eat (though I do wish there could be a moratorium on the use of sunglasses and machine guns in modern interpretations of operas) at a banquet table configured to echo the last supper. The director, Guy Joosten, brings three innovations to the production. First, the playing of a stolen home-made DVD leads us to understand that Herod’s infatuation with his step-daughter extended back to her childhood and that child abuse (hinted at again by a throwaway visual reference to Kubrik’s Lolita) may both explain Salome’s decline into madness and why, despite all his misgivings, Herod is prepared to give her Jochanaan’s head. Second, following a desperate struggle, Narraboth seems to be shot by Salome, rather than by his own hand (suicide is a diplomatic cover), thus pre-announcing her precipitous descent into murderous madness. Third (though maybe I am wrong on this – I have Aubrey Beardsley’s depiction in mind), Salome is portrayed not as a dark-haired, sultry temptress but as a blonde-haired, faintly scatty teaser (sung excellently by Nicola Beller Carbone this evening). There is, quite deliberately, little sensuality in this production (the DVD replaces the dance of the seven veils, for example). Rather, grubbiness and growing madness replace morals. The famous music (conducted by Carlo Rizzi) washes back and forth like a silk screen brush and Hendricks’s Jochanaan looms like a rock onto which all ships are driven.