WHAT was originally announced as a "concert staging" of Strauss's Salome became in the end just a plain concert performance, directed by P J Harris.

Just as well, since all the trappings that had adorned The Ring and Turandot in previous spring seasons at this hall were abandoned, leaving just side-titles and a little trickery with the lighting.

There was no attempt to explain the narrative flow, still less any filmic back-drop. But at least no scores were used. So there was even more of a premium on singers able to act with their voices, a challenge which this team met admirably, guided by the ever-reliable Sir Richard Armstrong, in command of an orchestra not far short of 90.

There is something about Armstrong’s unassuming demeanour that inspires confidence; it is no insult to either man that he looks like an older version of Richard Farnes. His gestures are firm but never over the top and his intentions are always clear. He toned down the schmaltz and kept a steady momentum, while coaxing considerable lushness from his strings. But it was the woodwinds whose stabbing colours and subtle trills really caught the imagination.

We had an experienced Salome in Jennifer Holloway, making her company debut. By her own account, she is moving from mezzo into soprano. That was reflected in her early passages which were tight at the top, as if she were straining for extra power. But she warmed to the task. By the time she began describing her obsession with Jokanaan’s mouth, she had located an altogether smoother, more relaxed tone above the stave, and her closing soliloquy was eerily silky. She left the stage for her dance.

York Press:

Robert Hayward as Jokanaan and Jennifer Holloway as Salome in Opera North's Salome. Picture: Robert Workman  

Robert Hayward’s Jokanaan, looking dazed but determined, having been cavernous from the off-stage "cistern" was positively majestic when he appeared, quite the most fully rounded sound I can remember from him with this company.

Herod and Herodias complemented one another superbly. Arnold Bezuyen’s besotted tetrarch was the epitome of weakness in power, nowhere more so than when trapped in a domestic between his wife and step-daughter.

Another Leeds debutant, he was never afraid to moderate his tone, even resorting to sotto voce, and he caressed his phrases wheedlingly. Like Katarina Karnéus as Herodias, he used a full range of facial expression. She was just as reactive "off the ball", but also sardonic over his excuses, bitterly acidic in rebuke. Their vivid interactions needed no props.

Oliver Johnston’s Narraboth was much more than a cameo, beautifully articulated, with incisive tone, and Heather Lowe’s Page made a strong impression at his side. The quintet of Jews were disciplined as they wrangled. Jamie Hudson’s lighting bathed the brass in scarlet at the beheading, but otherwise there were no extraneous gimmicks. There is a lot to be said for this format. 

Opera North performs Salome at Leeds Town Hall on Sunday, 4pm, and April 25, 7.30pm, then on tour, including Hull City Hall, May 16, 7.30pm. Box office: Leeds, 0)844 848 2720 or at operanorth.co.uk; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk or 01482 300 306​