- Salome (opera)
The opera is famous (at the time of its release, infamous) for its "Dance of the Seven Veils". It is now better known for the more shocking final scene (often a concert-piece for
dramatic sopranos), where Salome makes necrophilic love to the severed head of John the Baptist.
It was first performed at the
Hofoperin Dresdenon December 9 1905. "Salome" is a well-established part of the operatic repertoire; there are numerous recordings of it.
:Time: A moonlit night early in the First Century AD.:Place: A great terrace off of Herod's palace at
Tiberiason Lake Galilee, Judea; Herod's birthday party is in progress.
Narraboth gazes from a terrace in Herod's palace into the banquet hall at the beautiful Princess Salome; he is in love with her, and apostrophizes her, much to the disgustful fearfulness of the Page of Herodias. The voice of the Prophet Jochanaan is heard from his prison in the palace cistern; Herod fears him and has ordered that no one should contact him, including Jerusalem's High Priest.
Tired of the feast and its guests, Salome flees to the terrace. When she hears Jochanaan cursing her mother (Herodias), Salome's curiosity is piqued. The palace guards will not honor her petulant orders to fetch Jochanaan for her, so she teasingly works on Narraboth to bring Jochanaan before her. Despite the orders he has received from Herod, Narraboth finally gives in after she promises to smile at him.
Jochanaan emerges from the cistern and shouts prophesies regarding Herod and Herodias that no one understands, except Salome when the Prophet refers to her mother. Upon seeing Jochanaan, Salome is filled with an overwhelming desire for him, praising his white skin but he rejects her. She then praises his black hair and is rejected once more. She finally begs for a kiss from Jochanaan's lips, and Narraboth, who cannot bear to hear this, kills himself. As Jochanaan is returned to the well, he preaches salvation through the Messiah.
Herod enters, followed by his wife and court. He slips in Narraboth's blood and starts hallucinating. He hears the beating of wings. Despite Herodias' objections, Herod stares lustfully at Salome, who rejects him. Jochanaan harasses Herodias from the well, calling her incestuous marriage to Herod sinful. She demands that Herod silence him. Herod refuses, and she mocks his fear. Five Jews argue concerning the nature of God. Two Nazarenes tell of Christ's miracles; at one point they bring up the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which Herod finds frightening.
Herod asks for Salome to eat with him, drink with him; indolently, she twice refuses, saying she is not hungry or thirsty. Herod then begs Salome to dance for him, "Tanz für mich, Salome," though her mother objects. He promises to reward her with her heart's desire — even if it were one-half of his kingdom.
After Salome inquires into his promise, and he swears to honor it, she prepares for the
Dance of the Seven Veils. This dance, very oriental in orchestration, has her slowly removing her seven veils, until she lies naked at his feet. Salome then demands the head of the prophet on a silver platter. Her mother cackles in pleasure. Herod tries to dissuade her with offers of jewels, peacocks, and the sacred veil of the Temple. Salome remains firm in her demand for Jochanaan's head, forcing Herod to concede to her demands. After a desperate monologue by Salome, the head of the prophet is brought up out of the well and presented to Salome as she requested.
In one of the most voluptuously gorgeous musical love scenes ever written, Salome makes love to the severed head, finally kissing the prophet's lips passionately. Disgusted, the terrified and superstitious Herod then orders his soldiers to kill Salome.
Strauss scored Salome for a large orchestra (even larger than Wagner's), but was very specific about how many instruments should play each part. In the strings there are 16 first and 16 second
violins, 10-12 violas, 10 violoncellos and 8 double basses. The woodwinds include 3 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 1 cor anglais, 1 Heckelphone, 1 E flat clarinet, 2 B flat clarinets, 2 A clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons and a contrabassoon. The brass section contains 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 Trombones, and 1 Tuba. The exceptionally large percussion section (requiring 8-9 players) contains 4 large kettledrums, a small kettledrum, a triangle, a pair of cymbals, a side drum, a tamtam, a bass drum, a tambourine, a xylophone, castanets and a carillonor glockenspiel. The orchestra is completed with 2 harps, a celesta, a harmoniumand organ (the last two offstage).
The role of Salome
The vocal demands of Salome are the same as those of an
Isolde, Brünnhildeor Turandotin that, ideally, the role requires the volume, stamina and power of a true dramatic soprano. The common theme of these four roles is the difficulty in casting an ideal soprano that has a truly dramatic voice as well as being able to look and behave like a teenager (the general age of Salome and the aforementioned three characters).
In addition to the vocal and physical demands, the role also calls for the agility and gracefulness of a prima donna ballerina when performing the opera's famous "Dance of the Seven Veils". Finding one individual with all of these qualities is extremely daunting. Nevertheless,
Maria Cebotari, Ljuba Welitsch, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Montserrat Caballé, Anja Silja, Phyllis Curtin, Karan Armstrong, Teresa Stratas(on film), Cheryl Studer(on record), Dame Gwyneth Jones, Catherine Malfitano, Hildegarde Behrens, Maria Ewingand Karita Mattilaare among the most memorable who have tackled the role in the last half-century. Each of these singers has brought her own spin to the title character.
Perhaps the most famous recording of the opera is
Georg Solti's Decca recording with Birgit Nilssongiving an awesomely dramatic performance in the title role.Fact|date=May 2008 Due to the complexity of the role's demands, some of its performers have had a purely vocal focus by opting to leave the dancing to stand-ins who are professional dancers. Others have opted to combine the two and perform the dance themselves, which is closer to Strauss' intentions. In either case, at the end of the "Dance of the Seven Veils", some sopranos (or their stand-ins) wear a body stocking under the veils, while others (notably Mattila and Ewing) have opted not to wear one.
As for the required vocal-range of the title role, it is an extraordinary case: The highest note is the high B, not irregular for a soprano or mezzo-soprano to sing, while the lowest note is a low G-flat, in the alto-range and officially below the standard range for a mezzo-soprano. Considering this range, which is similar to many mezzo roles such as "Carmen" and "Amneris", one might assume that a high soprano is not essential to the piece, but it is; most of the relatively low sopranos who attempted this role found themselves straining their voices throughout the opera, and having reached the closing scene (the most important part of the opera for the title role) were very fatigued. This role is the classic example of the difference between tessitura and absolute range: While mezzos can perform a high note (like "Carmen"), or even temporarily sustain a high tessitura, it is impossible for a singer to spend such a long time (with the needed strength and breath-control) in the second octave above the middle C unless she is a high soprano. Moreover, the low G-flat occurs twice in the opera, and in both cases it is in pp, more of a theatrical effect than music and can be growled instead of sung. The other low notes required are no lower than low A-natural, and they are also quiet.
The combination of the
biblicaltheme, the eroticand the murderous which so attracted Wilde to the tale shocked opera audiences from its first appearance. The original performers were very reluctant to handle the material as written, it was banned in Londonby the Lord Chamberlain's office until 1907, and Gustav Mahlercould not gain the consent of the Viennacensor to have it performed, but it was eventually premiered in 1918. When it did premiere in London under Thomas Beecham, it was modified, much to Beecham's annoyance and later amusement. In New York, the premiere was suppressed by wealthy patrons, who entreated the visiting Edward Elgarto lead the objections to the work. Elgar refused point-blank, stating that Strauss was "the greatest genius of the age". [Liner notes to "Salome" Nilsson, Stolze, Vienna Philharmonic/ Sir George Solti, Decca Records]
The two versions of Salome
Oscar Wilde originally wrote his "Salome" in French. Strauss saw the play in Lachmann's version and immediately set to work on the opera. It is rumored that even Wilde saw the musical potential of "Salome" but there is no confirmation as to any intentions of having it turned into an opera.
Strauss composed the opera in German and that is the version that has become widely known. However Strauss made an alternate version in French, which is less known today, although
Kent Naganorecorded it on Virgin Classics with Karen Huffstodtin the title role and José van Damas Jochanaan.
Succès de scandale
* [http://www.amadeusonline.net/almanacco.php?Start=0&Giorno=9&Mese=12&Anno=1905&Giornata=&Testo=&Parola=Stringa Amadeus Almanac, accessed 26 August 2008]
Norman Del Mar(1962). "Richard Strauss". London: Barrie & Jenkins. ISBN 0-214-15735-0.
* [http://salome.zuvy.net/ "Salomé in Low Land"] A ten minute animated version in videogame style starring
Birgit Nilsson(a modern pixel opera)
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.