Salome, Opera by R. Strauss
Richard Strauss’ one act opera, Salome, provides proof, if any were needed, that its composer was an inveterate risk-taker. Already in hot water with the critics (although tellingly not the public) over his last opera, Feuersnot, for its frank contemplation of sexual behaviour, Salome, which includes the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils, saw Strauss pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable for the stage further still.
Premiered at the Dresden Hofoper (now known as the Semperoper) on 9 December 1905, Salome was nonetheless an immediate hit, drawing rapturous applause and no less than thirty-eight curtain calls from the audience on its opening night. Despite its early success across much of Europe, Salome was initially barred from the Vienna State Opera, much to the chagrin of its director, Gustav Mahler.
Based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, Strauss’ Salome is a woman whose power over men is exceeded only by her brutality. She toys with the captain of the guard, Narraboth, who is besotted with her, to the point that he commits suicide after seeing her attempts to seduce the prophet, Jochanaan (John the Baptist). Jochanaan is in prison, having denounced the marriage of Salome’s mother, Herodias, to Herodes, the Tetrarch of Judea and Perea. Salome exacts revenge on Jochanaan, seemingly the only man who can resist her, by demanding a price that even a ruthless ruler like Herod would rather not pay.
Strauss’ composition is completely in tune with his characterisation, and particularly in his portrayal of Salome: an unrelenting and uncompromising exploration of polytonality which perfectly conveys the sense of attraction and revulsion we feel when we come face to face with the archetypal femme fatale.