Richard Strauss's 'Salomé', reviewed by MARIA NOCKIN
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a writer contacted composer Richard Strauss suggesting Oscar Wilde's Salomé as the subject for an opera. When Strauss saw the play performed by Max Reinhardt's company in Hedwig Lachmann's German translation, he liked it very much. Since he preferred the work he had seen to the sample scenes sent by the would-be librettist, he wrote his own lyrics, basing them on the German version of the play, and then proceeded to compose music for them.
Janice Watson as Salomé and Ragnar Ulfung as Herod, in the Santa Fe Opera production of Richard Strauss's 'Salomé'. Photo © 2006 Ken Howard
The opera was first seen on 9 December 1905 in Dresden where censorship was less stringent than in most German cities. At its conclusion, there were thirty-eight curtain calls. In other places, however, there were numerous objections to the subject matter. For example: In Berlin, the title character had to appear to pray for redemption at the end of the opera as the star of Bethlehem appeared in the sky. In Britain, all Bibilical references had to be stricken and the action moved to Greece. There, conductor Sir Thomas Beecham agreed to many changes in the libretto because he knew that the censor did not speak German. When questioned later as to why the changes were not sung, he explained that the singers forgot them. Despite these difficulties, Salomé was presented in fifty venues during its first two years of existence.
Janice Watson as Salomé. Photo © 2006 Ken Howard
On 10 August 2006, Santa Fe Opera presented the once controversial opera in a traditional staging. Designer Neil Patel did not place any more scenery or furniture on stage than was absolutely necessary, but his costumes were luxurious enough to grace the court of an ancient near-eastern potentate.
Copyright © 10 September 2006
Maria Nockin, Arizona USA