Richard Strauss saw the infamous play Salome
by Oscar Wilde in Berlin in 1903 and immediately set to work on an opera. The composer was attracted by the Christian biblical tale, the magic exotica of the Orient, the torrid eroticism, the keen dramatic conflict and, of course, the main heroine, the Jewish princess Salome. Having a lust for Jokanaan (John the Baptist), she performs the ecstatic Dance of the Seven Veils, for which she demands from King Herod the severed head of the prophet on a silver platter. The score of Salome
is written with amazingly masterful skill: a very large orchestra conveys every nuance of the heroine’s mixed feelings – from admiration to aversion, from lust for life to the dark of death.
Salome’s first performance in Dresden in 1905 caused quite a sensation, and the opera became the apotheosis of music modernism. Along with Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and Strauss’ Electra (1909) Salome ushered in a new era in the arts. Salome is emphatically a work of genius, one of the greatest masterworks of our time, wrote the great composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, who was Strauss’ contemporary and friend.
Stage Director Ekaterina Odegova
Richard Strauss’ Salome is not limited to the well-known Christian biblical story about the salacious dancer who killed the Prophet out of mere freak. Salome and Jokanaan are two virgins, two great poles of the epoch; through them Strauss shows the conjugacy of the old and new worlds, of body and soul. The two beautiful and terrifying meetings of Salome -with Jokanaan and with his head – and the dance for Herod which lies between them become the three steps of Salome’s ascent: from the stunning burn with love she did not know before, through maximal revealing of her sensuality during the dance and the elimination of love with a kiss in the amorous ecstasy of the finale. She is like the moon that has many faces: a cold and innocent moon with amber colored eyes; a nude, hysterical, bibacious moon looking for lovers; a bloody moon, which finally calms down and vanishes in the dark nocturnal night, and only Jokanaan’s hair is darker.
“Salomé dances the dance of the seven veils” – this line from Wilde’s play Strauss converts into a 9-minute music masterpiece and one of the culminations of this opera. The same can be said about the finale: two pages of the text turn into a twenty-minute musical ecstasy. The Prophet’s head is not the final point of Salome’s path. She blows up the corporal boundaries and, at last, can understand the “mystery of love”, which is bigger than the “mystery of death”. The story of Salome is the last supper fatal to Herod's kingdom; Eros and Tanatos merge at the table.
In Russia the opera was produced four times: in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1924, 1995 and 2000 and in Moscow in 1925. So, the Novaya Opera’s production comes along in a very special year – the 110th anniversary of the opera’s world premiere and the 90th anniversary of its first Moscow performance.
The Novaya Opera’s production of Salome was premiered in September 2015.