Sunday, 29 April 2018

Only Jokanaan, squire

And so to the opera. I have been to see Opera North's concert staging of Salomé, which I found curiously unengaging for all the technical merits of the performances. Last year I saw the original play and didn’t enjoy that much either so I suspect that my issue is with Wilde rather than Strauss. It’s full of the bad (Herod, Herodias), the deranged (Narraboth, John the Baptist) and those who are both (our title character), which all gets rather wearing after a while, even in operatic form.

The narrative arc – spoilt rich girl insists on getting her own way but then gets her comeuppance as well – is familiar enough. Offsetting it with the Baptist’s moral monomania and misogyny ought to provide more drama than it does. Herod seems to be hedging his bets between appeasing his wife’s anger and not doing anything too extreme in case John’s revelations from God are real; modern audiences will probably just be wondering whereabouts on the autistic scale the soi disant prophet sits.

In this production the dance of the seven veils takes place off stage. Just as it became apparent that was how they were going to do it a chap across the aisle got up and left. Sadly, rather than being a dirty old man storming out because he felt short changed by the lack of nudity, he turned out to only have gone to the toilet and shortly returned.  As Opera North – who have no aversion to their sopranos getting their kit off  – shied away from it, let’s have Ken Russell’s version. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not Strauss’s music and nor is it suitable for viewing at work:

The name of the dance isn’t of course mentioned in the bible and originates with Wilde’s 1891 play. I have recently re-read Umberto Eco’s ‘Name of the Rose’, set in the fourteenth century. William of Baskerville refers while in conversation with Adso of Melk to ‘the dance of the seven veils’ performed by Salomé. Given the author’s vast erudition and sense of irony one must assume that this is a deliberate in-joke rather than a mistake.

“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means..." - Umberto Eco

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