STRAUSS, R.: Salome
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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
First the historical background surrounding the Salomestory. The area of Palestine was incorporated into theRoman Empire in 64BC. The new rulers, anxious not tooffend existing local religious sensibilities, decided thatthe Herod family should rule as client kings. Herod theGreat, who ruled from 37BC to 4BC, had three sons,Archelaus, Philip, and Herod Antipas. On their father'sdeath the kingdom was split to enable the threeoffspring to rule. The middle son was married toHerodias with whom Antipas was infatuated. Forced byHerodias to divorce his first wife, a Nabatean princess,Herod Antipas then married her. The prophet John theBaptist denounced the king for marrying his brother'swife. Herod, outraged by such criticism, had Johnimprisoned. Then the ruler, at a drunken party held tomark his birthday, made a rash promise to his sixteenyear-old stepdaughter Salome that he would grant herwhatever she might ask. Her reply, after consulting withher mother, came: 'Give me the head of John the Baptisthere on a platter'. Unable to retract his pledge, Herodhad the prophet John beheaded, his head then presentedto Salome, who in turn offers the 'trophy' to her mother.
The account is taken from the Gospels of St Mark andSt Matthew in the New Testament.
Salome was possibly the most important event inGerman opera since those of Wagner. Its creationmarked a new development in operatic art with itsconcentrated power, its eerie and sinister harmonies andits extraordinarily exotic and colourful orchestration.
This, allied to the subject matter and story line, causeda storm of controversy following the opera's premi?â?¿rein Dresden on 9th December 1905. The critics after thisevent were totally perplexed by what they had heard andforecast that the piece would soon disappear from therepertory. The conservative public at the beginning ofthe twentieth century was outraged and shocked by theraw and cruel plot. The closing twenty minutes of theopera were deemed as depraved and beyond the boundsof common decency, so much so that in New York theopera was withdrawn after a single performance. Timeand greater tolerance have prevailed, however, so thatthe work is now recognised as an extraordinarymasterpiece.
Recalling the events surrounding its compositionRichard Strauss remarked many years later in a bookentitled Recollections and Reflections, published in1949: \Once in Berlin I went to see ... Oscar Wilde'splay Salome. After the play I met Heinrich Gr?â??nfeld,who said to me: 'My dear Strauss, surely you couldmake an opera of this!' I replied: 'I am busy composingit'." In the course of the recollection, Strauss alsocommented: "I had long been criticising the fact that[earlier] operas based on oriental and Jewish subjectslacked true oriental colours and scorching sun. Theneeds of the moment inspired me with truly exoticharmonies. ... The wish to characterise the dramatispersonae as clearly as possible led me to bitonality ...
to express the antithesis between Herod and theNazarene". On the portrayal of the infamous heroine thecomposer remarked: "Anyone who has been in the eastand has observed the decorum with which women therebehave, will appreciate that Salome, being a chastevirgin and an oriental princess, must be played with thesimplest and most restrained gestures".
The vocal demands of the sixteen-year-old Salomeare such that she must have a dramatic soprano voice inaddition to looking her age and also be able to dance.
Then the character of the decadent and lusting Herod isone of the most vivid portrayals of the medicalcondition know as neurasthenia, typified by the signs oflassitude, inertia, fatigue, loss of initiative, restlessfidgeting, over-sensitivity and undue irritability.
Contrasted with this is the honest nobility of John theBaptist. Then there are the Jews and the Nazarenes.
Strauss and his librettist Hoffmansthal brilliantlycapture all the nervous instability, the sense ofsuffocation and the feeling of suppressed lust withuncanny skill.
For the r?â??le of Salome Decca selected ChristelGlotz. She was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1912and began her studies in piano, dancing and singingwith Ornelli-Leeb in Munich in 1930. Five years latershe joined the Chorus of Furth Opera, making her solodebut as Agathe in Der Freisch?â??tz later that season. Shethen sang in Plauen, which led to to her first appearanceat the Staatsoper Dresden as Reiza in Weber's Oberon.
She would remain with this company until 1950. In1947 she also became a member of both Staatsoper andStadtische Oper in Berlin. Her London debut at CoventGarden was as Salome, followed by Marie in the Britishstage premi?â?¿re of Berg's Wozzeck under Erich Kleiber.
In 1954 she appeared at the Salzburg Festival and thenher United States debut at the Metropolitan Opera inNew York with six performances of Salome. She alsoappeared in Buenos Aires and sang regularly in Munich,Vienna and Berlin until 1970. A fine actress andperformer of great intensity, her voice was both brilliantand clear over a range of three octaves. She appeared inthe premi?â?¿res of Carl Orff's Antigone and Liebermann'sPenelope. She was particularly admired as Salome, ar?â??le she recorded three times, in 1950, 1954 and 1963,as Marie and as Elektra.
The role of her stepfather Herod was sung by theViennese-born tenor Julis Patzak (1898-1974). He firststudied conducting with Franz Schmidt but then turnedto singing, being largely self-taught. After his debut in1926 at Reichenberg in Bohemia as Radames in Verdi'sAida, he joined the opera at Brno for the 1927-28season, before moving to the Staatsoper in Munichwhere he would remain until 1945. In the latter year hebecame a member of the Vienna State Opera, where heremained until 1960. His first London appearance wasas Tamino in Die Zauberflote in 1938, returning in 1947with the Vienna Company when he sang Herod andFlorestan. He would appear regularly in the years 1951-54, again as Florestan, and also as Hoffmann. Heappeared at the Salzburg Festival in the post-war years1948-50, being especially remembered for hismemorable Florestan, Herod and the title-r?â??le inPfitzner's Palestrina. In addition he created r?â??les inOrff's Der Mond and Pfitzner's Das Herz. Patzak was ahighly intelligent and stylistic interpreter, equally athome in Lieder and oratorio. He is also remembered asthe tenor in Kathleen Ferrier's celebrated Das Lied vonder Erde (Naxos 8.1108871).
The r?â??le of Herodias, Herod's wife and Salome'smother, was taken by the mezzo-soprano MargaretaKenney (born it is thought in 1918). Little is knownabout her early life except that she was brought up inArgentina where she studied before making her debut asone of the Valkyries in Die Walk?â??re at the Teatro Colonin Buenos Aires. She came to Vienna in 1950 andremained with the State Opera for the next decade. Herr?â??les there included Eboli, Herodias, Amneris,Brangane and Azucena. In 1954 she sang in Florenceand Perugia, before singing Lady Macbeth in Rome in1956. She also appeared in Naples and Lisbon. Herother recordings include D'Albert's Tiefland andStravinsky's Les Noces.
The Viennese-born baritone Hans Braun (born1917) sings Jochanaan. As a child he sang in the ViennaBoys' Choir, before studying with two famousViennese singers Hermann Gallos and Hans Duhan. Hisdebut took place in early 1938 in Konigsberg as theCount in Figaro. This was followed by engagements inBremerhaven, Saarbr?â??cken and the DeutschesOpernhaus, Berlin. His first Viennese appearance wasas a guest at the State Opera in 1939. It was not until1945, however, that he joined the company, singingGerman and Italian r?â??les in addition to Tarquinius inBritten's The Rape of Lucretia and John Sorel inMenotti's The Consul. In 1947 Braun w