Opera. The ecstatic final scene of Salome usually leaves both the audience and the singer breathless. Steaming with decadence and lust, this 20th century opera by Strauss never ceases to provoke.
Premiere 10 September 2011.
Watch a movie from the performance.
Ever since its very first performance in Dresden in 1905, Richard Strauss' Salome has been encompassed by an aura of scandalous success. The young Salome is rejected by John the Baptist and demands his head on a plate from her stepfather Herod as a reward for her dancing. The ecstatic final scene is breathtaking for both the public and the singer.
With Oscar Wilde's fin de siècle text, exuding decadence and lust, must always explored what shocks audiences of the time. Has Herod raised a woman to be so monstrous that he must eventually take her life? Or on the other hand, is John a means of escape for Salome, who, in her teenage angst, wishes to flee from the depraved world in which she is held captive? This production is more concerned with the latter and in the final scene; a glimmer of hope and an escape from the claustrophobia are actually suggested.
We are very proud to be able to present one of the world's most renowned opera directors, Peter Konwitschny, in this joint production with De Nederlanse Opera. GöteborgsOperan's Annalena Persson sings the title role as she did when the production was playing in Amsterdam. She has previously performed the same role in many opera houses across Europe. The illustrious Johannes Leiacker has created not only the scenery but also the costumes and Patrik Ringborg returns as the conductor. He will open up the large and colourful orchestral movement which, unusually, is played in Strauss' original style which demands a very large opera house and an orchestra of almost 90 musicians.
Watch pictures from the performance.
Decadence and opera
Do you think that you're above the laws of nature?
Do you think that artificial is more valuable than natural?
Do you feel more at home in your own dream world than in reality?
Are your erotic fantasies more important than genuine sensuality?
If you've answered yes to the above you are what was called 'decadent' at the end of the 19th century.
The above quotes are from the Norwegian book Decadence (Dekadanse) by literature professor Per Buvik. According to Buvik, 19th century decadence mainly centred on sex and art, and a large part of the book is dedicated to various interpretations of Salome - from the Bible, art, poetry, drama and opera. From the very start, the chapter on Salome take you into the world of opera, via another opera super star, Carmen, whom Buvik calls 'the Romantic prototype of a femme fatale'.
DECADENCE AND OPERA
The first book on Salome and decadence to turn up on my desk was an unusually small and soft one, with a gold cover and purple paper - the catalogue from the exhibition Decadence (Dekadens) at the Dunker Cultural Centre in Helsingborg. It was sent to the Göteborg Opera as carefully as you would treat a veritable Princess and the Pea: in three envelopes, each inside the other. The first two were padded and the third consisted of gold wrapping.
The starting point for the catalogue is the 18th-century series of images called The Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, which we recently published as part of the programme for the Stravinsky opera with the same name - the story about a young man who inherits a large amount of money, and then chooses the easy way out and ends up in hell…
SEX AND ART
According to Buvik's analysis of the Oscar Wilde play on which the libretto of the Strauss opera is based: "Oscar Wilde portrays Salome as a young virgin who is in the throes of lust for the very first time, and the person she desires is none other than John the baptist. (...) The portrayal of Salome and her wild desires is hard to stomach even for people today, because a more intensive expression of ecstatic-erotic desire is difficult to imagine." Wild desires and excesses will also be portrayed on stage in this production of Salome.
WHAT IS DECADENCE?
The story is about a woman in a secluded, exotic, decadent environment. But what is decadence to us today? The question usually triggers long and interesting discussions. Yet as the discussion goes on it often becomes more and more confusing... What was decadent in the past, may be seen as 'natural' today, so who knows what shame is any more? Somehow it feels as if the term is not all that relevant, or as if it belongs to another era.
Or is it maybe the other way around? The word decadence, like the French décadence it comes from, means decline, weakening or 'falling apart' and it was that interpretation of the word that the forward-looking philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) used when he stated that civilisation was inherently decadent. According to Nietzsche all modern people are therefore more or less decadent.
Decadence without the 'de' makes cadence, after the Latin cadere (to fall). It's a musical term which can mean two things - of which one is a solo sequence of virtuoso character, i.e. when the singer or musician is freely improvising, as we recently heard as part of the many operas of the baroque opera Alcina.
LIGHT AND PLAYFUL
Such cadences represent a delightful combination of indulgence and feeling. This is also how Salome was portrayed in the poem Atta Troll by Heinrich Heine – as the "incarnation of female sensuality." The poem has a playful, slightly ironic tone and the destructive part is toned down, yet the poem is the predecessor of the Oscar Wilde play about Salome, which Strauss more or less directly based his opera on. What happened on the way? That's a part of the story to be told later. Until then, please enjoy this excerpt from Heine's poem (and we won't call you decadent).
Astrid Pernille Hartmann, programme editor
Love me too and be my love!
Fling that gory block-head far
With its trencher. Sweeter dishes
I shall give thee to enjoy.
Watch an interview with director Peter Konwitschny.
De Nederlandse Opera (In German)