›Salome‹ has at last been heard in London. It is the third of the operas composed by Richard Strauss, the others being ›Guntram‹ (Op. 25), ›Feuersnot‹ (Op. 50), and ›Elektra‹ (Op. 58), which was produced at Dresden in 1909. ›Salome‹ (Op. 54) was produced on December 9, 1905, also at Dresden. It has had a dubious reception. The libretto, constructed from Oscar Wilde’s drama, unfolds a repulsive story, and as it is based upon scriptural narrative and introduces St. John the Baptist, there were serious objections to its presentation on the English stage. Then the music itself throws down the gauntlet to criticism. Its realism is in questionable taste, and some of its experiments in harmonic combination are a cross to ordinary listeners whose ears have been tuned by what has hitherto passed as music. Yet with all its startling vagaries and morbidity it is impossible not to recognise the beauty of much of the music, its scintillating and fascinating orchestration, which provides in itself a constant stream of interest to any ear sensitive to colour. As in ›Elektra‹ there is only one scene, and the drama never pauses in its intensity during the hour and fifty minutes it lasts. In the original version Salome demands from Herod the head of St. John the Baptist, and having obtained it proceeds to fondle and embrace it: an episode to shudder at and not to see. This occurs after her dance of the Seven Veils, in which she uses all the saltatory arts of seductive persuasion: her request is granted. Much as this dance has been talked about, it cannot be said to be entrancing as music. It owes its attractiveness more to its association with the motive of the dance than to its inherent beauty.
As the Censor would not allow the character of St. John to be presented on the stage, or the head of the Prophet to be used by Salome, alterations had to be made. A Prophet was substituted for St. John and his words are altered, and a simple empty tray is toyed with by Salome! The horror, therefore, is left to the imagination, but the situation thus created is almost perilously ludicrous, and it called for all the art of Madame Aïno Ackté to avoid what was very near to a catastrophe. The action with the supposed head takes place in the presence of Herod and Herodias, and it so excites the detestation of the former that he orders the guard to kill Salome, and with this tragic end the curtain falls.
Whether the opera will take anything like a permanent place in the répertoire of opera houses is very doubtful. It is true that audiences generally are by no means reluctant to sup with horrors as a recreation, but surely this particular form of their presentation will soon pall? It is much to be hoped that Strauss, with his great mastery of the means of musical expression, will devote his genius to other and nobler uses than he has in this work.
Whatever the merits of the opera as drama or music, the British public have once again reason to be grateful to Mr. Thomas Beecham for enabling them to form an opinion of this much-debated work by actual experience. The performance we heard was conducted by Mr. Beecham, and it was in every respect an adequate one. The cast was as follows:
|Salome||Mme. Aïno Ackté|
|Herodes||Herr Franz Costa|
|Ein Prophet||Mr. Clarence Whitehill|
|Narraboth||Mr. Maurice D’Oisly|
|Ein Page der Herodias||Miss Stella Phelps|
|3 Cappadocien||Mr. Robert Radford |
Mr. Arthur Wynn
Mr. Charles Knowles
|2 Soldaten||Mr. Herbert Langley |
Mr. Lewys James
|Conductor||Mr. Thomas Beecham|