»SALOME,« in Hebrew, means »Peaceful.«
But if you should have the temerity, just at present, to bring that fact to the attention of anyone connected with the Manhattan Opera House, you will without doubt, hear the short and ugly word.
For nowadays everything at the Hammerstein home of opera is a parlous and feverish state, and the reason therefor[e] is »Salome.« Everybody about the place, from Oscar Hammerstein himself to the man who performs upon the heckelphone, that weirdly mysterious instrument, caught and tamed by Richard Strauss himself expressly for his »Salome« score, talks, thinks, looks, and dreams nothing but »Salome.«
Ask Miss Mary Garden whether the word conjures up in her mind the tranquil vista of peace!
Ask Stage Manager Jacques Coini, who is excitedly staging the opera in half a dozen languages, or Mr. Dalmores, who purposes being the wicked Herod, or Mr. Dufranne, who, as Jokanaan, has begun to practice climbing in and out of the fateful cistern, and, above all, you must ask, ask Maestro Cleofonte Campanini, who will next Thursday evening, pilot singers and orchestra through the seemingly hopeless wilderness of the Strauss score. Practically every day, since Dec. 3, Maestro Campanini has been holding »Salome« rehearsals. Their strenuousness beggars description. To weld into team work Richard Strauss’s idea of an orchestral score is – oh, Campanini’s stock of explosive Italian phrases and gestures is getting positively shopworn!
»What a man, what a man, that Strauss!« he exclaimed the other day, when, after bringing a grand general »Salome« rehearsal to a conclusion, he was hurrying in an exhausted condition toward his automobile and home.
»Why, when the musicians in the Manhattan orchestra first began to play that music they were crazy – yes, crazy! They used to leave the opera house – like this!« and the conductor grasped his head in both hands and gave a most realistic picture of nervous despair.
»Before I held the first general orchestra rehearsal last Monday,« he continued, »I held no less than eighteen rehearsals for separate parts of the orchestra. You see, I went to Berlin not long ago to see the ›Salome‹ production there, and Strauss himself particularly impressed on me the necessity of holding these separate rehearsals. ›I know that »Salome« is in good hands,‹ he told me, when I left him.«
Though M. Campanini has never conducted »Salome,« he is by no means unacquainted with Strauss, having led several orchestral pieces of his at concerts, such as »Death and Transfiguration,« »Don Juan« and »Till Eulenspiegel.« He first met Strauss at Madrid, where the two led the local concert orchestra on alternate evenings.
»After the dress rehearsal, with singers and orchestra, next Tuesday,« continued Campanini, »I intend to hold a last rehearsal Wednesday morning, the day before the first performance of ›Salome.‹ I shall devote my attention on that occasion to such musicians and singers as seem to me to need some last touches. After that – the battle.«
For »Salome,« as it will be given at the Manhattan Opera House, there will be an orchestra of 117 pieces. Not only that – for this great convention of instruments Strauss has written music surpassing in complexity anything ever known in opera. Take the strings alone: as a general rule, composers write for the strings – that is, violins, violas, ’cellos, and double basses – as if they were a four-vxoiced or five-voiced choir.
Wagner’s subdivision of the strings into sixteen parts, for the accompaniment of the love duet in »Tristan and Isolde,« was sufficiently complex in its day. And yet Strauss, in some spots of the score of »Salome,« has subdivided the strings into as many as twenty different parts!
Instead of four French horns, with which the ordinary operatic composer is content, Strauss demands six for his »Salome« orchestra, likewise four trombones instead of three, three flutes and a piccolo instead of two flutes, three bassoons, not two; all sorts of special clarinets – E flat, B flat, A flat [sic]1, bass clarinets [sic]2 – two harps, six kettledrums [sic]3, xylophone, tom-tom [sic]4, tambourine, triangle, snare drum, bass drum – extra large – cymbals, castanets, and – here’s where the English language gives out – glockenspiel, celesta, and heckelphone. The glockenspiel is a thing with bells, used by Mozart in »The Magic Flute.« The celesta is a sort of piano whose notes are produced by percussion on glass. The heckelphone – that is a specialty of »Salome.« It is an enormous bass oboe, and he who would blow it requires at least two months’ of practice, even though he knows already how to oboe perfectly.
So enormous is the orchestra required to render »Salome« that, last Monday, when all the musicians got together for the first time to go over the score, they found that there was not space enough for them to perform, so close together had their chairs and desks been placed. At once there was much nervous and explosive talk. A violinist, in tuning up, stuck his violin bow squarely into the hectic eye of a neighboring clarionet [sic] player. All over the place shock-haired virtuosi sprang to their feet, inveighing violently against the state of affairs.
»Calma, calma!« roared Maestro Campanini, wildly waving his baton about. »All will be arranged. Don’t get excited!« In obedience to his orders, twenty or thirty of the musicians who fancied they were incommoded by their neighbors, climbed out into the auditorium while a squad of employe[e]s of the opera house descended into the music pit and rearranged the furniture there in such a way that, at last, the 117 performers acknowledged that all was well, and began once more to blow and saw and pound with pacified nervous systems. It is no wonder that they felt a bit crowded – for »Salome« no less than forty-eight extra musicians are pressed into service.
At rehearsal the Sunday Times reporter asked the very first thing to be introduced to the heckelphone, expecting to see something portentous and bizarre. But the heckelphone is, scenically, a disappointment, as it is merely a modest, unassuming oboe, which the layman cannot distinguish from a common or garden oboe. It is played by a young man with a moustache, who already looks tired.
To see poor Maestro Campanini lead that first general rehearsal of the orchestra was to get a dim working idea of what Richard Strauss’s music is. Over and over again he made the musicians go back to various starting points and begin all over again, he leading with grand sweeps of the baton, singing excitedly as they plunged forward, stopping now and then, and bowing his head in anguish at some shortcoming or other in the seething mass of sound surrounding him.
»Expressivo! – molto expressivo! – you with the violin?« he howled, or else »Ah, dio mio, il corno!« which caused the man who was industriously blowing on a gigantic and unprincipled horn to stop in great astonishment, wondering what was amiss with his doings. Then the heckelphonist, after making obvious and careful preparations to blow one solitary note, was told, as soon as he had perpetrated it, that it was far too loud, whereupon – back to the mark again went the one hundred.
Peaceful, did you say?
The French version of »Salome,« which is the one to be given next Thursday at the Manhattan Opera House, was made soon after the sweeping success of the opera in German, and was first performed on March , 1907, at the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels, under the direction of Messrs. Kufferath and Guidé, the former of whom is a »Salome« expert and the author of a book about it.
The cost of the Manhattan production is estimated at fully $40.000. For three months and a half Stage Manager Jacques Coini and his staff of helpers have been at work on the scenic department of the undertaking. During the last year, moreover, Mr. Coini has witnessed the productions of the opera at Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, and has sought, in his designs for the scenery, to take whatever he has deemed best in those productions, and to discard whatever was perfunctory or anachronistic.
»It seems to me,« he remarked the other day, »that I have had a great advantage over those who staged ›Salome‹ two years ago at the Metropolitan, in that I have been able to study so many different productions of the opera. The scenery for the Manhattan production will be far richer and more elaborate than any seen so far.
»And a very important thing about it is this: it will be strictly according to the principles of Syrian architecture. Take the cistern, for instance. In all the productions of ›Salome‹ which I have witnessed the cistern has been separate from the rest of the decorations, planted squarely in the middle of the stage, in such a way that, as soon as the curtain rises, people are bound to exclaim: ›Ah, there’s the cistern. That’s where Jokanaan is.‹ It was there merely because the play demanded it – it was nothing but a hole from which at the right moment the baritone was to emerge.
»Yet, the sort of cistern, in which Jokanaan was confined is a very frequent and striking part of Eastern architecture. It is invariably connected with the house to which it belongs, and is, architecturally, thoroughly in harmony with it. I have been in Jerusalem, and have seen there a number of such cisterns. So I resolved, in making the scenery for ›Salome,‹ to make the cistern exactly like those in Jerusalem, and thoroughly in harmony with the Syrian architecture of the rest of the stage set.
»Of all the ›Salomes‹ I saw in Europe, only that in Brussels had a cistern connected with the rest of the scenery, and, even there, it was not quite right.
»I believe that unless one knows all about a work one cannot start in to give orders and arrange for its production.« Here Mr. Coini bustled into his office and got out his copy of the score. In it he has pasted little slips of paper, marked with blue pencil, at every point where there is the least change in the positions of the people on the stage. Every ten pages or so there is a rough drawing of the whole scene, with the positions at the moment of everybody in the cast.
»Oh, a stage manager has to work,« he resumed. »Before doing anything about ›Salome‹ I set out to get an idea of exactly what Wilde and Strauss meant in it.
»A stage manager can never have action on the stage which is at variance in any way with the idea intended to be conveyed by the librettist or the composer of an opera. I have read, I feel sure, every book ever written about ›Salome,‹ and have had many and long talks with every artist concerned in the production.
»It’s the only way.«
So much for the Manhattan »Salome.«
A glance at her history previous to her invasion of West Thirty-fourth Street has, like her activities there, hardly justified her sobriquet of »peaceful.«
In so far as that history concerns the manifestations of her in drama, dance, and opera no adjective in our language could be less appropriate.
Comment is unnecessary regarding the shock and excitement caused by the »Salome« dancers, Maud Allan et al., still with us, many of them. They are unquestionably an outgrowth of Strauss’s »Salome« – of its great vogue in Europe and its brief and sensational adventures in New York. But, of the history of »Salome« from her appearance as the heroine of Wilde’s play down to her arrival at Hammerstein’s – from Oscar to Oscar, in short – some words here will hardly be amiss.
Oscar Wilde wrote his »Salome« in French, as a drama in one act, and he wrote it for Sarah Bernhardt. »All I have wished to do,« he told her, »is something curious and sensual.« Sarah, however, never appeared in it. When it was given in Paris, on Oct. 28, 1896, at the Nouveau Théâtre, Mme. Lina Munte took the leading part. A translation of the French version was made in 1894 by Lord Alfred Douglas, and first performed in London on May 10, 1905; this English version was performed in November of the same year in New York by the Progressive Stage Society. It was also performed here in 1907 by Mercedes Leigh and her company. Germany, Italy, and Spain also know the Wilde play, and in all those countries it has been highly successful.
A fact of interest to Americans is that the Herod, in the first Berlin production of Wilde’s »Salome,« was Ludwig Wüllner, now making a tour of the United States as a singer of German songs, while on the same occasion one of the minor parts was taken by Eugen Burg, at present manager of the New German Theatre at Madison Avenue and Fiftyninth Street.
But, though it achieved success, Wilde’s play also arcused in some quarters howls of hostility. It was branded by critic after critic as a piece of disgusting decadence and immorality. After a while, however, excitement, both pro and con, dwindled. »Salome« was known only to those who cared to seek her on the bookshelf.
Then she burst again into flaming notoriety. Richard Strauss, whose musical iconoclasm had already made the world gasp, cast his eyes on Wilde’s play, and on Dec. 9, 1905, a German operatic version, by Hedwig Lachmann, music by Strauss, was performed at the Royal Opera House, Dresden.
Marie Wittich was the Salome on this occasion. Carl Burrian the Herod, Irene von Chavanne the Herodias, Karl Perron the Jokanaan. Success was instantaneous and immense. Strauss’s new work was given throughout Europe; everywhere people listened, aghast but delighted.
To America came descriptions painting »Salome« now as the extreme height in art, now as the uttermost depth of decadence. Public interest grew keen; on every hand there were »Salome« conversations, »Salome« articles, »Salome« lectures, a »Salome« guide book.
Thus heralded, it is not to be wondered at that the first performance in New York of »Salome,« on Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, 1907, was one of the greatest occasions in the musical history of the city. In spite of a scale of prices, ranging from $2 to $10 per seat, the Metropolitan Opera House was promptly sold out. Before the curtain rose on the new Strauss opera a concert programme was given, in which, among other singers, Mmes. Eames, Sembrich, Farrar, Cavalieri, and Homer, and Messrs. Caruso, Plançon, and Burgstaller took part.
Then came »Salome,« with this cast:
Salome, Miss Olive Fremstad; Herodias, Miss Marion Weed; Herod, Carl Burrian (who created the part at the first performance in Dresden); Jokanaan, Anton Van Rooy; Narraboth, Andreas Dippel; Pages, Mmes. Jacoby and Mattfeld; Jews, Messrs. Reiss, Bayer, Paroli, Bars, and Dufriche; Nazarenes, Messrs. Journet and Steiner; Soldiers, Messrs. Muhlmann and Blass; A Cappadocian, Mr. Lange. Stage Manager, Anton Schertel. Conductor, Alfred Hertz.
Whatever opinions there may have been at first as to the morality of »Salome« and the advisability of performing it were lost in the enthusiastic burst of praise for Strauss’s score and for the interpretation of the work by the Metropolitan singers. Of the excellence of the performance especially there was no question. All concerned in it were lauded in high terms, first honors going to Conductor Hertz and Miss Fremstad.
Encouraged by such success the Metropolitan management promptly announced three further performances of »Salome,« for Jan. 31, and Feb. 5 and 12.
Then the storm broke. »Salome« forever lost all right, so far as New York is concerned, to the appellation, »Peaceful.«
A few days after the brilliant first performance the Metropolitan Opera House directors notified Director Conried that they considered the opera objectionable and detrimental to the best interests of the Opera House. It was declared at the time that foremost among those who protested against any further performances of »Salome« was J. Pierpont Morgan, and that his attitude in the matter was brought about by what his daughter, who had attended the »Salome« performance, told him about it.
This piece of news became the topic of conversation all over town. At first it looked as if there might be more performances after all. The sale of seats went on as if nothing had happened. Then came the news that Director Conried was willing to make modifications in the libretto, especially as regarded the kissing of John the Baptist’s head, and the Dance of the Seven Veils, which had caused more criticism than anything else – though concerning the dance Miss Bianca Froelich, who executed it here, pointed out that, as done all over Europe, it was ten times worse. »I did it in the European way at rehearsal,« she declared, »but was told to tone it down.«
Later came rumors that Mr. Conried, despairing of obtaining permission to produce »Salome« any more at the Metropolitan Opera House, was making arrangements to give it at some other theatre – and among the playhouses mentioned as possible harborers of Strauss’s opera were the Hippodrome, the Academy of Music, the New Amsterdam, and the Lyric.
That steps to give more performances of »Salome« should be taken, in spite of the attitude of its enemies, was quite natural in view of the enormous amount of time and money expended on it. There had been no less than fifty orchestral rehearsals, and a great many more rehearsals of the various singers in the cast. Mr. Hertz, who conducted the memorable performance, went over the score with Strauss himself, and spent two weeks in Paris previous to the opening of the Metropolitan season studying it with Miss Fremstad. The cost of the production was estimated at $20.000.
The defenders of the work, in attempting to induce those hostile to it to reconsider their stand, in a report on the matter, pointed out that Strauss’s »Salome« was recognized by competent critics of modern music as a monumental work, probably the greatest produced by musical genius within a generation, that it had been performed in more than twenty cities, including many where strict censorship prevailed, and that in Berlin the Emperor, though at first refusing his consent, had withdrawn his objections after further consideration.
The report went on to say that people go to opera to hear the music, not to pay attention to the libretto; that not a few operas of the classical repertoire are based on librettos which would be very objectionable if not overshadowed by the beauty of the music.
»We are not concerned in defending Oscar Wilde’s text,« said the pro-Salome Directors, »though much that has been said against it is based upon willful seeking for hidden motives, meanings, and imaginations in no way apparent from the text – but we do contend that the opera should be judged as a musical, not as a dramatic work. Many of those most violently criticising the opera have never witnessed its performance, and base their attitude upon sensationally exaggerated reports. It may be remembered that the appearance of Richard Wagner on the musical horizon not so many years ago was greeted with a storm of hostility and villification.«
But nothing came of all this. On Jan. 31 the definite withdrawal of the opera from the Metropolitan’s repertoire was announced. »Salome« was, for the time being, doomed.
Now, exactly two years later, she springs into life again. Will her further career in New York be peaceful?
|1||Gemeint sind die Klarinetten in A.|
|2||Die Partitur sieht in der Besetzung eine Bassklarinette vor.|
|3||Die Partitur sieht in der Besetzung vier Pauken und eine kleine Pauke vor.|
|4||Gemeint ist das Tamtam.|