|Salome||Miss Mary Garden|
|Page of Herodias||Mlle. Severina|
|Five Jews||M. Sellav|
|Two Nazarenes||M. De Segurola|
|Two Soldiers||M. Crabbe|
|M. De Grazia|
|A Cappadocian||M. Fossetta|
|A Slave||Mlle. Tancredi|
|Musical Director, M. Cleofonte Campanini.|
For the second time in New York, Richard Strauss’s musical drama of »Salome,« a musical setting of Oscar Wilde’s piece, was given last night at the Manhattan Opera House. The audience was enormous, its expectancy highly keyed, and the impression it received from the remarkable work was evidently a deep one. The brief and stormy career of »Salome« at the Metropolitan Opera House just two years ago, its withdrawal after one performance for which the most laborious and elaborate preparations had been made, are still fresh in the public mind. »Salome« is destined for sensation and unrest by its very nature. In Mr. Hammerstein’s house the work has not been directly such a celebrated case as it was two years ago, though the operatic lightning has recently played about it briefly and fiercely, and public interest in it has received many fillips.
Strauss’s music is of such difficulty and enormous complication as to make the most exacting demands on singers, players, and conductor. lts preparation involves enormous labor and the overcoming of the cruelest sort of difficulties. Under the circumstances that prevail at the Manhattan Opera House these offered the most serious of problems, and that they were solved with a success so remarkable is little short of a triumph for Mr. Campanini, who conducted the performance, and for Miss Garden, Mr. Dalmorès, and Mr. Dufranne, who enacted the principal parts, as well as Mr. Coini, the stage manager, and the rest who were concerned in it in more subordinate capacities.
The effect of Strauss’s work was again profound. Of that its most determined opponent could make no doubt. Its dramatic force is irresistible, its musical expression, often harsh and mordant, bites deep into the consciousness of all who see and hear it. Whether we like it or not, whether we believe in it or not, there is a power in it that has a sway not to be shaken off. There were predictions when this music drama was given here two years ago that it would go down to the speedy oblivion that has practically enwrapped the composer’s two previous dramatic productions. But in the year 1908 there were 217 performances of it in Germany alone, a fact which shows that its vitality is still strong.
The audience last evening listened with deep attention, evidently submitting to the spell of the dramatist and the musician, but the applause at the close was by no means voluminous or enthusiastic.
Whether its effect is to call forth wonder, admiration, and delight, or is to cause repugnance and deep dissent from all that is aimed at and achieved by the composer, it is clear that the work is the product of a potent musical force; of a faculty, if not productive of beauty, then certainly wonderfully powerful in execution, of inexorable logic, of marvelous technical skill in the treatment of all the resources that the evolution of musical art and science has accumulated, and fecundity in the invention of new ones. Of »inspiration« in »Salome« it seems more difficult than ever to speak. It is a dominating intellectual power that has created the music, a masterful intelligence that has gathered up and concentrated upon one object all that the material of music can offer to work with.
The subject of »Salome« as Wilde elaborated it in his drama, is abhorrent. The characters, except that of him who represents the Biblical figure of John the Baptist, are ignoble, weak, or perverse. The whole picture is a baleful representation of decadent human character in a period of universal decadence. The time, that of the Roman domination of Syria, is one in which immorality, weak superstition, erotic sensuality and grisly cruelty were the prevailing forces of a corrupt civilization in which uprises the stern figure of the Baptist with his proclamation of a new light and a new ethical standard. The whole is weighted down with a heavily erotic, unwholesome atmosphere. A strange and intangible feeling of horror pervades it, a sense of indefinable dread. Strauss has most skillfully seconded Wilde in enveloping the scene with this atmosphere.
The play itself is the product of a brilliant, constructive imagination that has projected upon this background strongly outlined and characterized figures of the personages that are dimly suggested in the brief Biblical narrative. Its vivid and swiftly moving action differs materially in motive from that which that narrative suggests. »But when Herod’s birthday was kept,« says the Evangelist Matthew, »the daughter of Herodias danced before them. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she should ask. And she, being instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the King was sorry.« Here is no sumptuousness, no background, no viciousness other than Herodias’s revenge. This Salome was but an obedient servant of her mother’s vengeance. Wilde’s Salome is impelled by her own thwarted passions, her perverted desires for the prophet’s love, her longing to kiss his mouth. She is »athirst for his beauty, hungry for his body.« The drama furthermore focuses for us in a single scene a strongly outlined, highly colored picture of the time and place, the characteristic point of view of the people. It differentiates for us with the broad and yet detailed brushwork of a master of technique Herod the restless, inconsequent neurasthenic; the voluptuous, perverse Salome; the hard, implacable Herodias; the stern, impassive, formidable Jokanaan.
Strauss’s music has all the characteristics of his later symphonic poems, and it is a logical development of the method he has pursued in them. »Salome« has, in fact, been characterized as a huge symphonic poem, with obbligato action upon the stage. The music is closely knit with the text in substance and follows in every minute shadow [sic] all its changing expression, as the symphonic poems follow the composer’s definite programme. It carries to the furthest extreme Strauss’s ideas about the delineative power of music. From the purely musical point of view it shows the same falling off from his earlier work in freshness and spontaneity as do the »Symphonia Domestica« and others of his later symphonic poems. Music has come to mean to him principally, not beauty, nor even suggestion through a beautiful medium, but the crassest kind of pictorial draughtsmanship. Everything in this score is calculated to that end. There are passages in which there are soaring, thrilling climaxes, and mellifluous cantabile. But there is much that is petty, dry, tediously ugly. Beauty, indeed, has been far from the sole aim of Strauss’s endeavor. He has sought ugliness just as eagerly when it suited his purpose – the exigencies of the stage situation – and it often suited them. Cold audacity in dissonance, effrontery in combining harmonies of incommensurable keys, confront the listener repeatedly. They grate and jar – and they are intended to grate and jar, because the composer’s conception of the scene calls for it.
It has often been charged against Strauss that his specifically musical invention is weak; that he has small melodic gift; that his themes are commonplace and musically insignificant. It seems sometimes as if he had deliberately thrown overboard considerations of invention, beauty, and distinction in his preoccupation with musical material that he conceives to be delineative and plastic for manipulation. He also has been accused of gaining easy effects by the trick of reverting suddenly, after his most extravagant outbursts of discord, to simple, smooth melodic passages, usually harmonized in mellifluous thirds and sixths, with the curious chromatic turn that is characteristic of him in such passages.
But the final justification of a musician’s themes is the use they lend themselves to, and what he makes of them. And of many of them Strauss has been able to build up a superb fabric – dazzling, thrilling, overpowering, often beautiful. There is often cold perversity in this music, and much that seems purely cerebral in the calculation of its effects, but it is, at all events, wonderfully expressive of what he aimed to express. He extorts from the listener’s intelligence what he is unable to gain from his sympathy and musical feeling.
The music rises and falls in interest with the drama. There are dull and tedious spots, spots in which the discord becomes wearisome and in which the music lacks distinction. The points of greatest value are, on the other hand, remarkably pregnant and subtle in effect. The music in which Salome cajoles Narraboth into ordering the prophet brought forth from the cistern has charm. The orchestral passage that shows Salome’s eager expectancy as the soldiers go to fetch Jokanaan is a subtle piece of delineation. His appearance is impressive as the gaunt figure of the prophet emerges, accompanied by the measured strains of his motive of proclamation. His first solemn words in rebuke of Herodias are equally impressive. The mounting passion of Salome for him is depicted with subtle resource and continence of expenditure. The music is delicately scored here. Salome’s seductive paeans in praise of Jokanaan’s body, of is hair, of his mouth, are expressed in terms of ecstatic longing that stand out against the sudden hysterical revulsions of feeling that follow his rebukes. The climax of the situation is reached in her passion for his mouth, her desire to kiss it, from which she will not be turned. Here is the first part of the great climaxes of the drama, and the use of the theme expressive of the culmination of her longing, scarcely more than a fragment in itself, and not without suspicion of the commonplace, evolves all the raging storm of sensual desire that now sways the Princess.
The unquiet restlessness of Herod, his indecision, his inconsequence, his terrors and uneasy imaginings, are all set forth in music that is »expressive,« delineative, and unbeautiful. Again, it takes a seductive charm as Herod sees Salome and invites her to drink wine with him, eat fruit with him, sit by him, and finally to dance for him. The episode of the Jews quarreling with each other before the Tetrarch about God, His nature, His works, the prophet, Elias, and the Messiah, is one of the capital points of the score. It is the one place in »Salome« where Strauss, the humorist in music, has given his sardonic sense full play. It is a quintet, animated, tumultuous, raucous as music, but voicing the quarrelsome triviality of the dispute. Salome’s dance is an amazing tour de force in rhythm and in its note of Oriental color, and then of a more personal tone, voicing the character and passion of Salome, but still singularly untouched, musically, with voluptuousness. After Salome has made her atrocious demand for the fulfillment of the Tetrarch’s pledge, his vain implorings that she accept some substitute are expressed in an urgent outpouring of picturesque music, accompanying his enunciation of all he has that may be hers instead – his pearls, topazes, chrysolites, beryls, his greatest emerald, his white peacocks. After the executioner has gone down into the cistern to his work the situation of tense and fearful expectancy is wonderfully set forth in the thin tremolo of the orchestra, through which sounds an uncanny dull tone — that famous stroke upon the pinched string of the double bass — »like the suppressed groaning of a woman.«
Salome’s long apostrophe to her hideous trophy upon the silver shield is the veritable climax of the work. The music is wrought with a wonderful skill, with a marshaling of the motives that expresses anew all the succession of desires that have stormed through her soul, and finally the exhaustion of the voluptuary who has sated her abnormal passion. It has been remarked, and it is a significant commentary upon the work, that the music rises to the nearest approach to eloquence and sustained beauty at the unloveliest, most abhorrent passage in the drama – the passage in which Salome surrenders herself to her unnatural admixture of passion and revenge of the woman scorned.
The performance was under the circumstances a wholly remarkable achievement. That it was an entirely complete interpretation of the music-drama would be too much to say. It was a new revelation of the wonderful versatility and commanding power of Mr. Campanini, who can get so close as he does to the true significance of Italian opera of the older and the newer spirit of Debussy’s »Pelléas et Mélisande,« and now, of this music of Strauss’s. He has an orchestra to work with that is not of the highest competence, but he obtained results that were truly astonishing in flexibility, in power, in mastery of the great technical difficulties of the score, and in a close weaving together of its varied and complicated strands. Certain effects were lacking; certain instrumental voices were not heard; certain of Strauss’s delineative touches were lost. But the orchestra accomplished wonders on the whole, and its enormous burden was borne with success.
Those who have heard other performances of »Salome« – and notably that given in New York two years ago – missed a certain atmosphere in this representation that ought to be one of the most characteristic features of it. What it is, how and why it was missing would be hard to define. But there should be that uneasy dread to which Herod and some of the other participants give such frequent utterance – »something terrible is going to happen.« Jokanaan hears »the beating of the wings of the angel of death.« The performance had scarcely this sort of suggestion.
The language used on this occasion was French – the original version in which Wilde wrote the play. It is characteristic of Strauss’s indifference to the vocal part of his work that he has made the many changes in the declamation necessitated by the change of language with the utmost unconcern, altering the rhythm and even the outline of many phrases.
Miss Mary Garden added a new laurel to her trophies as a dramatic artist. Her portrayal of Salome is an astonishing achievement. It is original, and it is a conception consistent in its form and development and wrought with the subtle skill of an accomplished dramatic artist. She is less an imperious and regal figure, more a discontented, almost naive, one at the outset. She emphasizes the curiosity that at first is her impelling motive and that soon grows to a consuming flame of desire. Even that consuming flame has its fitful flickering, and her waxing passion as she besets Jokanaan with her vain importunities is portrayed with an eagerness that is mingled with something like curiosity, with plastic and incessantly changing posturing. When she is at last obsessed by the full power of her passion, she is the eager feline sensualist.
It had been widely announced that Miss Garden would herself dance the »Dance of the Seven Veils,« and she did it with a fascinating skill in characterization. It is no conventional stage movement and pose that Miss Garden gives in this. It is truly Oriental, a dramatic dance, pantomimic and frankly suggestive of the obvious purpose. In it, and in certain other passages in the drama, Miss Garden goes quite to the limit of the permissible as a result of the successive removals of bodily covering. Her lithe grace and ingenious posturing, the variety of expression which she continued to get into it, made the dance a most effective episode. It gains greatly in this effect and in its realism by being executed by the singer herself instead of by a professional substitute.
Of singing in »Salome« there is little question. There is scarcely more than a suggestion of Wagner’s »endless melody.« There is very little more than declamation in musical tone. There is left little raison d’être for either beauty of tone or justness of intonation, and the listener ends by becoming indifferent to them. He becomes indifferent even to the shrill harshness and unsteadiness of Miss Garden’s tones in the upper ranges of her voice.
Yet there were places, as in the final climax, where it was evident how greatly a big and noble dramatic voice would have enhanced the musical effect.
On the other hand, Mr. Dalmorès keeps the sonority and beauty of his tones all through the formless declamation of his part, and one is tempted to say that he sings the music too well. He presents a fearful and wonderful sight as the nerve-shattered, dream-haunted Tetrarch Herod. But does he show forth all the characteristic traits that are suggested in the text, and still more in the music – the uneasy air, the incessant movement, the extravagant gesture, the unstable purpose, the repeated forgetfulness? Mr. Dalmorès’s impersonation has many significant traits, but it is at present somewhat lacking in flexibility.
As Jokanaan Mr. Dufranne has all the requisites. Here there is singing to do, and he intones the sonorous phrases of the prophet with noble tone and deep impressiveness. He is the embodiment of grim asceticism and the one noble and commanding personage in the drama. Mme Doria as Herodias is competent as the representative of the hard and wickedly unnatural Herodias. Praise is also due to Mr. Valles as Narraboth. The quintet of Jews did not make all that there is to be made out of their caricatured disputation, though they carried the brief scene through with effect.
The scenic picture is contained in one single setting, which is elaborate and ornate. It represents the great terrace of Herod’s palace, upon which the banqueting hall opens. In the distance is a glimpse of the town between dark cypress trees. The scene is well built, with an effect of solidity. But there might be some question as to the propriety of the architectural style in which it is designed. It is distinctly Assyrian in character, with the bearded, man-faced lions and the stiffly postured men carved in high relief that belong to Assyrian art. Now Herod’s palace was in Syria, not Assyria, and the period of the Roman occupation was later than that of Assyrian art. But more to the point is the fact that the coloring is garish and inharmonious.
There was artistic and properly reticent treatment of the much-debated episode of the severed head brought out on a charger. It was well-nigh hidden in a deep dish and was not obtruded upon the unwilling spectator. During Salome’s ecstatic apostrophe to fit and her frenetic mowing [sic] and embraces the stage was partially darkened. And so the ghastly horror of it was reduced to the lowest terms. It may be said that the illumination at its height was a little too bright for even a semi-tropical moonlight, and also that it was a mistake not to represent the orb in the sky as a part of the picture, since the moon is a subject of so much fantastic and involved imagery from the very beginning of the drama.
At the conclusion of the opera Mr. Hammerstein went to Miss Garden’s dressing room, extended his hands, and said:
Miss Garden’s eyes filled with tears. She threw her arms around the impresario’s neck and kissed him.
The curtain did not go up until 9:25 o’clock, as the line of carriages was so long that it was impossible for them to arrive quickly enough to discharge their occupants in time for the scheduled curtain. Mr. Campanini and the orchestra were ready at 9 o’clock sharp, but Mr. Hammerstein ordered the curtain held until the confusion caused by persons arriving had subsided.
Nearly every one had obtained his tickets beforehand, and the ticket speculators found many unsold on their hands. At 9 o’clock they were offering $10 seats for $5.
The presence of the Earl and Countess of Granard, who have just returned to town, was a matter of much interest to the audience, waiting for the first notes of the orchestra, which in »Salome« are simultaneous with the parting of the curtains. Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills were with the Earl and the Countess. Mrs. Mills was in a gown of white and silver, trimmed profusely with black lace, and she wore her famous tiara, a collar of diamonds and pearls, and some splendid jewels at the corsage. The Countess was simply gowned in pale blue chiffon, spangled with silver, with a corsage bouquet of gardenias. Her jewels were two strands of pearls.
Mrs. Clarence Mackay had a large party in one of the proscenium boxes, and among her guests were William Sheehan, Col. G. B. M. Harvey, Norman Hapgood, and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Morton. Mrs. Mackay wore pale blue with a corsage of pink roses and her diamond tiara.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Goelet and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., were in an adjoining box. Mrs. Vanderbilt wore deep rose, with a corsage bouquet of crimson roses. Mrs. Goelet was in white. On the other side of the house were Mr. and Mrs. George Gould and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Symes Lehr. Mrs. Gould was in white, with a diamond tiara. Mrs. Lehr wore black trimmed in jet, and wore a diamond collar and tiara.
In other boxes were Mr. and Mrs. Philip Lydig, Mrs. Lydig in a Directoire gown of gray and silver; Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Havemeyer, the latter in gray. Others in boxes and in seats were Mr. and Mrs. John Henry Hammond, Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Lorillard Ronalds, Mr. and Mrs. James W. Gerard, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Morton, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Oakman, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Oakman, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Untermyer, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Guggenheim, Mrs. Marcus Daly, Mr. and Mrs. Elbert H. Gary, Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Weatherbee, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Ali Haggin, Mr. and Mrs. Durant Cheever, Harry Eldridge, Frederick Beach, Mrs. William C. Nicoll, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew McKinney, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. O’Donohue [?], Creighton Webb, Mr. and Mrs. Louis F. Leland, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hill Pierce, Mrs. Gilbert Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Henry F. Redmond, Miss Helen Read, Mrs. Charles T. Reynolds, Miss Elisabeth Reamer, Mrs. Henry W. Schmidt, Dr. Henry Schroeder, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Hilliard, Frederick Reed, T. Sanford Beatty, Kingdon Gould, Mrs. A. M. Richard, Miss Alice Richard, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Bidwell, and Miss Norma Bidwell, George Wagstaff, and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wagstaff, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Jesse R. Grant and Mrs. Scott Grant, Mrs. S. Everett Oakes, Mrs. Walter Herrick, Effingham Irwin, Stephen Landon, Henry Lambert, Mr. and Mrs. Alpheus Montgomery, Archer Harmon, Benjamin Harrison McKee, Howard Bonbright, Francis Herreshoff, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Parsons, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Quinby, Charles Roelker, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Payson Bigelow, Mrs. Albert Bierstadt, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Oakley, Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Quackenbush, Mr. and Mrs. J. Russell Soley, Mr. and Mrs. George H. Abbott, Mrs. Edward L. Norton, Mr. and Mrs. Millard F. Polhemus, Mrs. Henry Siegel, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Noyes, Mr. and Mrs. Tracy Dows, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Knox, Mrs. Hazard Field, Mrs. Harvey S. Ladew, Mrs. W. B. Osgood Field, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Bliss, Mrs. Francis Wellman, F. Delano Weeks, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Cravath, Mrs. Dandridge Spotswood, Mme. Van Haeflan, Mrs. Frank Avery, Albert Morris Bagby, Mrs. Dunlap Hopkins, Mrs. Reeve Merritt, Miss Thornton, Mrs. Clermont L. Best, J. H. Sears, Mrs. Charles G. Ayres, Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Sherrill, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Seligman, Dr. Egerton S. Jackson and Mrs. Jackson, and Dr. Clarence S. Rice and Mrs. Rice.
Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Edey were with Mrs. Howard Page and Miss Ione Page. Mrs. Joseph Manning, Mrs. George Elder, Mrs. Nathalie Schenck Collins, Mr. and Mrs. Harry La Montagne, Mrs. Newbold Edgar, Richard Peters, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Weir, Mr. and Mrs. William Demorest, Mr. and Mrs. Battershaw of Albany, Antonio De Navarro, Elliot Gregory, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Hyde, Mr. and Mrs. McDuval, Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Ronalds, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Baruch, Mrs. Fairfax Landstreet, Mrs. Harold Villard, Mrs. Joseph Dilworth. In the box with Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Olin were Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Stevens, Mrs. Charles Childs, and Mr. and Mrs. Willard Brown. In the stalls was also Mrs. John Jacob Astor.