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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

Seduced by Salome

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Perhaps no other composer’s career fell so neatly into two distinct halves as that of Richard Strauss (1864-1949). He began as an almost exclusively orchestral composer, turning out one great tone poem after another until roughly the first decade of the 20th century. Then came his “second act” as a composer of operas. While Strauss’ first two operas remained quite firmly grounded in the same Wagnerian tradition as his many orchestral tone poems, his third opera, Salome, marked the turning point—and what a decidedly revolutionary one it was! Salome burst upon the early-20th-century music scene in 1905, ushering in musical modernism and even the avant-garde. Premiering in Dresden, Germany, Salome was condemned by musically conservative critics for its perceived moral decadence, but the more adventurous found it to be a fresh start for an art form that was becoming somewhat staid and predictable. The latter opinion remained in the decided minority for some time, however. The negative reaction—that Salome was dangerous and perverse—held sway. People were simply not prepared for it, having become used to Strauss’ lushly chromatic, late-Romantic musical language.

Strauss himself wrote Salome’s psychologically charged libretto based upon Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play, Salom. The story revolves around the biblical tale of John the Baptist, King Herod and the court’s exotic dancer, Salome. Owing something still to Richard Wagner, Strauss continually weaves the clarinet into the musical soundscape (the clarinet representing Salome). It becomes quite frenzied when she performs the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils. Likewise, Wagnerian leitmotivs appear in the way the characters sing: Salome’s style is flirtatious, John the Baptist’s devoutly tonal and Herod’s somewhat disorienting and dissonant (conveying a sense of mental and emotional instability in his character).

“Filled with brooding beauty and Strauss’ evocative music, this thrilling and captivating operatic production is one you won’t want to miss,” says the Florentine Opera. They bring Salome to the stage as the second production of their ongoing season. Joyce Castle sings Herodias, Mark Doss is John the Baptist (Jochanaan), Joel Sorensen portrays Herod and Eric Johnston sings Narraboth. The title role will be performed by Kelly Cae Hogan on Feb. 16 and by Erika Sunnegardh on the 15th and 17th. John Hoomes is the stage director for the production, Maestro Joseph Rescigno conducts and William Florescu is the general director.

At Uihlein Hall, Feb. 15-17. The Prometheus Trio continues its season with a concert featuring three chamber pieces. The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident string trio performs Elegie, Op. 23 (1902) by Czech composer Joseph Suk (1874-1935); Trio sur des melodies populaires irlandaises (1926) by Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890- 1974); and Peter Tchaikovsky’s (1840-93) Trio in A Minor, Op. 50 (1882), the latter titled “In Memory of a Great Artist” in honor of the recently passed pianist-composer Nikolai Rubinstein.