Salome

2012-5-6

Upon hearing descriptions of some of Christ's miracles, an inebriated Herod remarks that he forbids resurrections as they make him uncomfortable. One can't help but wonder how he would feel about this particular production of Strauss's opera which originally ran in 2008, and has been resurrected now for a second time.

Musically, Salome is as good as you would expect as the orchestra brings the swooping cadences of Strauss's romanticism to life. The highlight is of course the Dance of the Seven Veils, an example of orientalism which remains fresh and exciting. The problem lies in the way the Dance is staged: here it becomes a kind of Freudian exposition of Salome's "dirty bath water," which undermines the figure Salome herself.

In order to be a worthy focal point of the performance, Salome needs to have certain redeeming characteristics. Zizek gives them in this way:

Is therefore Salome not in a way, no less than Antigone, the embodiment of a certain ethical stance? No wonder she is so attracted to Jokanaan - it is the matter of one saint recognizing another.

In this production, we don't get a sense of these qualities. We don't believe Salome is genuinely in love with Jokanaan, he is just off-limits. And, instead of Salome using her sexuality as a means of achieving a higher ends (love), the dance takes us through her psychological "baggage," suggesting, for example, that Herod abused her as a child. However, in a Freudian sense, if there had been actual abuse, its memory would be suppressed and unavailable for Salome to cynically insert into her dance. It must be a pure fabrication on Salome's part, and it is not an effective one. Salome is an unredeemable psychopath; she descends to the basement at the start of the performance and she stays down there.

Instead, the production is really about the development of Herod. He starts the opera in an emasculated position: his servants ignore his orders, his gold-digging wife openly mocks him, his daughter manipulates him, and to top it all off, he is as high as a kite and nobody is helping him. When Herod order's Salome's death just moments before the curtain falls, the audience applauds the reassertion of his patriarchal authority, and sincerely hopes he goes on to divorce his wife, sack his entire household staff, and maybe have a chat with that Jesus guy. There's still time to turn your life around!

This resurrection of Salome is on until the 16th of June at the Royal Opera House.


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