Wie schön…

December 9, 2006

As a bit of an artsy distraction… I would like to take a few moments to commemorate my favorite opera. Based on a play by Oscar Wilde, Richard Strauss’ Salome premiered on this date in 1905, provoking much controversy due to the titular character’s insatiable desire for the holy man Jochanaan (John the Baptist), as well as its then-revolutionary style of composition. Nevertheless, Salome became a major success, though I suspect that its infamy actually helped. (Tout ca change…)

Although Salome propelled Strauss into the avant garde for a few years (and allowed him to purchase his villa in Garmisch), it soon seemed quaint when compared with the music of the next generation of composers. Arnold Schoenberg began to explore atonality by the end of the 20th Century’s first decade, and the premier of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring actually provoked riots at its premiere in 1913. While Salome might have lost some of its initial edge, it remains a sufficiently compelling work. It has become part of opera’s standard repertoire, and it still manages to provoke controversy every so often.

For those of you who wish to indulge in this one-act thrill ride, I recommend the video starring Catherine Malfitano as Salome, with Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting the Deutsche Oper Berlin. And if you have young kids whom you wish to expose to a bit of the old ultra-culture, please be advised that the “Dance of the Seven Veils” and the final scene are not exactly good clean family viewing. However, if you have teenagers, you might want to force them to watch. It will probably change their minds about opera completely.

Now that I have submitted this self-indulgent posting, I feel an obligation to tie it to higher education, librarianship, or technology. Okay. Here it is. At a conference a few years ago, my wife met an information scientist who felt that Salome would provide interesting raw material for developing a music information retrieval tool. (I suppose she could outline the context more clearly.) Indeed, Salome would make a fascinating piece to study; contemporary visionary work involving a visionary opera from over a century ago.

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