Strauss – Salome / Deutsche Oper Berlin 1990 (2)

(Previous section here.)

When Herod tells Salome that she can have whatever she wants if she will dance, we see the moment at which the ghastly idea occurs to her and she pounces on it: she is profoundly uninterested in Herod other than as a way to get her revenge on Jochanaan. The little orientalist flourish in the orchestra at the start of Salome’s dance (the bit with the drums and the little ‘middle eastern’ figures in the woodwinds) which seems to imply that what will follow will be a kind of seduction dance is both undercut and upheld by what follows.


The music, at least most of the time, implies a seduction dance  – which suggests that the dancing is aimed at someone in particular.  But the way that this is choreographed (the choreographer is Bernd Schindowski) and the way that Malfitano performs it, makes it seem less a direct attempt to manipulate and more a sort of heavily eroticized self-assertion. After all, that’s about the limit of what Salome can do, right? There’s an implication that this is about power, but it’s power of a certain type. There are moments when it verges on being an “I can do whatever the hell I want” dance; Salome laughs, silently, at one point, and then turns to find Herod looking at her, which makes her cringe and back away; she stops dancing, and Herod (silently) orders one of the soldiers in short shorts to lift her up and turn her around so that she will continue dancing, which she does. (And she enjoys her moment of being carried around by the soldier, which Herod does not like at all.) The dancing itself becomes not a titillation of the audience – as it might be if done differently – but a visual demonstration of Salome’s awareness of her own sexual power and her desire to revel in it and use it. When she rips off the last layer of gauze at the end – Malfitano ends the dance completely naked – it does not really read as seductive. It’s sexual, no question, but Salome is so monstrously self-absorbed that Herod’s “oh, that was wonderful!” at the end seems completely (and perfectly) out of place as a comment on what has just happened. (Has Salome seduced herself? Maybe that’s it.)

The entire last section of the performance is fantastic. Malfitano throws herself body and soul into Salome’s long interaction with the severed head – but I admit, I got so distracted by the weird chords towards the end that I ended up listening with my eyes closed. There is some freaky orchestral shit going down at the end of this opera. And the fact that some of those dissonant and strange moments are happening within the same work as that “orientalist” dance music from earlier on — that these two things are coexisting in the same work probably tells you not to trust that dance music.

2 thoughts on “Strauss – Salome / Deutsche Oper Berlin 1990 (2)

  1. I remember reading somewhere that someone (probably Mahler) told Strauss the dance was too “popular” sounding, I think he meant like crowd-pleasing, vulgar, and/or decadent. And Strauss said (more or less) “Exactly!” It was the contrast he intended.

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    1. That makes perfect sense – vulgar seems like kind of the point!

      Also, since google blogger does not play nice with iOS and I epically failed to leave a comment on your post about that Traviata: that one is definitely going on my list. I like the idea of ripping some of the glitz from that story and making it as awful as it kind of is. (And it sounds like the singing is worth hearing, if not stratospheric)

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