Performance | The Salome Scandal | Turn of the Century | Opera
The premiere of Salome on 9 December 1905 was a scandal. Even before the work had been heard in public, there were serious problems. Rehearsals became increasingly difficult because of both the demands Strauss placed on the voice and the eroticism of the subject. At the first piano rehearsal, the entire cast handed back their scores, declaring it unsingable, with the exception of the Herod, who embarrassed everyone by claiming to know it from memory. The production’s Salome, Marie Wittich, threatened to withdraw because she was ‘a respectable married woman’, and the orchestra said the piece was impossible to perform.
It was the shock effects of Salome that drew most attention to it. The sexual prurience of the subject, particularly the now-famous ‘Dance of the Sevel Veils’ and Salome’s desire to kiss the severed head of Jochanaan, caused problems for many people. The work was immediately banned in Vienna and Berlin – where Strauss had attempted to calm frayed nerves by explaining that he was working on a biblical piece – and there was a two-year wait before permission was granted for a performance. Salome even caused ructions in Strauss’s relationship with the Wagners. The royalties from the scandal, however, made Strauss a wealthy man and he was able to build the ultimate status symbol: his personal villa.
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