[Met Performance] CID:114270
New production
Salome {2} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/13/1934.

(Debut: Donald Oenslager

Metropolitan Opera House
January 13, 1934
New production

R. Strauss-O. Wilde/Lachmann

Salome..................Göta Ljungberg
Herod...................Max Lorenz
Herodias................Dorothee Manski
Jochanaan...............Friedrich Schorr
Narraboth...............Hans Clemens
Page....................Doris Doe
Jew.....................Marek Windheim
Jew.....................Giordano Paltrinieri
Jew.....................Angelo Badŕ
Jew.....................Max Altglass
Jew.....................James Wolfe
Nazarene................Emanuel List
Nazarene................Hans Clemens
Soldier.................Louis D'Angelo
Soldier.................Arnold Gabor
Cappadocian.............Alfredo Gandolfi
Slave...................Helen Gleason

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Director................Wilhelm Von Wymetal Jr.
Set designer............Donald Oenslager [Debut]

Salome received nine performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Sun

An astonished and fascinated audience celebrated the return of Richard Strauss's one-act opera "Salome," to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House Saturday evening. Astonished because it had read that the work had been sternly abandoned twenty-seven years ago. Fascinated by its powerful and subtle treatment of a strange story projecting principally the abnormal psychologies of a feminine pervert and a man tormented by perpetual and undefined terrors.

The imaginative poem of Oscar Wilde, founded on Biblical history and European legend, unfolded itself though the magic spell of the masterly score created thirty years ago by the man who is today the most famous of living composers. What amazed and confounded hearers in 1907 had utterly disappeared in a performance marked by a discretion which created the suspicion that there had been an earnest endeavor to suppress some of the true characteristics of the work.

The realism of the fondling of the severed head which hurt so many tender hearts in the original production was abolished. The head itself was wrapped in gauze draperies and was practically invisible. There was little caressing of it and only one short kiss. The dance of the seven veils was made reprehensible at the first "Salome" by the physical writhings of the dancer who "doubled" for Mme. Fremstad. The disrobing as frankly done by Mary Garden was observed calmly by most spectators. In these days of undressed ballet it would not raise even a single eyebrow.

There was excellence of stage mounting, of costume (with exceptions), of lighting, of stage movement. Of pointed projection of the sensual elements forming the basis of the drama's emotional conflict there was little. A carefully drawn outline was presented; the lights were generally clear, though not glaring, and the shadows were subdued. What stood forth in unquenchable splendor was the score of Strauss, instantly recognizable as great music of the theater and perfectly planned for the dramatic purpose.

The story of the musical structure of the opera have been sufficiently examined in this place. All that remains to be reported now is the present effect and estimate of the music drama and the manner of its revival. There has been much emphasis laid on the storm aroused by the production of 1907, the banishment of the work from the Metropolitan and its rehabilitation. Altogether too little has been said about the fact that's Salome was placed before New York for the second time on January 28, 1909 at the Manhattan Opera House by Oscar Hammerstein and as late as February 4, 1922 by the Chicago Opera Company at the same theater.

In both productions which had several repetitions the Salome was Mary Garden who gave an inimitable and irresistibly seductive impersonation. At the first representation she stripped the seven veils from her beauty without much reservation. There was no public protest at that time. When the work was brought forward in 1922 the first performance was for the benefit of sufferers in devastated France and was under the sponsorship of Miss Anne Morgan, who had been erroneously accused of causing the historic withdrawal from the Metropolitan.

Since no one was shocked (except one or too newspaper reviewers) when "Salome" was given in 1909 and again in 1922, there was no reason except that of publicity agitators to expect horror or indignation Saturday evening. People who had been excited by the tales of dreadful things to come must have gone home grievously disappointed. The undisguised tremblings of the management must have been provoked by imaginary alarm.

The most refulgent star of the evening was Mr. Bodanzky. He knew and understood the score. He had penetrated to its heart and he had mastered its technic. To an orchestra overworked and fatigued he carried inspiration. The musicians played with enthusiasm. There was manifestly a feeling of security on the stage. The vocal and instrumental elements of the work became organically united. The splendor of the most eloquent pages had never before been so glorious, and that splendor is not matched by anything else written since Wagner.

The protagonists of "Salome" are the perverted girl and her fear-haunted stepfather, Herod. Jokanaan is in effect the immovable body against which the irresistible force of Salome's passion is shattered. Mme. Ljungberg had sung Salome in Europe, and, we are told, with the approval of Mr. Strauss. Possibly her anxiety to avoid wounding the susceptibilities of Puritanical New York caused her to cloud the high sports of her foreign characterization. At any rate, she was a Salome of shrunken viciousness. Her temptations of Narraboth and Jokanaan were almost modest in their restraint, and surely Herod was fruit ripe for the plucking.

She sang her music with plenty of energy, and it needs it. To get through a performance of "Salome" a singer must have strength and vocal skill. Let us credit Mme. Ljungberg with strength. But she remained most of the time above the surface of the music. The truth is that the admired soprano is not physically or temperamentally suited to the role as we inferior mortals in this country have been taught to understand it by Fremstad and Garden. It is a pity that Strauss did not know them as we did. If he had he would be better acquainted with his own Salome.

We do recall that Flaubert described the Salome dance thus: "She danced like the priestesses of India, like the Nubians of the cataracts, or like the bacchantes of Lydia. She whirled about like a flower blown by the tempest. The jewels in her eyes sparkled; her swift movements made the colors of her draperies appear to run into one another. Her arms, her feet, her clothing even seemed to emit streams of magnetism that set the spectator's blood on fire."

We do not believe that any blood was fired by the dance of Saturday evening, and the untying of the several little scarves which the lady had wound around her arms and her waist did not suggest the stripping of Istar even remotely. The dance, be it confessed, has always been a difficult problem, but certainly no approach to its solution was made in this latest performance, and in the final analysis it was not a dance at all, but a promenade.

There was no subtle communication across the footlights of the formation of Salome's wicked determination to ask for the head of Jokanaan. Mme. Ljungberg rose to her highest level in her acting at the cistern while waiting for the decapitation of Jakanaan. Here for a few moments she was sinister, darkly swayed by the torment of emotion, and almost in artistic harmony with the marvelous orchestral delineation of the composer. Elsewhere her impersonation of Salome was laudable principally for vigor of style, energy of action and vocal strenuosity. She had an unquestionable success with her audience and together with her associates was called before the curtain many times after the opera.

Max Lorenz made a laudable essay at the role of Herod, but its psychology was not within the grasp of his powers. His voice was not well suited to the music and his action was marked by movement rather than by significance. Herod is a part calling for a singing actor of unusual skill. Mr. Lorenz deserves commendation for doing all that he could with it. There was, unfortunately, much more to be done.

M. Schorr's Jokanaan was well-conceived and well-performed. That is not quite as portentous as the drama suggested was not altogether Mr. Schorr's fault. If the Salome had been completely convincing, the Jokanaan would have seemed more so that it did. Dorothee Manski was substituted for Karin Branzell as Herodias. She proved a satisfactory alternate. Indeed her impersonation was one of the two which most nearly realized the dramatist's vision. Mr. Clemens as Narraboth rendered the small, but important part almost negligible. Doris Doe made the page of Herodias quite so. The dispute of the five Jews over Herod's assertion that Jokanaan was a hold man who had seen God was addressed largely to the audience and partly to the conductor. It was not amusing. Emanuel List's voice gave dignity to the small role of the first Nazarene.

"Salome" bore with unshaken strength the shortcoming of a production which may improve with repetition. No one in the imposing assembly, occupying all seats and jamming the standing room, can have failed to perceive that this is a lyric drama of superlative puissance. It is wholly of the theater and the music reinforced the conviction that, despite the well-known tone poems, Strauss is above all things else a dramatic composer. His "Egyptian Helen" was an artistic fall, but he will survive it by virtue of "Elektra" and "Salome."

Photograph of a scene from Salome with Göta Ljungberg as Salome, Dorothee Manski as Herodias, and Max Lorenz as Herodes by Wide World Studio.

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