Programme booklet »Salome«

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SALOME MUSIC DRAMA in one act Libretto based on OSCAR WILDES play in the translation by Hedwig Lachmann



piccolo / 3 flutes / 2 oboes cor anglaise / heckelphone E-flat clarinet / 4 clarinets bass clarinet / 3 bassoons contrabassoon / 6 horns 4 trumpets / 4 trombones bass tuba / timpani percussion / celesta / 2 harps violin I / violin II / viola cello / double bass harmonium / organ

AUTOGRAPH Richard-Strauss-Archiv Garmisch-Partenkirchen WORLD PREMIÈRE 9 DEC 1905 Dresden Court Opera PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 14 OCT 1918 Vienna Court Opera DURATION

1 H 45 M



SYNOPSIS Herod, the Tetrarch, is celebrating his birthday with a select group of guests. Two soldiers and the captain of the guard, Narraboth, are watching the prisoner, Jochanaan (the prophet, John the Baptist). Narraboth loves Herod’s step-daughter, Salome. He ignores the warnings of the Page. The voice of the prophet sounds from the dungeon. He is announcing the arrival of the Messiah. Repelled by her stepfather’s advances, Salome leaves the feast. She hears the prophet’s warnings and wants to see him. She persuades Narraboth to ignore the Tetrarch’s explicit ban and grant her wish. Jochanaan appears before Salome. Without at first paying attention to her, he accuses her stepfather of his incestuous marriage with her mother, Herodias. The strange man arouses Salome’s curiosity and desire. She is seized by a longing to touch his hair and his body, and to kiss his lips. Her ecstasy drives Narraboth to suicide. The prophet spurns Salome, saying there is only one who can save her – Jesus of Nazareth. When Salome continues to harass Jochanaan, he curses her and returns to his prison. The Tetrarch enters, looking for Salome. The prophet’s voice is heard again, reprimanding. Herodias demands that he be handed over to the Jews. Herod refuses, as he believes Jochanaan is a holy man, an opinion which prompts a sharp disagreement among the Jews – while some believe he is a charlatan, the Nazarenes honour him as a herald of the Saviour. Herod presses Salome to dance for him. She refuses until he swears to give her anything she wants. Salome dances, and demands Jochanaan’s head. Appalled, Herod offers her his most precious treasures, but Salome insists on her demand. She loses herself while gazing upon the severed head. When she finally kisses the prophet’s bloody mouth, Herod orders the soldiers to kill her.




NEW BEGINNINGS If we compare Salome, which pre­ mièred in 1905, to Richard Strauss’ first two operas, i.e. Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), the huge step forward that the composer took with his new work is very evident. There is no question that Guntram and Feuersnot are still very post-Wagnerian – incidentally a stylistic path that several of his colleagues at this time followed. Strauss himself however soon realised that both in musical terms and in terms of subject matter this avenue was petering out, and many stories, like the well-known tales of the heroes and the gods, had run their course. And naturally he was aware of other musical developments going on around him and was familiar with the various existing stylistic directions. Strauss felt that something different had to emerge now, and as an enfant terrible of his day, he took the bold step of coming up with something new. And this something new was Salome. If we analyse Strauss’ musical maturation process, we see that this step did not come out of nowhere; rather, his symphonic poems were a kind of musical workshop from which he developed many novel ideas for Salome. Strauss himself once called his symphonic poems “preparatory work” for the opera. However, we should never­

theless not forget that in their day these symphonic poems were considered exceptional and modern, not just because of their musical language, but also thematically. The themes were no longer the great heroes, but above all the anti-heroes: for example, a Don Quixote or a Till Eulenspiegel, and in this they were vastly different from the traditional ideal protagonists. This was already a deliberate rejection of the Wagner model – for which incidentally Cosima Wagner immediately reproached Strauss. We find particularly strong links between Salome and Also sprach Zarathustra, although the latter was premièred almost ten years before Salome: this applies to the religious element on the one hand and also to the delight Strauss evidently took in coloura­ tion, and a sometimes “exotic” sounding soundscape – and this too was a phenomenon of the day. How­ever, even though Strauss was exploring new avenues, we still find many elements carried over from Wagner to his Salome, if nothing else in the leitmotif technique, which is also a significant element of Strauss’ compositions. Each character and situation has its own motif, or sometimes even several. While the leitmotifs in Wagner are clearly anchored in psychology, the



motifs in Strauss are above all a means of constructing entire scenes. We find them in every possible combination, in inversions, protractions, contractions – everything that is used to draw up a large-scale canvas. We should not forget the reference to Wagner in the orchestration: Strauss resorts to Wagner’s orchestra, which is however considerably expanded, and the form of orchestration is enlarged in a revolutionary way. Another element of Wagner is the through-composed structure which we find in both Salome and Elektra. In addition, there are deliberately used references to Wagner’s works. We need only think of the beginning of the opera, when the captain Narraboth sings “How beautiful is Princess Salome this evening!” Immediately after this we hear a theme in the celli with an unmistakable reference to Tristan und Isolde: it is about Narraboth’s wistful love! In general, it is astonishing how often the so-called Tristan chord is used in Salome. We hear another very clear quote from Wagner when Salome looks down into the darkness of the cistern for the first time: an E-flat minor chord is played, a reference to Götterdämmerung. But Wagner is not the only composer referenced in this score; Engelbert Humperdinck is also present. It was Strauss who conducted the world première of Hänsel und Gretel in Weimar. He loved the work, and many passages reveal how much it influenced him. One such moment is when Salome has the idea of demanding John the Baptist’s head, or when she kisses the prophet’s mouth. At this point, we hear the same trill in exactly the same orchestration that we heard with the

Sandman in Hänsel und Gretel. Unfortunately, Strauss had the same tendency as Humperdinck to over-orchestrate his music, in other words write a broad and opaque-sounding orchestration. In Salome in particular this is very evident. Most probably he had to test his limits in this regard, just as Richard Wagner had done with Der fliegende Holländer. To truly know yourself, you presumably have to overstep your bounds first. Apart from that, a composition sometimes goes off in a direction that one had not initially intended or planned. Strauss first had to grasp the fact that Salome is no Isolde, and the role has to be treated differently. In his letters to Ernst von Schuch, the première conductor whom Strauss revered above all others, the composer in fact initially demanded a singer “with the voice of Isolde.” However, the more he heard different productions of the opera and also conducted it himself, the more he came to the realisation that the piece needs something more fragile and youthful. Casting Salome remains a difficult task: how should it be approached? The more you focus on casting appropriately for the character, the more mindful you have to be of the huge orchestra. As he grew older, Strauss himself tried to persuade ever lighter voices to take on the role of Salome. And so the “Dresden retouched versions” came about that have now been published. The Strauss conductors who worked directly with the composer, such as Clemens Krauss, Fritz Reiner and last but not least Karl Böhm, naturally knew exactly what the composer’s intentions were and realised them throughout their careers.



Accordingly, is it incumbent on conductors to make dynamic adjustments and adapt the score; Strauss actually encouraged and authorised this! At one rehearsal, Ernst von Schuch demonstrated to the composer what happens when the marked dynamic is played simply as written. Strauss instantly understood that this was not a Wagner opera, but the score – as he later expressed it himself – must be played like fairy music by Mendelssohn. It was only with Elektra that Strauss learned to balance the relationship between the singers and the pit; he lowered the orchestral sound and made it darker, thus differentiating it more from the voices. The increased use of forte-piano and fortissimo-piano dynamics and rapid decrescendi became a given. The Salome score uses many musical images, with descriptions of situations and people or characterisations. This is very evident for example with the two characters of Salome and John the Baptist; Strauss allocates a different key to each character, thereby creating a contrast. The princess’ music is predominantly between C-sharp minor and A major, so very bright sharp keys. John the Baptist is in not just C major but also the darker flat keys; for example, his first entrance is in A-flat major, and we often hear E-flat major. However, there is also a significant stylistic difference between the two: John the Baptist sings clear, tonal music, almost chorale-like; Salome is the exact opposite, often light, floating, graceful, vulnerable, polyphonic. Herod and Herodias are fairly similar and less directly assignable than the two characters just named; they tend to be in minor keys, such as D minor

or E minor, with bi-tonal characteristics. Herod has music with whole-tone scales and also chromaticism. And it is precisely because of these bold harmonies which occur throughout the opera that the work was considered to be so modern when it was written. Even though Salome is essentially a tonal score, Strauss makes frequent use of dissonances and sound games, sharpened chords, sometimes nesting several keys over each other. A memorable example is the moment when Salome kisses John the Baptist’s mouth: we hear several keys simultaneously ranging from a high trill (D minor) and a Salome motif (E minor) to a very low, very “dirty” sounding chord (C-sharp minor with disso­nances) – you can positively feel this repugnant kiss. This was the new element that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, there are also some distressingly dark shadows over the work. It is well known that Strauss used antisemitic clichés in the quintet for five Jews, and these are understood as such by the audience. An important aspect of this work that you notice quite literally from the first moment is the huge, cleanly differentiated orchestra. This allows the shaping of an incredible palette of nuances and the entire range of sound techniques. (Naturally this was at a time when we think of Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel.) With this orchestra, Strauss conjures up magnificent atmospheric magic that helps you visualise the sultry evening mood, the “oriental” colours, the acoustic images. For these he uses for example the celesta or harp, but also many solo string instruments, a wide range of wind instruments, above all an entire battalion of clarinets, and



also divided string sections that at times play using different techniques: while some play trills, another group plays tremolos and yet others add pizzicati. Last but not least there is incredible percussion, including the glockenspiel and the all-important xylophone. Strauss tries to draw new sounds from these instruments, sounds that have never been played before. A very familiar moment is when Salome awaits the execution of John the Baptist. In the tense silence, Strauss adds a strange sound played by a solo double bass. A B-flat, very brief, unusually high, is plucked using a very rarely used technique in which the string is held by thumb and index finger. A remarkable effect! There are countless images in the opera that Strauss transforms into musical language. When the silver platter is mentioned, we hear a cymbal clash; the moon is painted using onomatopoeic sounds, almost in Impression-

ist style, and very much like Debussy; when the wind is mentioned, we hear chromatic scales. I particularly like the moment when Herod talks about peacocks: double bass pizzicati alternate with timpani, and you can almost see the birds strutting. And so Strauss offers a musical imitations, or rather; he comments on everything. With him there is irrepressible joy in illustrating the text, and this can be found throughout his works, all the way to his last opera Capriccio. This gives us an indication of how very important the text was for him as a composer. In my opinion, for Strauss the text was the main source of artistic inspiration. In this connection the conductor has the challenge of maintaining control and oversight. There are moments where this kind of sound should be emphasised. However, one must always beware of losing sight of the overall picture in the forest of details.





Cyril, you’ve repeatedly described Salome as a family portrait. Were you able to put this idea into action? ct The drama of Salome is a chapter in a family tragedy. The initial situation shows surprising parallels with Hamlet. The mother took as her second husband the man who killed the father of her child, and who is also the brother of her first husband. This is very Elizabethan. We also concentrate above all on exploring this family structure. sm In the libretto, the fate of Salome’s biological father isn’t mentioned. Why is it important for your analysis? ct In Wilde we learn that Salome was 14 when her father was killed. Jochanaan is imprisoned in the same cistern where her father languished for 12 years. So she hardly knew her father. When she hears Jochanaan’s voice through the bars of the cistern, this reminds her of her father’s cries of protest. When Salome describes the cistern as a crypt, she’s also referring to

the murder of her father, strangled on Herodes’ orders. Jochanaan is the only man who won’t look at Salome and also the only man who sees Salome in a good way and properly, as her father saw her. Jochanaan opens something very powerful in Salome. This is a love story of a child who was loved wrongly and too much, as Herodes himself admits. In Herodes’ day you could marry 14-year-old children, and Herodes even refers to this possibility. In 2023 the piece confronts us with another set of problems we can’t accept. sm Paedophilia? ct Exactly. In the opera Salome is presented as an adult woman, in other words we see and judge Salome almost inevitably as a woman. I see my task as liberating the child in her which is kept imprisoned by the way others see her – or, more accurately, helping her in the struggle for liberation. I tackle these difficult problems poetically. The piece allows us to counter violence and malice artistically with beauty.




The theme of the feast is central for you. You’ve done some iconographic research for this and discovered the motif of cannibalism. ct The mouth plays a central role – the mouth that is the channel for the words of speech, and also the mouth that eats and takes in nourishment. In the piece the emphasis is repeatedly on fruit and wine. At the end, Salome is brought the head of Jochanaan as the last course, revealing a cannibalistic society where they all eat each other, although at first we think we’re seeing a superficially perfect and civilised evening gathering. The feast plays a principal role, as in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, where an existential drama unfolds under the apparently relaxed surface. sm Salome is also a tragedy of vision. ct This is very contemporary too. We’re increasingly losing our sense of hearing and smell; perception today is controlled by the eyes. One of the two great myths underlying Salome is the Orpheus myth. Salome enters the Underworld to find Jochanaan and her lost father in him, as Orpheus sought Eurydice there. And if you look around, you lose what you love. The second myth is the gaze of Medusa, the Gorgon, whose gaze turns to stone and kills. And vision also refers to the theatre – ‘theatron’ etymologically means ‘a place for viewing’. The heroine of the piece forces us to question our view in and of the theatre. Where are you looking from, what can you see, what don’t you see, what do you say, and why isn’t what is said identical with what people see? This is about the story of a forbidden and hidden – impossible – love. Salome

tries to find and restore what society has destroyed in her. The reason why Jochanaan doesn’t want to look at her is that the sight of Salome carries all the corrupted and depraved view of her surroundings. At the end, she asks Jochanaan’s head, “Why didn’t you look at me? If you’d looked at me, you would have loved me.” An unspeakable anguish. Anguish that everyone has to deal with, as we all suffer from being unseen, or seen in a false light. sm What does this mean for the aesthetic of live or preproduced camera pictures in your performance? ct I want the pictures that we produce to speak to us, to address our hearing, in a manner of speaking. A picture has to speak to me, I believe, it shouldn’t show anything, portray any­ thing. I filter the portrait of Salome and the portrait of her family through the camera’s eye, particularly the dance of the seven veils. We’re at a diplomatic banquet where a photographer and a cameraman produce pictures for the public. And Salome uses that by reversing the perspective. She uses images as a weapon, to show all the world the views that she’s been subjected to. There is clearly unfinished business between Herodes and Salome, both are too close together in the pictures, we see how his hand is reaching for hers. The whole piece begins with the young woman’s protest, “Why does the tetrarch keep looking at me like that?”, and it ends with Herodes unable to stand the sight of her and ordering for her to be killed. By contrast, Jochanaan is never seen by the camera. Gilles Deleuze made a wonderful comment, “Every closeup is affection.” We have to find just this closeness and affection



in the most well-intentioned sense of the word in dealing with Salome. The camera helps us by showing Salome as beautifully as possible. There is no single image we show of her that is malignant. sm Many of the things that distinguish your art are already clear in what’s been said to date. Questions of art never directly involve the “what”, it’s always the “how” that make it difficult to talk about art, you mostly communicate through so-called content. Mallarmé said that poems are not made with ideas but with words. How do you carry out your ideas artistically? The words you work with are the parameters of theatre, space, light etc, but above all the bodies and imagination of the performers. I see how you recalibrate the body language of the collaborators, try to free them from false conventions and reach a zero point to arrive at a different credibility. ct Often performers arrive at rehearsal with a finished idea. My job then is first to deconstruct these ideas. Our job in the theatre isn’t to explain, but to understand. The decisive thing is for all those to understand that what’s involved is an incomplete collective exploration, a collective learning process. sm Presumably your own history and experience as an actor play a role here. ct I remember Tarkovsky, who talks about an authenticity that’s so great that it can no longer be hidden. You have to seek this authenticity and intimacy together with the performers. And this authenticity doesn’t have to be explained or illustrated further.

Theatre doesn’t need to explain the world, it’s a resonator, an echo chamber for the world. And rightly so. However beautiful the pictures, lighting moods and placing you create, if the actors within your construct aren’t authentic, the rest of it doesn’t mean any­ thing. Content, thought determines form. sm How do you find the form? ct At the start of actual rehearsals, I don’t know what I’m going to say. Because that depends on the performers. They give me the energy my performance emerges from. I’m only the cartographer, the singers are the people who plunge into the woods and find their way through it. You also have to allow chance to play a part. Chance is a great dramaturge. Now, three weeks into rehearsals, I’m starting – perhaps – to understand. The theatre isn’t a still image, it’s something living. You can only understand by experiencing it. sm Opera singers can be victim to a specific professional distortion. The fact that they always have to perform their roles everywhere under different and often relatively unfavourable conditions for theatre almost inevitably makes their acting superficial and granular. The result is a misunderstanding by audiences that an opera production involves a visually appealing “packaging” of great singers and not the reciprocal insight and transformation of actor and scenic result. ct Here again, the camera helps, forcing the artists to focus their acting. sm You’re a member of the Collectif MxM. Can you briefly explain how it works?



ct The Collectif is a big team of some 35 people, including actors, dramaturges, videographers, technicians and so on, everybody has their own specific area. Basically, it’s an independent mobile theatre operation and the productions arise out of joint and hermetic interaction, which is why the Collectif is responsible for them. If we’re working at the opera, we’re subject to other

personnel and institutional structures, so the result isn’t one developed by the Collectif as a whole. This is why I’m acting here as a director in the classic sense. What hasn’t changed is that I’m dependent on collaborators who question things and draw my attention to things I’ve overlooked. Ultimately, it’s a joint, collectively shared adventure here as well.




THE SALOME HISTORY IN LITERATURE AND ART HISTORY The story of John the Baptist was very popular in early Christendom and the Middle Ages, and many different versions of it were told. At the beginning of the 5th century, theologian Isidore of Pelusium seized on the name Salome for the dancing daughter of the tetrarch, which was historically not implausible and vouched for by historian Flavius Josephus. Sometimes she was called “Herodias”, the same name as her mother, and depending on the focus on the story mother and daughter could be combined into one person. Folk tales perpetrated and expanded on the story about Salome’s death (such as her later decapitation by an ice floe) or her spectral afterlife as a witch or amongst the “Wild Animals.” The latter myth appears in the epic Ysengrimus, which was set down in writing in the mid-12th century. By way of Heinrich Heine’s epic poem Atta Troll written in 1843, this epic became particularly pertinent to ongoing reception of the story because here for the first time the daughter of Herodi-

as is in love with John the Baptist and even tries to kiss his severed head. While the story circulating in different versions about the execution of a prisoner for the entertainment of a lover during a banquet in Roman times served to discredit the responsible consul or governor, in the Christian tradition the guilty parties were only ever women, with differing quantifiers. Salome is sometimes the spineless instrument of her mother, sometimes the responsible perpetrator. Herod on the other hand is generally described as a weak ruler who is tricked by the mother and/or daughter. In the 16th century, there was a wave of literary descriptions of the execution of John the Baptist until interest subsided again in the 17th and 18th centuries. The best-known author from this period is Hans Sachs, who published a “tragedia” The Beheading of John the Baptist in 1550. In this version, the daughter acts independently, suggests the plan with the dance to her mother and ramps up its erotic effect with



her dress and cosmetics. Herod on the other hand manifests a bad conscience and declares to the executioner (who initially refuses to carry out the execution!) that he would otherwise fear losing favour with mother and daughter. In other John the Baptist plays there are macabre allusions to the daughter’s cannibalism or ghoulish words spoken by the severed head. Illustrations of the severed head of John the Baptist and Herod’s banquet have been recorded since the sixth century. In depictions of the banquet, Salome can be seen dancing or accepting the head, and typically several scenes are shown simultaneously, i.e. dance, execution and delivery of the head. However, Salome does not perform an erotic dance, but rather acrobatic tricks – in this context Salome is referred to as the “juggler Salome.” In the Renaissance and Baroque era Salome becomes more elegant and attractive in pictorial representations, and the contrast to the gruesome events is carried to the extreme; a pretty, regally dressed young woman smilingly accepts the head of John the Baptist. In the painting by Peter Paul Rubens dated 1638, a cannibalistic element is implied, which is also the case in some plays about John the Baptist. Herodias is prodding the head with a fork as if to take a bite. In the 16th century a second type of Salome picture emerges. She is now depicted alone with the head on a platter. The paintings were often a welcome opportunity to paint a portrait of an attractive woman; only the gruesome prop makes this painting a depiction of Salome. After interest in this subject matter declined temporarily, in the 19th century it was extensively

explored again. Orientalism and in part very explicit eroticism were new components that were included in illustrations, very much in parallel with rediscovery of the character in literature. The 1870 painting of Salome by Henri Regnault is particularly famous. Here Salome is clearly triumphant, between her dance and the execution, her clothes are in disarray from dancing, her feet are resting on the pelt of a beast of prey. The golden background of the painting had previously been reserved in art for saints. Oscar Wilde was familiar with many images of Salome, but neither the paintings by Rubens nor those by Leonardo nor Regnault were close to his heart. Of particular importance to him were two works painted in 1876 by Gustave Moreau, which Joris-Karl Huysmans described in his 1884 novel A rebours (Against Nature) as the favourite paintings of the hero of the book, Jean des Esseintes. “[He] desired the paintings showing delicate and delightful fantasies of ancient times and classical depravity which are far removed from our times and customs. To please his soul and delight his eye, he needed several paintings that would introduce him to an unknown world, suggest new ideas to him and stir his nervous system with overwrought sensations.” Jean’s favourite pictures are the oil painting Salome dances for Herod and the watercolour The apparition. “In the work of Gustave Moreau, in his sketches unrestrained by any tradition, Jean finally saw the embodiment of this superhuman and strange Salome. She was not just the dancer who with her sensual hip movements elicits a cry of vulgar desire from a weakened old



man by subjecting herself to the will of the king through the motions of her body and the quivering of her thighs. She became as it were the symbolic divinity of indestructible lechery, the goddess of immortal hysteria; the simply sensuous animal, prodigious, unfeeling, insensitive, who poisons everything that comes close to her, touches her and sees her.” Oscar Wilde admired Gustave Moreau’s paintings of Salome and also Huysmans’ novel. Gustave Flaubert’s 1877 novella Herodias (Hérodiade) contains many elements that Oscar Wilde also used. His story centres on Herod Antipas, who has to arbitrate between the political interests of different groups of the population; furthermore, on the one hand he is being pressured by Herodias finally to kill John the Baptist and on the other hand he fears that he could in fact have arrested the returned prophet Elijah. Herodias asserts herself by secretly training her daughter, who

has grown up some distance away, as a dancer; with an erotic dance she prompts Herod to grant her anything she desires – and we all know the consequences. Salome herself had no relationship with John the Baptist: “‘I want you to bring me on a platter the head...’ She had forgotten his name but continued at once with a smile: ‘The head of John the Baptist!’ The tetrarch slumped down, defeated. He was bound by his word, and the people were waiting.” Flaubert’s Herodias is an important model for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, but in the second half of the 19th century everyone was talking about the story. Amongst the many artists who produced work relating to this character were Stéphane Mallarmé and Jules Laforgue, and Oscar Wilde even reviewed an insignificant play about Salome by Joseph Heywood for a newspaper before he decided to write his own version of the story.




GUSTAV MAHLER AND RICHARD STRAUSS OR THE UNCALLED-FOR POLARISATION OF TWO COMPOSERS WHO THE FUTURE BELONGED TO In 1906, ten years after completing his third symphony, inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophy of art, and the completion in the same year by Richard Strauss of his tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, Gustav Mahler was asked in an interview about points of contact between the two compositions. He replied slightly ironically that although they had both “intuited the – as you might say – music latent in Nietzsche’s mighty work” he would describe himself “in Nietzsche’s terms” as “untimely.” “The truly timely one,” he said, was Richard Strauss, which is why he enjoyed “immortality in this mortal world.” What might have seemed generous at first sight, was a barely veiled at-

tack, and any Nietzsche student is likely to have understood it, as Nietzsche had regarded his Zarathustra as the preacher of the untimely, leaving timely with a negative connotation as a result. To be timely meant to be stuck in tradition, but at the same time running after every fashion, thoughtlessly involved in perfecting a materialistically oriented world, and subjected to positivism concerned with the mortal world. When Mahler called his colleague “the truly timely one”, he simply meant that Strauss was following the Nietzsche fashion that had been rapidly spreading since 1890. This reduced the philosopher’s attack on the “inflated pseudo-ideals of a class devoid of ideas” (Nietzsche) to



buzzwords, and led more to an affirmation of the prevailing view of society – the social Darwinism and positivist and materialistic orientation of the ideas of the Gründerzeit, nationalism and racism – than that it was an attack on this as untimely. This meant that Strauss’ tone poem was not only alien to Nietzsche’s thinking about the time and its tendency to re-evaluate values, it had actually contradicted it. You may feel that this struggle more than 80 years ago is passé today, involving a jealous tiff between two composers dealing with the same theme. But Mahler’s view of his colleague (which always fluctuated between friendship, admiration and misunderstanding) has been repeatedly adopted over time and into the present day, not only in evaluating the two Nietzsche compositions but in assessing Mahler’s and Strauss’ music generally. The judgement has resisted every development in history and music history for over 80 years, with Strauss as the timely, pseudorevolutionary bourgeois whose modernity was nothing more than reactionary adaptation to contemporary tastes, and Mahler as the untimely, reflecting sceptic, shaking the foundations of an ideal world. We find this judgement in Theodor W. Adorno, along with Arnold Schönberg, Thomas Mann, Ernst Bloch and Helmut Lachenmann. They all believed and believe they could justify it over time. While Strauss was initially declared to be the representative of the Gründerzeit with its positivist orientation, he was later regarded as a prophet, and then the representative of an artistic aesthetic which shaped National Socialism and promoted an apolitical affirmative basic attitude

which departed from reality. After the war, people sought virtually in vain in his music (with the exception of Metamorphoses, constantly cited as a counterexample) for an expression of suffering and brokenness, which would certainly have been appropriate to the historical situation. The intellectuals of the sixties saw a lack of political charisma, those of the seventies the musical expression of new sensitivity and introspection. As a result, Strauss (in a remarkable contrast to his operatic and concert works) increasingly lost popularity among aca­ demics, composers, sociologists and philosophers, while Mahler (particularly in the last three decades) became famed as the “contemporary of the future” (Der Zeitgenosse der Zukunft – the title of the Mahler biography by Kurt Blaukopf published in 1969). Strauss, dismissed as the timely one, became untimely, and Mahler the timely one, precisely because of his untimeliness. In Mahler’s music, as Theodor W. Adorno first noted, there is the awareness of the onset of the powerlessness of the individual. It reflects brokenness and collapse, Jewish outsiderness, inability to achieve idylls or reconciliation. By contrast, Adorno regarded the music of Strauss – which he saw as exclusively a “creation of the ego”, defined exclusively by the subject – as relating to a “capitalist physiognomy”: “the psychological problems which Strauss presents do not penetrate to the internal source of the problems, they are typical generalities.” This is where the falseness, the hypocrisy of Strauss’ music seemed to lie. Adorno and numerous musicologists following him believed wrongly that the assumed absence of a breach



between the individual and society, between subject and what was objectively communicated, meant that the music had been absorbed by what it should actually have negated – the bourgeoisie. In his “intellectual biography” of Mahler, building on Adorno, Frank Berger wrote that Mahler is more timely than ever, and that his music “has something to say to us today in its actuality and timeliness […] that we need.” It “makes music which anticipates the heights and depths of our time, the triumphs and disasters of our century. Briefly, it has its finger on the pulse of our time.” Is the polarisation really as convincing as it has been made for decades, driven by Adorno? Has Strauss’s music outlived itself, has it nothing more to do with us, has it become unfashionable, untimely? Conversely, was it in its day so timely and – in contrast to Mahler’s music – dominated exclusively by fashion? Richard Specht, one of the few critics who worked on Mahler as well as Strauss, wrote in 1923: “it would be bad for the oeuvre of Strauss if it were no more than timely – if there were no dreams of the future in it, if there was nothing essential in it which connects with the spirit of our times. In other words, the untimely.” Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss were of the same generation, children of their time, influenced as artists by those who influenced almost the creatives of their day – Richard Wagner, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. They were both interested in literature dealing with the human soul, which extended in the broadest terms to psychoanalysis. Both saw themselves as the mental heirs of those three, wanted like them to stand out

from the common herd, and saw themselves (if in entirely different ways) as untimely outsiders. Which made them undoubtedly timely again: the desire to be untimely was in line with the spirit of the times, modern and as such timely. They also wanted their music to be untimely, to be seen as a rejection of tradition, individual artistic development independent of fashions, and in their different way achieving the break with the principle of composition which Adorno called for later. Past ideals exist only as reminiscence, shown to be unrepeatable, losing their archaic and banal character. In Mahler this is mostly reflected in ephemeral and painful retrospects in the middle of a panicked, humoristic and fraudulent world. The past appears only in satirical twists and distortion, or as irrecoverable elements of the past. Mahler very often refers to background music and folk music, or to his own music imitating folk songs. He evokes the lost past through a previous stage of art music. In Strauss, by contrast, the past is reflected in deliberate retention of musical tradition, often in parodic quotes of artificial art music (particularly in his tone poems). He pointedly genuflects to these, makes them ridiculous in order to reveal and destroy their hypocrisy in a second stage. Or he uses them to demonstrate an incapacity, freezing at a stage which refuses all development (see for example the musical description of a character like Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten, who only gradually emerges from a naïve rigidity). But Strauss proceeds in a similar way to Mahler, for example when he has Elektra think back on the golden



age of her childhood or Chrysothemis evoke the idyll in the middle of chaos. Or when – particularly in late works like the oboe concerto – he treats past ideals as memories of a golden age which he is basically no longer convinced of personally, and accordingly dismisses works like the concerto as potboilers, but with which he tries to surmount the grief over a destroyed world. Mahler found refuge in a utopia, in “another world” as Mahler scholars have generally phrased it, while Strauss found it in faith in people, including himself. This did not deprive either of them of harmonious euphony, for example in the resurrection finale of Mahler’s Second Symphony, in the last movements of his Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, or at the end of Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung and Die Frau ohne Schatten. But while Strauss was accused of it, Mahler, as the scholars after 1945 observed, also composed it, incredibly. However, initially the mutual principle of composition was present in the contrast, at least until Mahler’s death in 1911, the year which, together with Der Rosenkavalier is credited with Strauss’ turn to conservatism. Meanwhile, Strauss always gave a positive turn to the brokenness in his tone poems, as the prerequisite for creative production, a preliminary stage on the way to fulfilment. Mahler interpreted it as “suffering” in the world, as endless longing for the unachievable. Brokenness is primarily clear musically in the use of signals. For both composers, the signal raised the question of the increasing formal problems in a work of art. Appearing unprepared in contexts, it calls for breaking up the traditional theory of form and looking for new

forms, and it presages struggles whose desperation is admittedly lacking in Strauss. This also affects the understanding of humour. There are no tragic moments in Strauss. For him, particularly in the tone poems written at the same time as Mahler’s works, humour is a means of protesting against musical dogma, harmonic singularity, strictly determined metres, or a traditional formal canon. Expressed programmatically in social outsiders like Don Quixote or Till Eulenspiegel, humour serves to take outdated ideas ad absurdum and defeat them. Mahler’s humour by contrast is closely linked to the suffering, the revulsion against a world of “hypocrisy and mendacity” (as he put it in his correspondence in 1879) in which new but unfulfillable longings were constantly demanding resolution. So does the music of Strauss indeed lack the contrast between subject and objective communication, individual and society, as Theodor W. Adorno believed? In Strauss the contrast becomes a formal law, even in the sense of Nietzsche. Adorno claimed that the subject was caught up in traditional values, suffering from these ties, and the suffering formed the contrast between subject and object through which truth was apparent. But Nietzsche argued that a subject must always reveal values as incomplete and unripe, and destroy them. While all forms of existence are incomplete, his suffering contains the will to live, and innovation not only appears through the contrast but actually emerges from it. Nietzsche also saw that innovation itself is also illusory and lacking truth,



that truth remains utopian. For him, suffering at the aesthetic level also had a sensual component, which Adorno could never have agreed with because of his own biography, as someone directly affected by the Second World War. However, Strauss was also concerned with this level of sensuality, and he met the demand for truth in works of art on this level just like Gustav Mahler. This meant that Strauss’ music met Adorno’s demand on the one hand, while on the other hand starting from a different aesthetic moulded by Nietzsche. While this had much in common with Mahler’s aesthetic, it was ultimately entirely different, expressing the unbridgeable gap between people and society but nevertheless avoiding the suffering involved. It is represented by figures such as Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, the heroes in Heldenleben, or Don Quixote. Many of Strauss’s opera protagonists represent this aesthetic at the intellectual level, with Strauss harmonising ideally with Hugo von Hofmannsthal as a librettist. Hofmanns­ thal did not want people to suffer and fail in life, but to outdo themselves and transform so that they could actually live. Strauss’ protagonists exist in a fin de siècle world, so that they have to deal with the fragility of a system or human relationships. But they do not always founder on this fragility like Elektra, but mature, become strong, prevail in life without being superficial, prove capable of reflection and self-fulfilment. Figures like Guntram, the empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten, or the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier learn from life, struggle with their ego and gain strength from

this which leads to change. The music then presents psychoanalytically, revealing deeper levels which go beyond the text. However, with the exception of Elektra, Strauss’s music never reflects the suffering in the world, it never manages to. Mahler and Strauss are genuinely fundamentally different in this. Even so, not only Strauss’ studies of marital life but his comedies of relationships and tales of self-discovery are topical today. His music is also up to date, despite its adherence to tonality (which Mahler never freed himself from, and perhaps would not have done if he had grown older), which is far removed from unthinking naïveté. It tries harder than Mahler’s music to maintain a belief in a bearable existence. And the worse times became, the more vigorously Strauss clung to this belief, keeping his distance from a musical development which cast tonality into question. Instead, Strauss reversed course and tried to struggle against all that was hateful and mean, with a music he himself had long bypassed in Elektra. He has always been reproached for this. Perhaps Strauss, unlike Mahler, lived too long to be regarded today as “a contemporary of the future”? During Mahler’s lifetime at least, Strauss was just as untimely as Mahler, in a timely way. Mahler’s untimeliness seems more contemporary in a world which has experienced the Second World War. As we are constantly told today in the Mahler literature, his music anticipated what dominates today – the fear of the exploitation and technological destruction of nature, of inhumanity and superficiality. Or was Erich Leinsdorf



right in 1991 to dismiss Mahler’s link with the future as a “neurosis of Westerners” and a fashion, claiming, “If the pathology reaches a deeper level, then Mahler will also experience a deeper level […] The best works of Strauss will outlive the best works of Mahler”? Today, there is a wealth of academic material on Mahler, with numerous recordings and complete series. Essays and books on the history of reception of his works exist on a scale which makes us wonder with Martin Staehelin in 1981 “whether the Mahler revival in modern times is a […] necessary correction of a master who has been wrongly dismissed for too long, or whether it is a fashion which will fade in several years?” Both may prove true. But the label of a fashion is historically understandable. National Socialism suppressed the music of Mahler as a Jew, and allowed Strauss to occupy a position in musical life which at times could not be unambiguously defined. In any case, after 1960 Mahler became a symbol for those opposing an artistic establishment and regarded any harmony as suspect. People identified with his message of ceaseless journeying, of the search for a better world beyond banal reality. Mahler became an artistic ideal as well as a human one. This fulfilled Mahler’s prophecy that “My time will come.” His art had become timely, “modern.” And where it could have sounded positive, for example in the apparently unbroken C major passages, Peter Ruzicka in 1973 heard “signs of reflective doubt, self-endangerment, even the vulnerability of future symphonic music generally.” Nevertheless, Mahler’s relevance failed to force out Strauss, and it re-

mains to be seen whether Mahler’s symphonies actually “are far more popular … than the tone poems of his formerly more famous opposite” as musicologist Constantin Floros claimed in 1996. Even if scholars paid little serious attention to his work, Strauss remained as prominent as Mahler in performances. Why? The question cannot be entirely answered. The polarisation of “this side” and “that side”, of the “joy-bringer” and the “voice of gloom”, “timely” and “untimely” has continued and cannot be dismissed. But it does require differentiation. Now, at the end of the 20th century, people seem to be seriously interested in Strauss again – a Strauss who is really not so far removed from Mahler: psychological, socially critical, untimely. Directors of his operas in particular increasingly emphasise this aspect in their productions. But composers are also gaining a new understanding of Strauss’ importance for modernism, after the music of the fifties has faded and postmodernism has also influenced music. (Tellingly, it was composers such as Nono, Ligeti, Schnebel, Lachemann or Ruzicka who only saw Mahler as their artistic father figure.) Scholars, whose rejection lasting into the eighties was rarely based on musical analysis and more on superficial biographical aspects, are trying today to do justice to Strauss as a phenomenon with penetrating musical studies. Will Strauss now become more timely because people are starting to discover his untimeliness? During the lifetimes of the two composers, Eduard Hanslick wrote “It is possible that the future belongs to them.”




ACCORDS IN MUSK FRANCIS KURKDJIAN – A PORTRAIT For the new production of Salome, an unseen actor is working to contribute a highly unusual feature to the total work of art. Collaborating closely with director Cyril Teste, French perfumer and fragrance artist Francis Kurkdjian is creating the olfactory dimension of this evening of theatre. In 2008, when he was just 39, the title “Chévalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” was bestowed upon Francis Kurkdjian. The award was instituted in 1957 to honour those who “have distinguished themselves through their work in artistic or literary fields or to advance the arts and literature in France and around the world.” The definition provided to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs is broadly drawn but might perhaps nevertheless lead one to think first of musicians and writers. And yet it is a perfect fit for Francis Kurkdjian, who was born in 1969 in Paris. Kurkdjian’s primary occupation is perfumer. He made an international name for himself early on with the fragrances he created for international fashion labels. Equally early on, Kurkdjian developed an interest in using his skills to devise aromatic worlds and stories beyond the perfume market: namely in collaboration with artists. The foundation for this interest,

according to Kurkdjian, was laid in his family home. “I had the good fortune to be brought up by parents and grandparents who introduced me to the world of art when I was still very young. I took ballet and piano lessons, visited museums and exhibitions, and I delved into the world of fashion. My grandfathers were both tailors, and my mother, to whom I was very close, worked with Christian Dior. I developed a keen interest in and passion for craftsmanship.” The deciding factor in his choice of career ultimately came from a different art form. When he was 14, Francis saw the film Le Sauvage by Jean-Paul Rappeneau in which Yves Montand played a perfumer working on a remote Venezuelan island. “After that, I told my parents that I would become a perfumer. I had found my destiny!” Francis Kurkdjian trained at the Institut supérieur international du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l’aromatique alimentaire in Versailles. In 1994 his first employer, the fragrance producer Quest International, charged him with creating a fragrance for JeanPaul Gaultier. And so Le Mâle was created and was to become a modern classic. The list of companies for which Kurkdjian subsequently creat-



ed fragrances is filled with illustrious names: Escada, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Giorgio Armani. With Maison Francis Kurkdjian established in 2009, the perfumer gained the freedom to realise his own ideas for creating fragrances. “For me, a fragrance is above all the possibility of expressing myself,” said Francis Kurkdjian. “I use scents the same way as a painter uses colours, a musician plays notes, and an author writes words. Every new scent is a way of telling a story.” In that case, is the creation of a perfume an art form? No, Kurkdjian elucidates. In his understanding, a perfume that is filled in bottles and sold is not an art form – “even if art may be decisive in its creation.” The reason for this lies in the limitations placed on one by such perfume with respect to something that is important to him in his work: telling stories. “With some emotions – pain or grief, everything that has to do with death – it is not appropriate to express them in a perfume. Once I had understood that, I started collaborating with artists. As a result, I can question the conventional concept of fragrance and explore the entire spectrum of emotions in my work, think unconventionally and take risks.” Francis Kurkdjian has been collaborating with artists for more than twenty years. The assignments that he has completed are intriguingly multidisciplinary. One project for artist Sophie Calle for example was based on the “memory of the smell of a dollar bill.” For the “Mawtini” installation by Syrian artist Hratch Arbach (2014, a collaboration with composer Sivan Eldar) Kurkdjian added the smells of earth, blood and jasmine to 20,000 wax nails.

Francis Kurkdjian has worked with Salome director Cyril Teste in the past, in 2017. For Teste’s production of Festen (The Celebration) after Tomas Vinterberg’s eponymous film, Kurkdjian came up with three scents that were used selectively during the evening: the mossy humidity of a forest at the beginning, the smell of a cold fireplace in the middle of the evening and in the last part a fragrance: the perfume of the deceased daughter of the family, the main absentee in Vinterberg’s story. The artistic and technical success of this project prompted Cyril Teste to invite Francis Kurkdjian to collaborate with him on the new Salome that he is staging for the Vienna State Opera. “Cyril and I share the same vision,” Francis Kurkdjian explained. “We tell stories, each in our own way, each in our own language. He is my eyes, I am his nose. I appreciate it when he brings together creative people and organises the ecosystem that then evolves.” Kurkdjian’s contribution emerges through discussion: “we sit down and talk, I listen to how he sees the story, what kind of emotions he wants to convey through scent. Sometimes I challenge him. Our discussions go very smoothly thanks to the respect that we have for each other’s work.” In the case of Salome, Kurkdjian found Teste’s vision of the main character entirely compelling, his treatment of the character as a whole, her life before the story starts in the opera and the solutions that the director devised for the stage. The two of them very quickly agreed that the famous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ should have its own specific scent. The perfume artist has not yet revealed what the components of this will be, but he discloses some of



his inspirations for Salome’s aromatic worlds that consideration of Cyril Teste’s ideas gave him. “A musk-like note between candour and sensuality, sexuality. Something profound, attractive, innocent and stupefying.” Creating the scent component in the auditorium presents a challenge. The scent disperses in the space, different smells overlap; how to handle this aspect must also be considered in this work. But isn’t the echo, the lingering effect in a space not also something that music and fragrance share, albeit in different ways? Francis Kurkdjian comes from a musical family and has

been playing the piano since age seven. The parallels between music and scent are self-evident to him, including the language used to define them. “In French in particular we use some of the same words to describe parts of our work. ‘Accords’ and ‘notes’ are common terms in the work of the perfumer too.” When the first notes are heard at the beginning of Salome, the secret of the accords that Francis Kurkdjian has used in his creation for the new production of Richard Strauss’ disturbing masterpiece will be revealed.





MAXIMUM ELEGANCE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT CYRIL TESTE’S THEATRE AMBROISE THOMAS’ HAMLET AT THE OPÉRA COMIQUE A remarkable evening. The visit to the orchestral dress rehearsal of Thomas’s Hamlet at the Opéra Comique on 14 December 2018 proved an unexpected stroke of luck. An admirably acoustically and conceptually planned performance of an opera which I had not known – apart from Ophélie’s mad scene, sung (naturally) by Callas. Director Cyril Teste had worked with a high degree of refinement and artistic understanding, very French in the strict form he created, but insisting on going beyond abstract aesthetic settings to find deep insights into the characters and their history. Stéphane Degout in the title role and Sabine Devieilhe as Ophélie gave him highly intelligent singers to work with, and he subtly developed their intellectual and dramatic potential. Equally outstand-

ing were Jérome Vanier as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father and Laurent Alvaro as Claudius; Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo as Gertrude was indisposed and had to mark. The Les Élements chamber chorus left nothing to be desired in terms of freshness, vocal skill and even visual youthfulness, Louis Langrée proved a convincing advocate for a clearly underestimated score. But for me, the actual event was the masterful direction, which was all the more surprising in that a theatrical director was making his début in opera. The theme of a play within a play is a recurrent feature of Cyril Teste’s theatrical work, so his involvement was clearly rooted in ever only a material element. Thomas’s operatic version also gives “The Mousetrap” a central role, and part of the concept for the production is a mise en espace which includes not only the auditorium and public areas but also the backstage and



wings. These locations are brought in via live cameras. The scenes produced for the camera transcend the conventional and often trashy live video aesthetic, with an opulent cinematic quality. In a tour de force, the music becomes a “subjective tracking shot” taking us through the festivities of Claudius’ marriage with Gertrude as seen through Hamlet’s eyes. They also make possible a bold change of perspective, where the protagonist (and we along with him) is transported outside to the terrace of the castle, where he expects the ghost, and finds him among the audience. The understatement and unperturbed sensitivity with which all the actions and even the occasional ironic twists are never overdone but are always simply and clearly executed are extraordinary. This is not to say that there aren’t details one might disagree with – but the basic approach is wonderfully consistent, and I’ve also ever known one dress rehearsal where you could be certain that the standard would actually improve by the première. The comments on the première seem to confirm this: “… an extraordinarily successful production…” – “… a degree of musical and dramatic coherence which is seldom achieved…” – “Ambroise Thomas’ work was reborn, thanks to superb singers and a visual score developed by Cyril Teste.” – “You rarely have a sense of a perfect performance in the theatre. In Hamlet, you know that you have seen a music theatre event of great power and breathtaking artistic quality.” The TV recording of this production has confirmed my enthusiasm. The lighting and video projections and the overall technical production

gained further refinement and perfection. The understatement of the stage setting should be emphasised – it is functional, almost bare without being ugly, impersonal as a display window while at the same time offering an intelligent contrast with the decorative interior of the Opéra Comique’s public areas, which are constantly involved in the action and displayed in the auditorium via video. The costumes are slimmed down but detailed. The totally unpretentious, objective analysis of the material, the simplicity, accompanied by maximum elegance and depth of insight, come together in what seems to be a completely natural performance. How simply Ophélie’s despair and madness are presented, and how deeply the scene gets under your skin!

THE CELEBRATION AT FESTIVAL PERSPECTIVES, SAARBRÜCKEN With his Collectif MxM, Cyril Teste accepted the first film made in accordance with the rules of Dogma 95. The Celebration by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg was awarded the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1998, and its immense success includes a stage version created by Vinterberg himself. This has been presented in numerous theatres and is also the basis of this staging, premièred in 2017. It is described as a performance filmique. The set reproduces the upper-class estate of the Klingenfeldt-Hansen family as a realistic film set, with mobile room modules which offer repeated views into the areas surrounding the dining hall: to the left, a guest room and its bathroom, to the right, the



kitchen, where the staff repeatedly assemble. At the same time we see illuminated screens behind the windows suggesting daylight, and the end of a spiral staircase which presumably leads to the upper floors, from which performers can only reach the stage via a slide. A cinema screen is stretched over the 4-5-metre-high walls, on which events in front of and behind the scenes filmed by two cameramen are projected. In this way we see the transformation of theatrical reality into cinematographic illusion in real time. The aesthetic of this cinematographic level deliberately contradicts in its balanced perfection all the “rules” of the manifesto, which was directed at the illusions created for the capitalist mainstream cinema (using only hand-held cameras, no film music or artificial lighting etc). Teste’s highly aestheticised visual language is more reminiscent of the preferences of the old master Kubrick, and he himself references Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. In this way he challenges every “dogmatic” claim to authenticity by playing with our perception and repeatedly giving real events a surreal, artificial overtone or poetic aura. For example, notes played on the piano free themselves from the instrument and take on their own life, and the park surrounding the property is hinted at by an illustration olfactive, a restrained use of fragrances, and we smell the feast which is really being prepared in the kitchen. And suddenly things happen in what is presumably sequences of events being filmed live which are out of sight in the “stage reality” – above all, the figure of Christian’s twin sister Linda, whose recent suicide triggers Christian’s revelation as the victim of sexual abuse by his

father at the celebration of the patriarch’s 60th birthday. A third level of imagery newly composed by Teste also plays a role here, in Corot’s famous 1861 painting of Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld, which hangs above the piano in a framed reproduction, and which is explored in camera shots over the course of the evening, in which the animated image takes on a physical presence. Here, Teste’s aesthetics border on kitsch. However, this does not become a problem, thanks to the dramatic insight and the validation of interpersonal relations characterised by deep humanistic consideration. The ensemble works brilliantly, Matthias Labelle is positively overwhelming in the lead as Christian, forced to confront his father, the conspiracy of silence of the other family members and – above all – his own fear. The way that Teste leads this actor through all the stages of being lost, including a speech inhibition that strikes during his accusation is simply tremendous. The first guest performance of this production outside France on 14 June 2019 was greeted with ovations.

OPENING NIGHT IN THÉÂTRE SÉNART, LIEUSAINT-MOISSY I saw the first performance of this production in a series at Théâtre Sénart, which is part of a cultural centre in a no man’s land south-east of Paris. The première of the production was in Angers in February 2019, and it has since been touring France with great success, hailed as a master stroke. I was present on 2 October, 2019 at what was



already the 79th performance. This information was displayed at the start on the large video screen which is framed by an impersonal living room wall and forms the back of the interior, flanked by a sitting area and couch on the left and a round dining table on the right. The interior is bound to the front and sides by a bright carpet, and stands open on the stage. It could be the guest apartment in which star actress Myrtle Gordon is staying, or perhaps just a rehearsal set where three actors are playing two actors and a director working in our presence on Cassavetes’ 1977 film scenario for Opening Night, assisted by a wardrobe assistant, a stage manager and a cameraman. A wardrobe is hinted at on the left third of the stage, with a clothes rack, two chairs and a mirror. Otherwise, the stage is draped in black. Teste has developed a condensed version of the film script lasting just under one and a half hours which focuses on the three protagonists – the director Manny, his lead Myrtle, and Maurice, a comprimario, and also the diva’s stage partner and former lover. Strikingly cast roles in the film – the author of the piece, the producer, the director’s wife and several other actors – are cut. The starting point for the Matryoshka doll nesting of theatre, identity and existence is the accidental death or a young female autograph hunter who is hit by a car during a storm at night just after peeling herself off the car of her adored idol. Here, the character of Nancy is played by Isabelle Adjani’s daughter, who does not appear live but haunts Myrtle’s memories in video sequences, bringing the actress’ latent life crisis to a head.

In the virtually bare setting, a poetic and highly musical play develops on multiple levels, which repeatedly and highly suggestively overlay and blend. On the one hand, the real live situation is emphasised, for example by having the director address the public personally, and also visualised by the cameraman. On the other hand, the situation is repeatedly given a dreamlike character, for example through disembodied applause from the stage. In Pirandello style the simple but magical sound, light and visual production leaves open the question whether we are at a rehearsal or a performance, whether the actors are playing the piece, improvising or hallucinating. For example, Nancy’s ghost can appear in the mirror in the wardrobe corner, and the live camera can film these images for projection on the big screen. While we can observe all the actors very early on in close ups as well, the live camera only approaches the protagonist at a late stage and indirectly, initially only showing her from the back before finally capturing her face, which at first is also protected by sunglasses. Isabelle Adjani acts with great vulnerability and a restrained style which is virtually irresistible. The final alcoholic excess she takes refuge in is choreographed as a virtuoso pas de deux with the cameraman. When she has to take the stage for her première entrance entirely drunk, semi-conscious and at the end of her strength, Adjani shows that she has a great sense of humour and impressive courage to be ugly. A maximum level of poetic compression was achieved, with the laconicism and clarity that distinguishes all Teste’s productions that I have been able to see. I believe it is his



deep understanding and grasp of the characters from the inside out, accompanied by clarity and love for precision in acting that affects the audience so directly in a way that is so difficult to analyse.

FIDELIO AT THE OPÉRA COMIQUE In this production, which I saw the première of on 29 September, 2021, Cyril Teste redefined one element of his aesthetic. Unlike his previous work, he gave the video an aesthetic which was documentary rather than cinematographic. This is because the camera surveillance system in the prison that he showed is based on contemporary American institutions. This takes away some of the refinement from this medium that it has in other productions of his, bringing it closer to the effect which is virtually omnipresent today. The stage strikes a fine balance between abstract and concrete. As always with Teste, the architecture is suggested rather than realistically developed: a prison hall with security doors and barred walls which can be used by the prisoners as an exercise hall, after lowering prison fencing which fills the proscenium arch. At the end, the auditorium is very skilfully involved. The women and children of the second final chorus enter through this and sing their first entry from it, while a standing microphone is set up in front of the prison fence for the minister, who addresses the audience directly. There is additional action on seven rectangular, upright mobile video projection screens, which are very precisely choreographed and show the re-

corded everyday prison activities from multiple perspectives. The AV direction gives great attention to the subtle choreography of the looks between the actors. Possibly too action-oriented are the videos during the overture which show us Florestan being knocked down and beaten by guards and Leonore transforming herself to Fidelio. Otherwise, all the decisions by Teste and his conductor Raphael Pichon are clearly consistent. It is very pleasant to learn from the programme booklet that all attempts to integrate material from earlier Leonore versions into the 1814 version were abandoned in view of the consistency and compelling nature of Beethoven’s final version, which proved impossible to overcome (the two only allowed themselves to use the rather more extended original version for the “Ha, welch’ ein Augenblick” ensemble), and naturally no other overture was inserted. The commitment by Teste and Pichon is clear not least from the retention of the Opéra Comique’s melodrama format with spoken dialogue (although with cuts). “Despite” an international ensemble, Teste achieves precise and untheatrical dialogue (miked discreetly to allow the actors to use a credible vocal production). The dialogue is also underlaid by subliminal atmospheric sounds. The historical instruments of the Pygmalion authentic sound ensemble form an acoustic pendant to the lightness and transparency of Teste’s theatrical tools and contributes to the unusual appeal of a chamber play. This only proves a restriction towards the end of the evening, because the narrative and ideological conflicts – for example between secular French rev-



olutionary emotion and the orderly pious subordination of Viennese Catholicism become increasingly harmonised and reconciled, the quality of the dramatic understatement blurs into a degree of uncertainty (for example in the story of Marzelline or the turncoat Rocco, and ultimately also of Florestan and Fidelio-Leonore). It needed more moments of surprise and exaggeration, for example in the very poetic appearance of children playing during the prisoners’ chorus. The performance loses precision, accuracy and edginess in favour of an excessively worthy utopian message of liberation. Theatre cannot portray utopias, and paradoxically only approach them more closely by raising the integrity with which it expresses the conflicts. As if the story and experience of violence can be put aside like

the uniform of a prisoner or guard. We see a naïve “return” to a presumably undamaged original status which does not do justice to Beethoven’s contradictions. The naïveté of the euphoria of liberation is inherent in the totalitarian moment. The marvel of Cyril Teste’s Hamlet at the same spot three years ago has not been repeated – but it is more than enough to enjoy an overall successful and stimulating evening in which Teste once again demonstrates his intelligence and humane direction – in dealing with both the material and the people he works with – and his musicality. Pichon’s conducting is also remarkable: unerring timing, a precise sense of structure, syntax, proportion, pulse, gesture – all the more illuminating since he eschews all egotistical mannerisms.


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SALOME SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 2 FEBRUARY 2023 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Image concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN (Cover) All performance fotos by MICHAEL PÖHN, ASHLEY TAYLOR Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES – All texts were taken from the Salome-programme of the Vienna State Opera (premiere: 2 February 2023). IMAGE REFERENCES COVER Willy Verginer: Moongirl, 2019, lindenwood acryl color, 105x29x21cm. ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact. This production is sponsored by

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