February 21st, 2011

As the Gentleman and I were walking home from dining out last Friday evening, we passed a thrift shop just north of Washington Square Park. On a whim we ducked inside, and proceeded to spend a jolly quarter of an hour poking about, turning things over, and holding up outlandish outfits for the other one to wear. In the end, the only thing we could bring ourselves to actually buy was this 78 rpm double record of Strauss’s Salome, final scene. It features soprano Ljuba Welitsch with Fritz Reiner conducing the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Salome 78

The cover is a bit beaten up, but the records themselves are as clean as if they’d hardly been played. At first I was astonished to find that a four record set contained only a single act of the opera (I have a 6 record LP set of Norma in its entirety that I invariably play during thunderstorms), but my cohort pointed out that they were 78s, and as such, each side only lasts about 4 minutes!

Although this is my first foray into Strauss’s opera, Salome has fascinated me for years. In case you haven’t already guessed, I am a great fan of Oscar Wilde. I don’t recall if I began with Dorian Gray or one of his many excellent plays, but I eventually came to his Salomé. To be quite honest, I found it a bit overdone at first (I was young), but upon learning that it had originally been written in French, I began to think better of it. And of course, there were the illustrations by Beardsley.

Salome by Beardsley

Beyond the literary import of Wilde’s Salomé, it also earned a place in the history of censorship and obscenity laws. Maud Allan, the dancer who dared to introduce a routine based on portions of Salomé to the British stage in the early 1900s, undertook an extensive legal battle to defend her good name from the “libelous” (and treasonous) charges leveled at her scantily clad dance of the seven veils by an ambitious MP in cahoots with the father of Wilde’s erstwhile “Boise”. For the full story on this, and how it dredged up a number of other scandalous issues in post-Victorian society, I heartily recommend Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand.You may also enjoy Alla Nazimova’s silent film version.

Any play that can provoke that much furor is deserving of its place in history!

Maud Allan as Salome
You must admit, Maud Allan chose a rather shocking costume for 1908.