I’ve just spent the weekend being seduced by Salome – a statement that would cause not just tantrums in the girlfriend department but also concerns over my personal safety. Watching Richard Strauss’s opera of the same name – and then Carlos Saura’s wonderful Flamenco ballet about the lady, it has been quite an experience. But first, for those of you unfamiliar with the tale of exotic seduction, striptease and subsequent murders than accompany Salome’s bewitching, yet ultimately sordid tale, let’s have a quick look at who she was. The enchantress – for she surely was – crops up in the Bible of all places, in the Gospel of Matthew, almost immediately before Jesus does the miracle thing with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, and as an encore, walks on the surface of Lake Galilee in a storm. Matthew tells of the demise of John the Baptist, who has been imprisoned by King Herod for saying nasty things about his wife. Not any old nasty, like her hair looks straggly and she eats too much garlic, but really nasty, about, her incestuous love affair with her brother and how she killed her previous husband to get her hands on Herod. The latter was not amused, and John languishes, defiantly, having been thrown down a well, yet still spouting off about how the son of God will come and demand retribution for all their sins. Herod is spooked, and keeps him alive while not wanting to merely execute him.
Enter Salome. The nubile, beautiful, sex crazed daughter from Mrs. Herod’s first husband, she’s slept with most of the Roman higher society, Egyptian Pharaoh’s and the very best of the regional society of the time. All men desire her, and Herod fancies Salome something rotten, despite her being his wife’s daughter. However, so do does one of the guards looking over John incarceration. Salome, on hearing one of John’s prophetical outbursts about the coming of the son of God, demands that John be released so she can meet him. At first unwilling, the guards acquiesce as she flatters them with pretend promises of favors. However, upon seeing John, she falls in love, his physique, his hair, and finally his mouth. John resists; he is a man of God and will not be defiled by a woman he terms a Harlot. Enraged her seduction doesn’t work, she has a hissy fit and stomps off into the night – but not before the guard, hearing of her proclaim her desire of John, stabs himself in the heart in hurt pride.
Herod strides in and is not happy to find one of his guards bleeding all over the cobblestones of his palace. But he spots Salome, and urges her to dance for him. She refuses his advances, until he promises her, crazed with lust, anything she asks for. She extracts his oath, and then begins one of the most notorious stage dances of all times. It’s not surprising, I should add, for Oscar Wilde himself wrote the libretto for the opera, and he was a man as debauched as any. But Oscar also enjoys tantalizing, and titillation, and Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” is certainly that. Dressed up in just seven veils, she gyrates and pirouettes, and at each turn, a veil is removed, until ultimately, she stands, naked, in front of Herod. You can see the lust in his eyes. In the opera, and in any dance version of Salome that you care to see, there she will also be – naked, on stage, nipples protruding and glowing with the exertions of her statement of desire. “Anything…you can have anything…” pants Herod, at which point Salome promptly asks for the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.
Herod, shocked, tries in vain to persuade her not to ask for such a thing, but it is Johns’ mouth, denied to her in life, that she wants, and she will not be denied. The Head is duly produced, and Salome caresses it, kisses it, and simulates various sex acts with it, dripping blood as she French kisses John’s decapitated face.
Herod has now had enough, he wanted Salome, but now only sees a depraved monster. He orders her crushed to death, and the opera and dance, end with her lifeless corpse being draped over Johns.
It’s the ultimate of triple X rated operas, and quite possibly, the sexiest, yet most dreadful dance you are ever likely to see. The Flamenco version I especially recommend.