n addition to such unconventional and popular works as Elektra (1909), Richard Strauss (German, 1864-1949) composed the opera for the German translation of Oscar Wilde's adaptation of Salome, first performed by the Dresden Opera in 1905. It is fitting that Strauss was the man who transformed Wilde's Salome — the text of which features the attempted seduction of John the Baptist (Iokanaan) followed by Salome's unprecedented passionate post-mortem kiss for the prophet — into opera; both Wilde and Strauss were criticized widely for unconventionality in their works. Strauss's opera was broadly rejected at first because of the "immorality" of its content —a sequence of events which raises uncomfortable questions about the deep sensuality of the Christian tradition —and for the heroine's disregard for the Christian morality.
If many, including Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde's lover and the translator of the English edition, the original having been authored in French), were surprised to see Wilde's version of Salome performed on stage, Strauss's opera must have seemed appropriate given the lyricism of the text. Sylvan Barnet, in the introduction to Signet's collection of Wilde's plays, writes:
Wilde as a playwright —especially as the author of Salome —was also influenced by Pater's Appreciations (1889), in which he read that a play "attains artistic perfection just in proportion as it approaches that unity of lyrical effect, as if a song or a ballad were still lying as the root of it." [Pater asserts] the primacy of the lyric over dramatic writing. (viii)
How strong are the connections between the musicality — the perfect lyricism that Salome's easy transition from play to opera demonstrates — of many of Wilde's plays and the purity (or perfectionism, as it is called in Appreciations) that Walter Pater demands of art and artist in Marius the Epicurean? Is Wilde so lyrical mostly because of Pater's influence, or because he identifies with the Shakesperian (and Irish) correlation between tight poetry and wit? Are Salome and the other plays, then, more like instinctive limericks or are they, rather, considered attempts to apply the Aesthete's philosophy (as defined by Pater) to art?
Last modified 28 June 2009