Napisala i Przyslala
Richard Strauss composed his world hit Salome to a play by Oscar Wilde; and the latter drew his inspiration from a short story by Flaubert, ‘Herodias’. Paul Milliet and Henri Grémont also based their libretto for Massenet’s opera Herodiade on this story. Neither Wilde nor Milliet and Grémont were very faithful to Flaubert. Whereas the French novelist more or less limited himself to the biblical narrative, enriched with his poetic language and descriptions, the playwright and librettists added entirely new aspects and twists to the story.
Hérodiade was first performed in the Royal Theatre of Brussels on 19 December 1881. Anyone expecting animal eroticism, blood and sweat, as with Richard Strauss, will be disappointed. Massenet’s Salome is a truly innocent and devout girl. When her mother left her to marry Hérode, she was given shelter by Jean (John the Baptist), with whom she fell in love. A love that proved to be mutual.
No opera is complete without complications: Hérode has a crush on Salome, Hérodiade becomes jealous of her and Jean is beheaded. Salome sees Hérodiade as the instigator of all evil and wants to kill her. Hérodiade whispers “I am your mother” and Salome commits suicide.
The music already exudes a hint of the perfume of Massenet’s later works, but with all those choruses, exotic Oriental scenes and elaborate ballet scenes, it is nothing less than a real Grand Opera in the best Meyerbeer tradition.
One of the earliest recorded fragments of the opera is, I think, the famous aria of Hérode ‘Vision Fusitive’ by the French baritone Maurice Renaud, made in 1908:
And from the recording Georges Thill made in 1927, we know what an ideal Jean should sound like:
REGINE CRESPIN 1963
If you are in possession of this performance, you need look no further. It doesn’t get any better than this. There is only one problem: this recording does not exist. At least not of the complete opera.
In 1963, EMI recorded the highlights of Hérodiade with the best French singers of the time (and of today, for that matter) and the answer to the “why not complete ????” will probably never be given.
Georges Prêtre conducts the orchestra of the Theater National de Paris as if his life depends upon it and every role is more than excellently cast.
Regine Crespin sings ‘Il est doux, il est bon’: