Wednesday, June 03, 2020

He Feared the Multitude

As an uncultured country bumpkin and pathetically unlearned Christian, I was only vaguely aware of the retelling of the story of Salome in works by Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss.  I didn’t realize the dancing stepdaughter of Herod in the lurid tale of John the Baptist’s beheading in Matthew 14 was ostensibly Salome until I experienced Strauss’ opera for the first time on Sunday.  I’m still reeling.

The 73rd opera I’d consumed in the last 71 days, the Metropolitan Opera’s 2008 production of “Salome” is among the most disturbing works of art I’ve encountered.  I was an unsuspecting rube when I dipped into the Met’s free stream.  Two hours later, my worldview had been permanently altered by the abrasive sound, lurid libretto, unconstrained acting and contemporary staging. 

I thought “Salome”’s blasphemous rendering of incest, bigotry, bondage, drunkeness, malfeasance and necrophilia was the ultimate depiction of depravity.  The next day, however, another horrifically craven exhibition transpired at an institution coincidentally named for John the Baptist.  Even Herod and Salome might have been horrified by the shameless desecration.

(Original image of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Akko, Israel, by There Stands the Glass.)

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