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Music: Like the North Pole

3 minute read

Covent Garden’s 24-year-old Producer Peter Brook had warned that his new Salome “is not a production; it’s an hallucination.” A superconfident, baby-faced wonder boy who likes to shock, Brook had looked for a designer for the Royal Opera House’s first Salome of its own since 1936 who could “reflect visually both the cold, fantastic imagery of Wilde’s text and the hot eroticism of [the late Richard] Strauss’s music.” In mustached Surrealist Salvador Dali, he thought he had found his man. Gleefully, producer and designer hatched their plans. Dali wanted to have Salome’s brassiere equipped with fireworks that would shoot off sparks at the end of her Dance of the Seven Veils; also to have a flying hippopotamus zooming over the stage for added effect. Both schemes were regretfully rejected as impractical, along with a plan to flood the stage with blood and have John the Baptist’s head float on it. Even so, predicted Designer Dali when they were finished: “Those who protest will protest loudly, but those who like it will become delirious.” Last week when Londoners finally got in on the act, some found what remained of Dali’s nightmarish designs more distracting and boring than shocking. The frame of the harp that played for Salome’s dance was a painted giraffe’s neck. Herodias’ tent was surmounted by umbrella skeletons which undulatingly opened and shut throughout the performance. John’s severed head was a tame affair that looked more like a haggis: Dali’s more horrifying head had been axed at the last minute by the censor. What delirium the audience felt was set off by redheaded Bulgarian Soprano Ljuba Welitch, who made a U.S. hit as Salome at the Metropolitan Opera last season. For eleven curtain calls she got cheers that rattled the railings in the standees’ gallery. When short, tuxedoed Director of Productions Brook edged his way onstage, the bravos became boos. When Brook retreated smiling, Soprano Welitch came back for more cheers. She had never had to work so hard for them. In addition to other troubles, she had lost her seventh veil while trying to hook it, momentarily revealing an ample midsection and skintight, flesh-colored panties. Said she: “Dali doesn’t know the opera. It should be all light, not in darkness like the North Pole. I could show no expression as I should, and I have never had to do such acrobatics before.”

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