“Salome” at the Paris Opera, ad nauseam

Is it enough to warn that certain scenes of a violent and/or explicit sexual nature may offend the sensibilities of an uninformed public”, like the Paris Opera did? Implied that, once “warned”, everyone is capable of cashing in on anything. Is it enough to relativize the impact of this violence by arguing about the ultra-brutal or “explicit” climate of many films and series which would have effectively hardened our souls and hearts? Is it still enough, to legitimize all excesses, to highlight the radicalism of the plot of Salomecreated by Richard Strauss in 1905 in Dresden from a sulphurous play by Oscar Wilde?

These questions and many others assail the viewer in the face of barbaric orgy sequences where victims are dismembered and offered like beribboned gifts, then faced with gang rape replacing the “dance of the seven veils” performed by Salomé to appease her concupiscent. father-in-law, King Herod. Apart from a strangely sweet, even “blue flower” final scene, masterfully sung by soprano Elza van den Heever, whose treble flourishes like a tropical corolla, Lydia Steier deals blows and wounds. Tirelessly.

Convenient denunciation

The American director claims to want to denounce the incredible corruption of a decadent society – ours – which oppresses the weak and submits women. But the morbidly mystical dimension of a Salome thirsty for the love of the prophet John the Baptist and, above all, the changing reflections of the music, sometimes paroxysmal, sometimes spidery, are flattened by the complacency supported by this simplistic denunciation. Especially since the orchestra conducted by Simone Young also leaves little room for subtlety.

The discomfort – or the distancing to avoid nausea – is coupled with a concern about what is imposed on artists, under the guarantee of a great opera institution. Here again, it will be retorted that, as free and consenting adults, the singers participate in a collective adventure, their commitment consisting in slipping into the dramatic and musical vision of the show. How far ?

Fortunately, this trying experience was sandwiched between two moments of grace. On Friday October 14 at the Auditorium du Louvre, a youthful and invigorating Haydn evening thanks to Giovanni Antonini at the head of the Kammerorchester Basel. Then, on Sunday 16 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a recital by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, this son of the sun whose ten (only?) fingers transform the keyboard into an enchanted lake.

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