Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Opera and Modern CultureWagner and Strauss$

Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241732

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241732.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use (for details see http://california.universitypressscholarship.com/page/535/privacy-policy-and-legal-notice). Subscriber: null; date: 19 August 2018

Video as Jugendstil

Video as Jugendstil

Salome, Visuality, and Performance

(p.167) 6 Video as Jugendstil
Opera and Modern Culture

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Despite being allotted ample ambiguity, the on-stage adaptation of Salome predominantly inspired an imagination of fetishism and the perceived feminine fear psychosis. The performance too kept reverting to portraying just these paradigms. Irrespective of the later critical ingenuity invested in imagining a Salome empowered by her singing and dancing, in an age of feminist ideological upheaval, the ‘feminist’, emancipated Salome never materialized. Occasional elevation of Salome to the full realization of the ambiguity offered to her in the opera only went on to portray her confinement within the frame of the opera. The obvious premise of Salome, the scene set pertaining to the beheading of John the Baptist, the severed head put immediately after on a platter held by Salome while she renders a long serenade to the severed head makes the opera a matter of visions and hence suggests hearing by looking.

Keywords:   ambiguity, serenade, John the Baptist, critical ingenuity, feminist

Wie wird Moderne zum Jugendstil?


The question with which the last chapter ended is real, not rhetorical, but its answer is still pretty clear. The answer is “No.” Regardless of latter-day critical ingenuity that has gone into imagining a Salome empowered by her singing or dancing, and regardless of the ambiguities offered by the opera itself, performances of Salome stubbornly keep reverting to the fin-de-siecle norm. If a “feminist” Salome were going to appear, she might have been expected during the last decades of the twentieth century, when awareness of the changing social status of women was at its height and when the relation of women and visuality, not least in Salome itself, was hotly debated. But the record suggests that this Salome largely remains unseen, precisely because the Salomes presented to us can still be seen all too well, and in step with Strauss's music, not at odds with it. The emancipated Salome is still a critical phantom; the real Salome is still a cheap date. She is a figure who, at certain moments in certain performances, may rise to the level of ambiguity the opera affords her, but has not yet been able to rise above it. For some insight into why, I turn to performances in a medium that heightens the opera's own already intensive concern with the visual, and thus raises the question of visual pleasure in opera in an especially acute form. The medium is the opera video: a recording meant primarily for the television screen, regardless of whether its format is VHS or DVD.1

In its sets and costumes, the 1992 Royal Opera production of Salome at Covent Garden, as seen on video, strongly evokes the fin-de-siècle visual style associated with German Jugendstil and the Austrian Secession; the color and costumes seem specifically to allude to the style of Gustav Klimt. A video version of the 1990 production by the Deutsche Oper Berlin does much the same thing with Art Nouveau, using sets and costumes dominated (p.168) by contrasts of black and white and clearly alluding to the style of Aubrey Beardsley. With this recourse to visual styles drawn from the opera's own day, these videos initiate a process of interpretation that works at two levels. First, they suggest that there is a connection between these decorative, highly detailed, deliberately artificial styles and the opera's music, and again between the ethos associated with those styles and that of the opera. Second, by alluding to recognizable styles of visual art, they mark the visual itself as an issue of special pertinence to this opera. It is no accident, they seem to be saying, that Salome depends so much on how the audience sees its protagonist: as she dances, as she waits by a cistern for a man to be decapitated, and as she sings a long serenade to that man's severed head. This is an opera, they seem to say, about seeing. It is therefore an opera especially suited for the unsparing, intimate kind of seeing proper to the video medium, a kind of seeing that also has something to do with the historical phenomenon of the visual styles I will lump together here under the term Jugendstil.

What follows is an attempt to hear the opera through looking at, looking through, and looking over these two videos, together with a third, with three questions, or clusters of questions, in mind. First, just what is the role of the visual in this opera, and what can be learned from it by studying its video renditions? What, more generally, does this approach to the opera have to tell us about the whole concept of a rendition, a version, a realization, visual and otherwise? Second, what do these visual issues have to do with the figure of Salome, and more particularly with the aura of perverse sexuality that she is commonly taken to represent and that in recent years has been the object of controversy in relation to the representation of her as a woman? Finally, what can we learn from the invocation, in both the opera and the renditions, of Jugendstil?

Video and the Visual

At one level all opera raises the question of visuality. Since an opera must ordinarily be staged, imagery, gesture, and spectacle all figure into any production. But this figuring-in is remarkably loose. Although miscalculations are obviously possible, the range of visual realizations for any given opera is virtually unlimited. In part this is because music in opera is accorded primacy; the relation of subordination creates breadth of tolerance for visual realization (which includes productions that tinker with time, since the main mark of temporal change is the look of the mise-en-scène). Good singing easily outweighs bad scenery; good scenery never outweighs bad singing. (p.169) The situation in opera can be considered a mirror reversal of that in classical narrative film, where it is the image that holds primacy and music that stands in a subordinate, supplemental relation. In even larger part, though, music's visual tolerance stems from the semantic malleability or plasticity accorded to it as part of its very definition qua music. The music thus easily accommodates itself to a wide variety of visual representations. As a result, any particular operatic realization appears precisely as that, as a visual alternative linked to a body of music that is relatively fixed in form but highly variable in meaning.

What would it take, then, for an opera to raise the question of visuality in an acute or special sense, even in a critical or crisis-oriented sense? Something in the opera would have to raise the impression of visual realization from the level of assumption to that of dramatic event. The visual element would have to be made remarkable by literally being remarked, in the Derridean sense of marked over, meaning marked both again and across, such that the effect of the re-marking is to put the normal primacy of music in doubt, whether or not an actual reversal of values, temporary or permanent, occurs. As a rule, out of what might be called operatic self-interest, this re-marking of the visual is more a product of experimental production than of operatic composition. But in Salome, Strauss makes it an immanent matter, and does so by the most simple, direct, and brutal means, a means consistent with Freud's near-contemporary claim about the origins of the drive to know, and with contemporary renegotiations of the field of vision in general. His means, of course, is the display of sexuality as located, by cultural mandate, in the female body. But this is supplemented by or supplements the obsessive thematizing of looking and being looked out throughout the opera. Still, perhaps we shouldn't speak carelessly about “his” means here. The lore surrounding the opera suggests that Strauss did not quite want it to be what virtually everyone has taken it for, an overripe expression of fin-de-siecle sexuality as mediated by a relay of gazes. Given the topic, given its cultural prevalence, the opera could virtually not be anything else; it just got away from Strauss, who never again, not even in Elektra, ventured into this territory.

In the theater, intimacy with the performer's body comes at moments of coalescence of vocal effort and dramatic crisis. But the face is missing. In a video, images of the whole body are by definition not intimate, so the result is the presentation of the fragmented body and especially of the face. One might have expected this to alter the equation in Salome, but what it does instead is extend the realm of visual pleasure into wider and deeper territories than are available in the theater. And this is particularly so in the (p.170) three scenes in which Strauss (re-marking the issue) compels the audience to do what the opera says is so dangerous to do: to look at Salome, in the first two instances without hearing her at all: in the orchestral interlude following the encounter scene, in the dance, and in the monologue.

Jugendstil and Modernity

It is at this point that the question of Jugendstil becomes a factor. The approach to it I find most suggestive is scattered throughout Walter Benjamin's unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project (Das PassagenWerk), which repeatedly tries to come to terms, aphoristically at least, with Jugendstil as a symptom of modernity.2 Benjamin, gathering notes rather than writing an argument, is necessarily unsystematic, and he tends to lump architecture, literary style, visual imagery, and advertising under the single umbrella term Jugendstil. The outlines of a theory have to be drawn by inference. Those outlines, however, have both an independent interest and a striking pertinence to Salome, and I will therefore sketch a portion of them here.

For Benjamin, Jugendstil—so called because of its association, after 1896, with the magazine Der Jugend—is “the stylizing style [der stilisierende Stil, 691] par excellence” (556); the priority it gives to ornament, a kind of fetishizing of technique, develops into three characteristic motifs that Benjamin labels hieratic, perverse, and emancipatory. This “technical” emphasis has historical roots. Benjamin claims that Jugendstil was

the second attempt on the part of art to come to terms with technology. The first attempt was realism. There the problem was more or less present in the consciousness of the artists, who were uneasy about the new processes of technological reproduction…. Jugendstil no longer saw itself as threatened by the competing technology. And so the confrontation with technology that lies hidden within it was all the more aggressive. Its recourse to technological motifs arises from the effort to sterilize them ornamentally. (557)3

That is, by translating technology into ornament, the anti-organic, antihuman potential of technology, and hence of modernity, could be rendered harmless, “sterilized.” Typically this sterilizing ornament takes the form of elaborate floral or vegetal motifs, the lines of which could equally well be (p.171) drawn in the ink of a poster or by the wrought iron of a building. Benjamin compares the result to the identification of nerve and electrical wire, and describes this “vegetal nervous system” (das vegetative Nervensystem, 694) as “a limiting form to mediate between the world of organism and the world of technology” (558) (als Grenzenform zwischen der Welt des Organismus und der Technik vermittelt, 694).

The emblematic figure to whom such a nervous system belongs is a perverse and sterile woman: “The extreme point in the technological organization of the world is the liquidation of fertility. The frigid woman embodies the ideal of beauty in Jugendstil. (Jugendstil sees in every woman not Helen but Olympia.)” (559).4 Removed from her traditional reproductive function and wrapped around with ornament, the Jugendstil woman embodies the marriage of organism and machinery, and, in her perversity, further embodies both its appeal and its dangers. Benjamin traces the “line” of perversion specifically from Baudelaire to Wilde to Beardsley, thus specifically implicating the figure of Salome without actually naming her. The figure he does name is Ibsen's Hedda Gabler: “Just as Ibsen passes judgment on Jugendstil architecture in The Master Builder, so he passes judgment on its female type in Hedda Gabler. She is the theatrical sister of those diseuses and dancers who, in floral depravity or innocence, appear naked and without objective background on Jugendstil posters” (551).5 Hedda Gabler does not make a bad parallel to that notorious dancer, the Salome of Wilde and Strauss. Salome might be said to be Hedda without the bourgeois constraints: like her sister of the drawing room, she is overwhelmed by desires for which her world has no room and no name, and quite willing to displace their satisfaction into the savage destruction and mutilation of the man who embodies them.

Also notable in this context is Benjamin's invocation of the poster, the mechanically reproducible form, used above all for advertising, that is the defining medium of Jugendstil imagery. “Advertising,” says Benjamin, “is emancipated in Jugendstil” (176) (Die Reklame emanzipiert sich im Jugendstil, 238); and again, “In Jugendstil we see, for the first time, the integration of the human body into advertising” (186) (die Einbeziehung des menschlichen Leibe[s] in die Reklame, 250). The flatness, lack of background, and ornamental overlay of the poster renders the Jugendstil Beauty not only sterile but also one-dimensional, emptied of an interior subjectivity that is replaced by the pure exteriority of the ornamented body image. “Among the stylistic elements that enter into Jugendstil,” writes Benjamin, “…one of the most important is the predominance of the vide over the plein, the (p.172) empty over the full” (550).6 The expression of this emptiness as a form of subjectivity is the vacuity—floral depravity or innocence—of the Jugendstil Beauty. For this vacuity Benjamin borrows a phrase, “deep, but without thoughts” (tief, aber ohne Gedanken, 694), used by Nietzsche to describe “flower maidens—an important theme in Jugendstil.” Lacking content, the depth becomes a pure appearance, which is to say, a surface, marked by what Benjamin elsewhere describes as the “brittleness” (Sprödigkeit) of allegory, “the antithesis to the beautiful appearance in which signifier and signified flow into each other” (374) (der Widerpart des schönen Scheins, in welchem Bedeutendes und Bedeutetes ineinanderfliessen, 472). Nietzsche's phrase, Benjamin continues, “perfectly captures the expression [trifft genau den Ausdrück] worn by the prostitutes” in the Parisian sketches of Constantin Guys, the illustrator who inspired Baudelaire's essay “The Painter of Modern Life” (559). And it does so as part of a broad historical trend: “Just as certain modes of presentation—genre scenes and the like—begin, in the nineteenth century, to ‘cross over’ into advertising, so also into the realm of the obscene” (173).7 In the poster, what you see is what you get, and what you get is the coalescence of the Jugendstil motifs of emancipation and perversion.

The figure of the poster Beauty brings us back to Salome. From its very first moments, Strauss's opera presents Salome as a fascinating and dangerous magnet for the eye, at once an inapproachable, “sterile” virgin, still almost a girl, and a perverse sexual predator. The climactic scenes of the dance, the vigil at the cistern, and the monologue to the severed head with its consummation in a necrophiliac kiss are all themselves visually magnetic. They are scenes of staring at which we are invited to stare, scenes of transgression we are lured to witness; they are scenes, too, that derive their visual energy from the haunting presence of something not heard—Salome's voice in the dance, the sound of the decapitation by the cistern, Jochanaan's answer in the monologue. The music we do hear, the elaborate “vegetal lines” of sound swirling around the poster-girl figure in these scenes, both sustains and embodies the force of visual magnetism; this is above all music to see by. The exoticism of the dance music invokes the imagery of orientalist fantasy; the bizarre squeals of the vigil place Salome's demand for the head of Jochanaan in the sphere of psychiatric fantasy; and the dense, glittering orchestral fabric and Wagnerian sensuality of the monologue fill out the sphere of erotic fantasy, in particular of the fin-de-siècle fantasy of the excited, dangerous female body wrapped or encrusted in ornament, organic tendrils, or jewels.

The dance and monologue musics, moreover, maintain what might be (p.173) described as a strict position of exteriority with respect to Salome herself, in contrast to the music for the decapitation scene, which tries to get “inside” her mind and body. Unlike Strauss's Elektra and Wagner's Isolde, who at climactic moments hear the music around them as expressions of their inner truth, and unlike Elektra in particular, who can exclaim of such music, “It comes from me!” Salome is entirely self-absorbed, entirely aloof. Her dance is a calculated performance, not an expression—at least not a voluntary expression—of anything in herself, as we clearly see from her utter indifference after the dance is over. And her monologue is divided by the drastic contrast between her own concentration and the orchestra's expansiveness, her utter absorption in the head of Jochanaan and the complex, coruscating musical energies that surround and threaten to overwhelm it. She stands amid the music the way many women in Klimt stand enveloped, nearly consumed, nearly rendered inorganic, by glittering tiles of metallic color.

This is not to say, however, that the music of the monologue scene does not express Salome's subjectivity, that it does not “envoice” her in some way. It is to say, rather, that this subjectivity has become purely external; its putative depth has been emptied and its contents redistributed across the visual and auditory fields of the scene. This is a subjectivity that has, so to speak, been turned inside out to reveal the pulsing, shimmering, yearning surface that is both the music and Salome's body, the twin sources of the voice through which she sustains her obsession to the end. The Salome of the monologue scene is all surface, almost exactly like the women pictured on the Jugendstil posters recalled or imagined by Benjamin.

And here we return to the question of medium, of technology, as an essential rather than accidental component of the opera's effect and of the opera “itself,” whatever that phrase might mean. In the opera house, the identification of Salome with a visible, purely “superficial” subjectivity realized through music is at best a figurative or metaphorical effect, qualified by the material weight of the singers and the stage and by the “live” auditory presence of the music. On video, however, the effect can become entirely literal: conjoined with recorded music, the flat, intimate, tightly framed image of Salome on the television screen becomes the Jugendstil poster brought to virtual life, which is to say, not to an organic-seeming “real” life (as might even be possible in a movie theater) but to the spectral, inorganic life of virtuality. And this is a life, I want to suggest, or a lifelike lifelessness, that is not added from without by the advent of a new medium, but inextricably a part of whatever we can credibly mean by the opera per se, as such, “itself.”

(p.174) Entrʼ acte

This last remark leads naturally to a reflection on method that can also be taken as a caution. In reading the videos it is not always possible to distinguish between the layers of interpretation belonging to the production and to the video, nor again between either of these layers and the one belonging to the opera itself. As I've just indicated, I regard this indeterminacy not as a problem to be solved but as a welcome indication that the usual distinctions between a work and its realizations are unsustainable except as temporary conveniences. A similar indeterminacy arises from the necessity of describing what the video shows and how it shows it; one may not be able to say for sure whether what is being interpreted is the imagery or its description. This, too, is a positive, not a negative, condition. The video cannot interpret itself, even while it is running; only if it is seen “under a description” can it come to hermeneutic life.

Two trains of thought, at least, seem to branch out from these recognitions:

  1. 1. The indeterminacy over what, exactly, is being interpreted is not unique to the video medium, but only highlighted by it. The highlighting allows us to question with some robustness the representational model whereby a work, understood as in some sense self-contained, may be interpreted, performed, realized, adapted, or otherwise presented in diverse media. We might want to speak, not of an operatic work that is represented in being realized, but of the ways in which the operatic work, the opera itself—whatever we intend by such expressions—may reveal certain dimensions or raise certain questions when realized this way that may not arise so vividly when it is realized that way. But there is no possibility of making a clean separation of an ideal opera to which its various renditions are external or supplementary.

  2. 2. The video medium in particular means that, by comparison to the opera house, we always see more than we are supposed to. Not only do we get too close, but we move too much; in reading the camera we must so to speak read around or through the convention that demands changes in angle and distance regardless of the subject matter of the scene. With videos the problem of how to look, how to show, is itself always literally on view. As a practical matter, these visual rhythms are so extensive that it is impossible to trace any of them in a linear fashion. In what follows, I will rely on two practical solutions to this problem: descriptions of the overall character of the rhythms in each video, and intensive focus on the treatments of a single scene—the first encounter of Salome and Jochanaan—from which com (p.175) ments on the decapitation scene and final monologue, as well as cumulative comparisons among the various renditions, can branch out.

“Ich Bin Salome, Prinzessin Der Jtjdea”: Maria Ewing

Maria Ewing's Salome in the video of the 1992 Royal Opera production is a regal, arrogant figure who seems instinctively to translate her desires into rituals; from the very beginning, her relationship to Jochanaan is as much symbolic and gestural as it is erotic.8 Her style is the stylizing style par excellence. The rhythms of the camera extend this orientation across the opera as a whole. These visual rhythms parallel and underline the opera's large-scale dramaturgical design, which in its own right is already underlined by the pared-down version of Oscar Wilde's play that serves as the libretto. The design can be described as a prologue (all about looking at Salome) plus an ABA pattern consisting of three encounters: between Salome and Jochanaan, in which she seeks to kiss him; between Salome and Herod, in which, the kiss denied, she seeks Jochanaan's head; and again between Salome and Jochanaan, now reduced to his severed head, which again she seeks to kiss, and does kiss. Each of these encounters is bisected by an interruption—the suicide of Salome's admirer Narraboth, Salome's dance, and the colloquy of Herod and Herodias—to form its own smaller ABA pattern. The prevailing symmetry and formality contribute to an impression that is part ornamental and part ritualistic or hieratic—two of Benjamin's triad of Jugendstil motifs. The third, perversion, is of course pervasive.

Roughly speaking, the outer sections of the video's large-scale design concentrate on close-ups, the middle section on longer and middle-distance shots. The first section alternates close-ups of Jochanaan and Salome; the final section concentrates on Salome alone, which is also to say that it deem-phasizes the presence of the head in her monologue, with, as we'll see, one notable exception. The outer sections also show a tendency for Salome to engross the viewer's gaze by filling the space of the television screen, but with a telling reversal of emphasis. In the first section Salome tends to lay claim to the screen space by extending her arms wide to touch its limits; the gestures are pictorial, and combined with Ewing's slimness and tall-ness they are vaguely evocative of Egyptian tomb painting. In the monologue, by contrast, the camera rather than the women is the principal agent. It seems to cram Salome into the screen space with tight close-ups, primarily of her upper body and face, as if she, too, had been truncated by Jochanaan's decapitation.

In the encounter scene, Jochanaan appears almost naked, clad only in a (p.176) loincloth, as if to put the audience in Salome's staring position: his flesh rivets the gaze. Standing atop the housing of his cistern (an elevated structure with a stairwell) he draws the eye upward to his seminakedness, incidentally putting the onlooker into the viewing posture of the classical Freudian fetishist. But Jochanaan's body also repels the gaze. Whether from makeup or lighting or some combination of both, his body has a decided bluish cast that it seems to emit as a faint, sickish glow; the body is livid, as if Jochanaan were already a corpse. The real erotic spectacle here is the fully clothed Salome, in whom (especially on her face, of which more later) the audience is invited to recognize what it is really looking for, that is, the efflorescence of her desire. It is desire, not the body per se, that is the impossible object of erotic spectatorship. The gap between Jochanaan's actual appearance and the figure Salome evokes in her passages of adulation (“Your body is like a tower of ivory,” etc.) is thus particularly glaring, and Salome's regular alternation between adulation and disgust (“Your hair is glorious,” “Your hair is horrible,” etc.) marks both the power and the futility of the desire that fills the gap—the desire the viewer can see only by scrutinizing Salome's face, body, and voice for traces of what she sees in Jochanaan.

The video realization of the scene dramatizes these relationships by alternating three types of shot: close-ups of Salome, close-ups of Jochanaan, and long shots in which both figures appear in the frame. These distanced, duo shots play out a miniature narrative based on position and power. The narrative sequence begins with Jochanaan at the screen's upper left, Salome at lower right, maximally separate, and concludes with the two figures almost overlapping; the sequence breaks off at just the point where Salome almost achieves a two-handed grasp of Jochanaan's head. The overall tendency is toward increasing proximity (with local hesitations and reversals) and involves several inversions of power and control depending on who stands and who lies or leans supine. Meanwhile, there is a complex negotiation among points of view. In the close-ups of Jochanaan, the point of view is Salome's; in the long shots it coincides with that of a theater audience. But since Jochanaan steadfastly refuses to look at Salome, the close-ups of her proceed from an “impossible” point of view, a floating intimacy, assumed by the viewer but belonging to no one, that sees the truth of her desire. All the close-ups, therefore, both now and later, and whether of Salome or Jochanaan, show the spectacle of Salome's desire.

More exactly, they make a spectacle of it, both in the literal sense of composing it as an image and in the idiomatic sense of compulsively showing something shameful or excessive. Ewing emphasizes this effect with a constant, very busy gesticulation with her arms and hands. The movements at (p.177) once form an extension of sight into touch, suggest an “exotic” Eastern posturing, and evoke a kind of inverse Galatea-Pygmalion relation as Salome sculpts in air the object of her desire. Jochanaan's whole effort in this scene is to repel Salome (or, failing that, to convert her), but the effort is obviously doomed. He cannot escape the tendrils of either her gestures or her gaze (which he specifically tries to repel) as long as he remains visible—a predicament that gives special force to the dramatic facts that he has had to be made visible, drawn forth from his cistern, and that his visibility itself is so glaring. Jochanaan is thus tethered to Salome's fantasy space. His tether is made explicit in the rope that binds his hands and restricts his movements, and that, at one point, when his handler is momentarily hidden, seems to come to him directly from Salome's body like a perverse umbilicus.

When Jochanaan does redescend into the cistern, finally breaking the link, the production has Salome fling herself down and writhe and roll in an erotic frenzy. The music calls for something of the kind; marked “with extreme passion” (mit ausserster Leidenschaft), it situates the display of Salome's response to Jochanaan's rejection of her in the opera's only substantial stretch of purely instrumental music apart from the dance. What this means is that the response is confined to the arenas of visuality and gesture; voice is, so to speak, out of the picture. Salome's effort to overcome Jochanaan's rejection will ultimately coincide with the recovery of her voice as an instrument of desire in the final monologue.

In Ewing's realization, Salome's body is literally overturned by the force of her passion, propelled down the stairwell of the cistern to a “low” point of frustration and degradation. The camera accompanies her abjection with a ternary visual rhythm: long shots (interspersed with a few close-ups) that show her writhing on top of the cistern, close to the void that contains Jochanaan; low-angled close-ups that follow her prostrate form down the stairs as she turns over and over, with further emphasis on hand-wringing and arm movements; and a sustained long shot that frames her against a blue background—a visual rhyme for Jochanaan's skin tone—as she rolls and writhes on the ground. The sequence culminates with Salome locked in an extended full-body clench, her posture unnaturally curving, like a tautened bow.

The posture suggests an extended orgasm, one that peaks with a triple-forte C♯-minor cadence for full orchestra, but also one that cannot find true release. The cadential tutti jolts home violently but vanishes in an instant, leaving behind a C♯ tremolo in the violins. Against this background the brass and winds mass together for a crescendo on a long chromatic auxiliary chord, then twist, with a short wrenching stab, onto the C♯-minor triad. This “or (p.178) gasmic” secondary cadence resounds through a slowly fading series of echoes; as the tremolo continues, the dynamics lessen, the register sinks, and the instrumental forces dwindle. The effect is one of sinking downward to the dark, as if to the heart of mystery and perversity—from which, as we will see later, the solo contrabassoon emerges with something to say. But Salome, as the tremolo keeps insisting, is anything but appeased. Midway in this passage, and just before the secondary cadences shift to her signature key of C♯ major, the music returns to the melodic motive with which the episode began, the little phrase associated with Salome's desire. The motive is now heard in a truncated form, unable to complete the descending motion that characterizes it. Meanwhile, the position of Salome's body—clenched, rigid, unnatural—remains unchanged, as if in Ewing's rendition Salome were simply impervious to the orchestra's surrogate eroticism, at least as long as her body remains visible. When the “Desire” motive appears, the camera averts its gaze to another part of the stage—an empty space dominated by the huge moon, the symbol of Salome's feminine nature, and here both her visual surrogate and a visual blank. Salome's physical release, if she has one, occurs off-camera, as if the depth of either her pleasure or her frustration would be unbearable to watch. The extreme of her sexuality has to be shunted away into the unseeing realm of its musical imitation.

This retreat of the camera also occurs at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils. Ewing's rendition of the dance picks up several visual motifs from the encounter scene. It begins as a performance coolly calculated to arouse Herod. Its opening play with the veils themselves is impersonal, detached, and its choreography at first involves controlled, stylized forms of the seemingly involuntary movements—arm and hand motion, lying supine, writhing—that had overtaken Salome after Jochanaan's departure from that first encounter. As the dance proceeds, however, the impression of control and detachment is stripped away along with Salome's clothing. By the close, her stylized gestures have yielded to openly masturbatory touching, slightly displaced to her upper thighs, and to the unabashed display of full frontal nudity for which the Royal Opera production was briefly notorious. The turning point in this process comes when Salome mounts the cistern, a cylindrical projection with a gaping hole at its center, and frenziedly dances around the circumference of that hole. This motion around a lack, the gap at the core of desire and visibility alike, culminates when Salome falls prone onto the grate covering the hole. Her action refers back to her behavior in the first encounter: vainly trying to touch Jochanaan's hair, she has posed her (p.179) self behind the grate, which at that point was in its upright position, its bars marking the prison of her desire. The message in the dance scene is plainly that Jochanaan should look at her and love her, just as she says in her monologue that he should have done.

The impossibility of this ever happening propels Salome into another frenzy, so that in the end she is no longer dancing for Herod at all but, vainly, for the unseen and unseeing Jochanaan. And once again the spectacle of this is too much for the camera eye to bear, or rather it must limit what it shows, must gaze askance, in order to enjoy the spectacle. At the end of the scene the camera turns prudish, as does the lighting, which dims to turn Salome's body a grayish blue, visually rhyming with Jochanaan's. Ewing's nude Salome stands in semidarkness, situated at the left rather than the center of the TV screen in a medium-long shot, as if it would be dangerous to look any closer or more directly. The danger might be thought of as cultural: a better look would make the spectacle more pornographic than aesthetic, and that would be Salome's triumph. The triumph is one that Ewing's Salome clearly claims by standing proudly for a long moment of self-exposure, while the camera at one and the same time censures her, censors her, and enjoys what its off-center view reveals. The camera may be accused of timidity here, but its timidity, even its cowering, has the cultural authority that Salome lacks: it, not she, controls what we see. Any power she may have had has been lost in the frenzy that increasingly overtakes her once she mounts the cistern.

In the final monologue Ewing's Salome appears, pointedly, clothed in a blood red garment, the sign of both Jochanaan's mutilation and Salome's incarnation of the scarlet woman, the Whore of Babylon. Ewing sings most of the scene on her knees before the head, which is itself rarely seen, and mostly seen from behind. At the point where the music makes a cadence to the phrase, “Jochanaan, du warst schon,” Salome lifts the head, gazes at it, and hugs it maternally to her bosom. Shortly afterward, as Salome says that she had heard “strange music” in Jochanaan's voice, we see a shot of her face juxtaposed with the head's, the two filling the screen in extreme close-up in a travesty of romantic union. The head more or less vanishes after this. Salome's face, more than her now hidden body, is the key visual element in this scene: more intimately and at greater length than in the first encounter, her face is the medium in which her subjectivity appears and her desire is revealed. Ewing at this point acts a great deal with her face, modulating the expressions of longing and bliss with a fine detail visible only through the agency of the close-up camera. The effect is redoubled by the (p.180) fact that she is also sweating at this point, more and more profusely, and the close-ups clearly catch the glint of perspiration on her face and neck. The image might be said to offer “the little piece of the real” in which, according to Slavoj Žižek, all symbolization and all fantasy must at some point be grounded.9 The fictional body of Salome merges at this point into the actual body of Maria Ewing, as the physical trace of a taxing performance does double duty as the material manifestation of perverse desire.

The Imp of the Perverse! Catherine Malfitano

As noted earlier, the sets and costumes of the 1990 production by the Deutsche Oper Berlin suggest Beardsley rather than Klimt: they emphasize line and contour and contrasts of black and white.10 The overall impression is spare, abstract, and harshly angled. There is also no cistern, which is most important: in the first encounter Jochanaan appears from on high, and it is some time before he descends along the white stripe of a long thin stair amid the prevailing darkness. He also has complete freedom of movement, and closes the scene by reascending to fulminate at Salome again from on high. Simon Estes, the Jochanaan, is shot here and throughout prevailingly from low angles, emphasizing his imposing size and stature. He is a full head or more taller than Catherine Malfitano's Salome, and also massive; as he steadfastly refuses to look at her, he stands straight and tall—which is to say, rigid and erect. Yet we do not see his body with the libidinal force that Salome does, as we do in the Ewing version. For the viewer, Estes's Jochanaan is above all a figure of authority, not of desire, and he is clothed accordingly: although he has a bare chest, he wears a majestic cloak and his lower body is concealed.

Faced with so formidable a figure, Malfitano's Salome shrinks both emotionally and physically, even as she pursues him with a relentless will. Malfitano never asserts her full stature when close to Estes, but always crouches and leans, constantly orbiting the figure of this Jochanaan, with whom she is photographed only in ways that subordinate her to his presence. When he curses her, shown from below reascending the stair while she cowers beneath him, she abjectly caresses his foot. The visual imbalance between the two figures is interspersed with prolonged medium shots of Salome that obscure the stage set, showing her against a black background and thus isolating her within the void of her desire. In the Ewing version, this fatal meeting of Salome and Jochanaan is a genuine dramatic encounter, though its outcome is predetermined: the characters interact. Here there is no interaction except during Jochanaan's conversion attempt—more gen (p.181) uine here than in the Ewing version—which also allows Salome some illicit touching of Jochanaan's hand. This Salome has no power at all except the power of desire. She is not only dwarfed by Jochanaan but also crushed by the force of his voice—Estes being far “bigger” in that sense than the Royal Opera's Jochanaan, Michael Devlin. This vulnerability perhaps renders Salome more sympathetic, since she has a real injury to avenge, whereas Ewing's Salome almost literally chases her naked Jochanaan down the rabbit hole.

During the orchestral interlude following her rejection, Malfitano's Salome sheds her cloak for the first time, lies back, touches her breasts, and then runs aimlessly here and there, not knowing what to do with herself. At several moments she is pinned to the wall by a conspicuous spotlight that rhymes visually with the image of the moon. Eventually she finds herself in a crowd of leather-clad bare-chested soldiers who emerge from the wings as if they had just escaped from an S/M bar and who, leering, gradually encircle her. We see them obliterate the sight of her face and body in medium shots, and eventually close like a dark shadow around her in long shot, anticipating her death at the end of the opera. The scene ends showing what the other version does not, Salome's orgasmic spasm at the first echo of the C♯-minor cadence, to which the subsequent echoes become aftermaths. This physical literalism in her pleasure, unlike Ewing's strong-willed insatiability, will reach a spectacular climax in the final monologue.

Before that, the same literalism manifests itself in the dance, as if Malfitano were trying to translate Salome's sexuality into image and gesture to match Strauss's translation of it into music. The dance uses the full logic of the veil and is much more sexually explicit than Ewing's: Malfitano dances naked under a translucent drapery, makes deliberately provocative pelvic thrusts, and displays her nudity front and center, not off to the side, though only for a moment. Her self-display, however, is self-consuming: on her knees, Malfitano's Salome falls violently forward onto her face, as if she would be unable to withstand for more than an instant the gaze she has so relentlessly called forth.

Later, at the climax of the monologue scene, she corrects that impression. With extreme close-ups of her face used for the first time in the video, Malfitano's Salome opens her mouth wide and plants a deep wet kiss on the head of Jochanaan. The kiss seems to last forever—and then Malfitano repeats it. With her own head filling the screen, and her lips working hungrily, this Salome's kisses are flagrantly sloppy, visual realizations of the raw physicality of her desire. The impression is reinforced by the sweat that bathes Malfitano's face as it does Ewing's, but more as mere bodily secretion (p.182) than as the glistening substance of desire. So intense is the physical engagement that it is hard not to wonder about the state of mind that makes it possible. To act in character at so physical a level suggests, at least, a momentary surrender of separate identity. The union of bodies that emerges at the parallel point in Ewing's version seems in Malfitano's to extend, to be meant to extend, to a union of psyches. It may be that the person kissing Jochanaan's mouth here is, in a sense, not one Catherine Malfitano, but actually Salome, Princess of Judea.

The impression continues to the brink of Salome's death. At the very end of the monologue, we see Jochanaan's head perched on a column where Salome has placed it, the better to kiss its mouth. To this column Malfitano presses herself closely, clutching it between her knees in another pelvic thrust as she kisses the head yet again. The significance of the column is too obvious to require comment, and this Salome is uninhibited about presenting herself as a debased spectacle, without dignity or sense, and beyond redemption by the sound of her voice. Yet her death is so violent that we can certainly not identify with Herod's reaction to the spectacle, either. Salome's death is shown in shadow as a gang-stabbing, a thinly veiled gang rape, not as the crushing by shields that the text demands. The end is thus virtually nihilistic. It is aptly embodied by the famous horrendous dissonance that accompanies Salome's final ecstasy and by the orchestral violence that accompanies her death—musical gestures that now cast a retrospective pall over the opera as a whole.

Between Artifice and Organism! Teresa Stratas

If Malfitano's Salome is less “progressive” than Ewing's, Teresa Stratas's is much more so.11 The term, though, is decidedly relative: none of these versions, and this is the point of comparing them, can establish an affirmative point of view of, or for, Salome. This version, too, directed by Götz Friedrich in 1974, with the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Böhm, is perhaps the most highly organized in visual terms. It uses visual leitmotifs and quasi-ritualized rhythms to translate the dramatic “choreography” of the narrative.

One sign of this approach is the expanded role given here to a minor character, Narraboth's page. Played as a woman, not as the usual trouser role, the page gets a great deal of screen time throughout. Hopelessly in love with Narraboth, yet entirely unperverse, she seems to represent the feminine norm or ideal that Salome violates. The page is finally banished from view at the start of the decapitation scene, where the production interprets her as the person addressed by Salome's demand to repeat the kill order to the (p.183) executioner. Obeying, the page disappears into the cistern as Salome's transformation into a necrophiliac siren becomes complete.

Stratas's Salome, from the start through her encounter with Jochanaan (Bernd Weikl), is both imperious and highly nervous: quicksilver, hysterical, in continual motion. For example, as Jochanaan first approaches, she rushes to the cistern, peers down in close-up, darts hither and yon. Her reaction to Jochanaan's rejection, however, is to become composed, self-possessed. She distances herself from her own hysteria in order to stage it as a kind of fiction in her dance, only thereafter to yield to it progressively during the final monologue, becoming ever more “natural” and “feminine” as she continues. One of the visual leitmotifs traces this progress. Until the dance, Salome is dressed in a white tunic, similar in color to the rocky walls of the set, the most “primitive” of the sets under study, all roughhewn stone, with the cistern sunken at the rear of the stage. She also wears a tight-fitting white cap, encrusted with “diamonds,” that covers her hair—binds her in cold artifice, like “the sterile woman's icy majesty” (la froide majesté de la femme stérile) evoked in several poems by Baudelaire and linked there with the metallic glint of jewelry or the impersonality of ornament.12 At about the midpoint of the dance, however, Salome sheds the cap to reveal her bound hair, which she quickly shakes out. Her hair frames her face in soft curves until the monologue, at which point it begins to become disorderly, rhyming with the tangled, matted hair of Jochanaan. Close-ups of this hair, a key Jugendstil motif not mentioned by Benjamin, become increasingly prominent as the monologue moves toward its climax.

This production also relies much more than the others on reaction shots of characters other than Salome, including extras, and with emphasis on Herodias and the page, the witch and the good girl, respectively. Like the others, though, this video makes extensive use of reaction shots of Salome as well, especially in the first encounter where, indeed, these shots dominate more than in the other versions. The theme of looking could not be more emphatically realized. One of the key instances is the reaction shot showing Salome's becoming infatuated with Jochanaan as he emerges from the cistern—before we see him for the first time. The encounter is marked, further, by another visual leitmotif that tracks the realization of Salome's hysteria as the product of repressed desire, a Freudian rendition, if you will. There are many shots of Salome's head from behind, with emphasis on the tight-fitting cap—shots that, as noted, give way after this scene to “normal” frontal shots with flowing hair.

The ritualized rhythms of this scene, forming a set of narrative tropes, involve Jochanaan's body and Salome's triple invocation of it as an object (p.184) of desire: first as a whole, then as broken down into “part-objects,” to use the psychoanalytic term, the hair and the mouth that condense the force of the body and give Salome's lust for them a fetishistic intensity. We almost never see Jochanaan's body as a whole. Jochanaan appears to us first as a tangled mass of hair and beard, a dark, shaggy blot on the screen, in extreme close-up: like the cistern mouth in the Royal Opera version, this image displays the empty or blind spot at the center of visual desire. Jochanaan is seen shortly afterward in extreme long shot; framed by the massive set, he also appears dark, fully clothed in dark garments, unreachable. Except for two moments in the conversion episode, Jochanaan mostly appears to us in pieces from this point on, dismembered by the camera, which shows us now his head, now his arms, now his hands, and so on. When Salome sings that she is in love with his body, we see his face, a close-up of his mouth, the page, Narraboth, everything, in short, but his body, while Salome sinks to her knees, Jolson-style, as the camera draws toward her.

In sum, this Salome's Jochanaan is not ours, and he has none of the “objective” reality of his counterparts in the other productions. Nor does he have any objective relationship to Salome herself, in that respect being the opposite of Simon Estes's Jochanaan. He is always a figment of Salome's imagination, which the camera cannot translate, leaving it to the music to do so. This absorption of Jochanaan into Salome's subjectivity is clearest, perhaps, during the triple invocation. Each time Salome says, “I am in love with…” the camera gives us a close-up of the relevant part-object, thus identifying its own viewpoint with Salome's subjectivity. The first instance, where the object is the “body,” substitutes Jochanaan's eyes for his body, thus once more engaging the whole question of Salome's visuality and ours. The hair appears, again, as a black close-up mass—the dark mass of the Real; and the mouth appears in conjunction with a flickering torch, suggesting the tongue of flame that Salome ideally seeks. The “Let me…” demands for physical contact that go along with Salome's invocations also follow a “motivic” pattern: with each demand, the desired touch or kiss does not happen physically, but does happen visually, symbolically, as the images of Salome and Jochanaan cross or seem to touch. By the end of the scene, Salome has become abject, crawling to Jochanaan's feet; his attempt at conversion, not sung “to” her at all, is directed to her prostrate form, at one point shown as all cap and bare arms. The slow pan that shows us Salome thus prostrated is the only point in the scene at which we see Jochanaan's body cohere into a whole (it happens twice), though we don't see the finished whole itself. When she says thereafter that she will kiss his mouth, she in effect sexually assaults him, even as he is in the processing of cursing her. When she (p.185) is repelled, he exits as a shaggy indeterminate mass as she crawls after him: desire as abjection in pursuit of an object as impossibility.

The postrejection scene, with orchestral interlude, brings to culmination the domination of the encounter by reaction shots of Salome. Here, the whole episode of “extreme passion” is an extended reaction shot, focused in extreme close-ups of Salome's face, with wide open mouth, and of her arms and clasping hands; and in longer shots that show her crawling onto the lid of the cistern. She plays the sequence of musical “orgasms” with spasmodic gasping gestures, not blatant, but perceptible, and ends fallen prone atop the cistern. As she lies there, there is an extreme close-up on the symbolically fraught cap. Her face finally rises to view only as, to the accompaniment of the contrabassoon groaning at the bottom of its register, she discovers what she is about to do. One can almost see the idea as it crosses her mind.

Stratas's rendition of the dance requires less comment. It is highly structured around the removal of full-body veils in different colors, and slowly builds to its erotic climax, which shows her rolling and writhing, arching her back, and stroking herself. As the final veils drop, the camera gives close-ups of Salome's feet and face, but does not show her nudity (except in a brief, off-center glimpse from behind as she is covered) as if to avert its gaze more fully than its counterparts in the other versions. This will prove premonitory of something more important. The dance also involves a chorus line of four women in black with exposed legs, backs, and arms, and a few scenes of black drummers to orientalize the episode—a bit of casual racism in what is also the most crudely anti-Semitic of the three productions. (By contrast, the Ewing version generally avoids highlighting the racial difference between its Salome and the other characters—Ewing has a striking combination of light skin and African features—and indeed to subdue the exoticism of the opera, emphasizing instead the explicitly fin-de-siècle fantasy space created by the Secession-style costuming and stage sets, including a huge image of the full moon that presides over the whole. In the Malfitano version, Simon Estes's blackness is simply irrelevant, except perhaps as his particular vocal timbre might have gospel associations for some American viewers.)

The decapitation scene is rather underplayed here. Salome's reaction to its most striking feature—the series of pinched high notes on double basses meant to evoke “the moaning and groaning of a woman”—is shown in medium-long shot with the music at a rather fast tempo. Malfitano provides a point of contrast, as she twitches violently with the first four double-bass strokes. As her hysteria mounts, though, Stratas's Salome does address the (p.186) cistern sexually, as Ewing would do later, particularly in relation to the overtly phallic rope that extends from the clasp of the lid.

But the real action is being saved for the monologue, which, like the encounter, is structured around specific visual rhythms. Jochanaan's head seems to emerge out of the “cistern” formed by the base of the screen, rising from the bottom line as a black mass that partially obstructs our view of Salome, who cowers a bit as she sees it. Recovering, she grasps the platter and lifts the head triumphantly out of the screen space; but when she draws it near for the much-deferred kiss, she seems to struggle with it—this head is too big, too heavy, too phallic. The scene centers on an extended sequence in which, in extreme close-up, Salome's head and Jochanaan's divide the screen, which is slit diagonally, each antagonist taking half the space, with Jochanaan below. The camera then moves slowly so that now the upper triangle, now the lower, crowds out the other, now her face and mouth, now his dark matted mass, enacting the irresolvable opposition between her fantasy triumph and her degraded exposure. The second half of the scene translates this simultaneity into a sequence. Much of it shows Salome in the bottom triangle or half of the screen, with the top half blank, as she sings some of her most lyrical effusions. One could almost forget the presence of the head (something impossible in the theater)—but the shift to Salome's face is prefaced by a frontal shot (the first) of the head on the plate framed by its Medusa-like locks, and is interrupted—at “you would have loved me if you'd looked”—by another close-up shot of the head with its closed eyes. Salome's face does regain its position after this, but the damage is done: no forgetting is possible, though it is true that the extreme intimacy of the scene does draw the viewer closer to her fantasy space than is the case in either of the other videos and closer in all likelihood than is possible in any opera house.

Toward the end of the scene, Salome's head hovers directly above Jochanaan's, as if they were doubles, and sinks toward his—is absorbed into the mass—at the point of the kiss, which, like Salome's body, is not shown, perhaps to deny the kind of visual pleasure and shock found in the Malfitano version, and/or perhaps to suggest that it cannot or must not be seen, only heard. After the interlude with Herod and Herodias, Salome's face slowly emerges from the matted tangled mass, a mass at first scarcely recognizable as two heads close together; even as her face pulls away, it is barely recognizable as a face for a long time. Salome may have decapitated Jochanaan, but she has in the end de-faced herself, plunged face-first into a repellent nonhuman mass, or mess. When her face finally emerges into the light, Salome is given a parody of redemptive visual rhetoric: shown from a low an (p.187) gle, with her head thrown back, mouth wide, light flooding in from the moon above her, she unites Benjamin's motifs of the perverse and the hieratic: she is a saint at prayer. At which point Herod orders her death, which is shown confusedly, with quick shots of stabbing phallic spears.

“The Mystery of Love…”

All of which shows us—what? Certainly that the camera eye in a video of 〈II〉Salome〈/II〉 is highly likely to become personified precisely in relation to the act of looking, and more particularly of sexualized looking. The medium of sight will assume the identity of a virtual subject inescapably caught up in a network of sexualized gazes, by which it may be mesmerized or interrogated but over which it has ultimate control. Voice, however powerful or beautiful, becomes in this context primarily a means of address between two persons contending with each other over viewing positions. Since Salome is at the center of this network, the roles assigned to voice and vision suggest that the entire opera can be understood as an extension of its musically most “readymade” segment, Salome's dance. What the music does throughout is guide or, so to speak, choreograph the eye. And what the video medium does is transform the figurative or virtual choreography available in the theater into a literal, real-time series of movements and glimpses.

This personification of the viewing eye has a tendency to depersonalize Salome, much as the camera eye's control is bought at the price of Salome's visual debasement, or at least the invasion of her intimate bodily space. What Salome thinks of as her subjectivity is gradually exposed as an epiphe-nomenon, the by-product of Benjamin's triad of Jugendstil tropes: the perverse, the hieratic, and the emancipated. Each term in this series is bound to the others by an ironclad logic that is simultaneously narrative, musical, and technological. Narratively, Salome's perverse desire is a reaction to Jochanaan's mixture of sacred fury and physical magnetism, and its outcome is the “emancipation” from all law or restraint acted out in Salome's monologue. Musically, this pattern corresponds to the confrontation between Salome's post-Tristan and Jochanaan's post-Parsifal idioms, which ultimately produces the overripe, overornamented Jugendstil texture of the final monologue. Technologically, these musical changes correspond to changes in visual rhythm that become manifest in the video medium as the video eye develops an ever deeper, ever more invasive intimacy with Salome. Each of our three videos realizes this pattern differently, and with different ideological implications, but the end in each case is the same, and in each case (p.188) finds its “ocular proof” in the same places: the postrejection orchestral interlude, the final moments of the dance, and Salome's final monologue, the last above all.13

Historically, this dimension of Salome corresponds to what Benjamin would identify as a new technology of spectatorship that becomes one of the defining conditions of modern subjectivity. The focus on the female body that goes along with this seems to derive in part from well-known and well-worn trends in sexual politics, but in part from an unexpected combination of technological and cultural forces. Regarded as a Jugendstil type, Salome is above all a feminine image that is mechanically reproducible—a poster girl.The sign of this unnatural, even unfeminine, reproducibility is her “sterile” sexuality, which leads on the one hand to her perversity and on the other to the general sexualizing of the image that is so basic to modern advertising. On the opera stage, Strauss's Salome is almost too alive, and therefore almost impossible to render convincingly. The music around her has the literalness, the overappropriateness, of the soundtrack to an advertisement, but the figure on the stage, especially when she sings, is the bearer of a material bodily presence that resists the flattening and distillation of everything into a posterlike image. The video medium removes this problem, not only by removing the singer's body in favor of an actual image, but of doing so on the small scale and with the relatively poor image quality of the television screen. The opera loses some of its potential ambiguity in video realization, but for just that reason the video is perhaps the ideal medium in which to realize Salome.

To close, let me speculate a bit on that suggestion. I said just now that music of Salome shares an overobvious pointedness with the music used on advertising soundtracks—soundtracks that did not, of course, exist when the opera was written, though department stores and trade expositions had certainly experimented with using music as a background to the display of goods for sale. The opera may thus have had latent qualities that had to await technological development to be rendered fully active. If Wagner's Bayreuth music dramas can be said to imagine the fantasy conditions realized in the twentieth-century movie theater, Strauss's Salome can be said to do the same for the quite different conditions of television viewing, commercials and all. The hypnotic, metaphysical, absorptive effect ascribed so often to Wagner's music, especially in the later nineteenth century, fosters the “suturing” of the spectator into the film image that is basic to classical cinema, and it is therefore no accident that so much classical film scoring has Wagnerian roots. Strauss's dense but highly discriminated style, at the acme of both qualities in Salome, is, so to speak, more secular. The (p.189) pictorial quality so often attributed to it fosters what Benjamin would call the loss of allegorical “brittleness”: the exact specification of commodity value that is basic to the public culture of the modern image. Perhaps the persistent feeling that Strauss's music suffers from an excess of technique over expression—that it is, so to speak, deep but without thought—finds some justification and explanation here. This quality, a flaw by nineteenth-century aesthetic standards, is the mark of the music's twentieth-century modernity—a modernity of which the apparently exotic and archaic Salome is one of the first embodiments.


(1.) Because VHS is a low-resolution medium and DVDs are copy-protected, it proved impractical to illustrate this chapter with stills. The chapter was written to stand without illustration; it relies instead on the low-tech but time-honored device of ekphrasis.

(2.) Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1999). All quotations in English are from this edition (a translation of Tiedemann's text).

(3.) “Der Jugendstil ist der zweite Versuch der Kunst, sich mit der Technik auseinanderzusetzen. Der erste war der Realismus. Dort lag das Problem mehr oder minder im Bewußtsein der Künstler vor. Sie waren von den neuen Verfahrungsweisen der Reproduktionstechnik beunruhigt worden.…[Der Jugendstil] begriff sich nicht mehr als von der konkurrierenden Technik bedroht. Umso aggressiver fiel die Auseinandersetzung mit der Technik aus, die in ihm verborgen liegt. Sein Rückgriff auf technische Motive geht aus dem Versuch hervor, sie ornamental zu sterilisieren” (692).

(4.) “Die Pointe der technische Welteinrichtung liegt in der Liquidisierung der Fruchtbarkeit. Das Schönheitsideal des Judgendstils bildet die frigide Frau. (Der Jugendstil sieht nicht Helena sondern Olympia in jedem Weibe.)” (694).

(5.) “Wie Ibsen die Architektur des Jugendstils im ‘Baumeister Solness’ das Urteil spricht, so seinem Frauentypus in ‘Hedda Gabler.’ Sie ist die dramatische Schwester der Diseusen und Tanzerinnen, die im Jugendstil nackt und ohne gegenständlichen Hintergrund in blumenhafter Verdorbenheit oder Unschuld auf den Affichen erscheinen” (684).

(6.) “Unter dem Stilelementen, die von Eisenbau und der technischen Konstruktion aus in den Jugendstil eingehen, ist eines der wichtigsten das Vorherrschen des vide vor dem plein” (684).

(7.) “Wie gewisse Darstellungsweisen, typische Szenen etc. im 19ten Jahrhundert beginnen, in die Reklame hinüber zu ‘changieren,’ so auch in das Obszöne” (234).

(8.) Covent Garden, Royal Opera, cond. Edward Downes, dir. Derek Bailey with Peter Hall. Kultur #1494 (1992).

(9.) Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 29–34.

(10.) Deutsche Oper Berlin, cond. Giuseppi Sinopoli, dir. Peter Weigl, video dir. Brian Large. Teldec Video 73827–3 NTSC (1990).

(11.) Vienna Philharmonic, cond. Karl Böhm, dir. Götz Friedrich, film ed. Gudrun (p.248) Mockert-Keyser. Polygram Video (Deutsche Grammophon) 072–209–3 (1974, 1988).

(12.) Quotation from the last line of “Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés,” in Charles Baudelaire, Selected Poems, ed. and trans. Joanna Richardson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 70.

(13.) The monologue fully unfolds the paradoxically visual nature of Salome's “envoicing.” The envoicing is a material necessity; in this scene, Salome must sing full-throatedly or she cannot be heard. But what, in this case, does singing full-throatedly mean? One answer may be suggested by a passage from Roland Barthes's “Music, Voice, Language” (1977), in his The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 283–84:

[F]or music to enter language [and discover there what is “musical”] there must be, of course, a certain physique of the voice (by physique I mean the way the voice behaves in the body—or in which the body behaves in the voice). What has always struck me in [Charles] Panzéra's voice [i.e., the voice in which Barthes had located the concept of “grain,” the vocal realization of the singer's body] is that…this voice was always secured, animated by a quasi-metallic strength of desire: it is a “raised” voice—aufgeregt (a Schumannian word)—or even better, an erected voice—a voice which gets an erection. Except in the most successful pianissimi, Panzéra always sang with his entire body, full-throatedly: like a schoolboy who goes out into the countryside and sings for himself, as we say in French, à tue-tête [to kill the head]—to kill everything bad, depressed, anguished in his head. In a sense Panzéra always sang with the naked voice.

Barthes, the critic as Salome, executes a symbolic inversion of beheading into an anticastration, a second elevation of the erected voice-phallus. At the same time, he suggests that the corporealization of the voice, although it kills the head (drive, Lacan says somewhere, is “acephalic,” headless) turns the connection between the voice and the ear into something visual, pictorial, or voyeuristic rather than auditory in its pleasure. On one hand he projects a landscape in which the mind's eye sees a boy singing “for himself,” that is, unheard. On the other he shows us the image of the vocal erection itself, both as edifice and the column of its imaginary twin, the phallus. He thus renders the full-throated voice something at which the ear, so to speak, stares. And that stare is magnified, or rather shown at its actual life size, by the intimacy of the video image as we watch Salome's full-throated voice emerge from her wide-open mouth.