How's Bayou? Hamming it up with Salome
Richard Strauss's lurid opera Salome, performed last week by the New Orleans Opera Association, remains the best reason I know not to have drinks on the patio after dinner.
If only Herod had been able to keep his salacious stepdaughter at the table, she might not have developed her obsession with the head of the evangelist Jokanaan, locked in the cistern on the terrace.
You know how it goes: moonlit night, starkly handsome non-conformist guy and spoiled little girl on the edge of womanhood. Miss Manners would have known what to do.
But when Salome gets down and dirty, Strauss's lushly evocative score takes a turn toward the tawdry with the flashy, Bourbon-Street-worthy music of her Dance of the Seven Veils. Executing a series of foot-stomping, back pedaling dance steps before shedding her last shred of modesty, Russian soprano Mlada Kudoley trembled like a Cossack Tina Turner doing Proud Marisha.
"Your mother always gave you bad advice," the English supertitles amusingly had Herod exclaiming as he tried to discourage the incorrigible Salome’s lust for John the Baptist, while the crowd of Jewish scholars reacted like members of a first-century Family Research Council on learning that Herod was trying to distract her by offering her the Veil of the Temple.
Years ago I encountered a diminutive, brilliantly-hued medieval tryptich in a French museum. The central panel portrayed a group of wailing participants seated around a decked-out table in a stone courtyard. In the right panel, women wept; and in the left, a servant was on the way to the courtyard with the head of a bearded man on a silver salver.
I couldn’t help but imagine that the hysterical diners in the center were exclaiming, “Oh, no! Not Head of John the Baptist again!”
Back in the days of the Madewood Arts Festival and, more recently, Music at Madewood, we had our own share of operatic mischief and mishaps.
In the 1970s, a gifted local soprano who’d built an international career in Munich returned to sing in a performance of Mozart’s The Impresario, staged as if on a riverboat on Bayou Lafourche, in Madewood’s ballroom. In a pre-performance interview, she so disconcerted the wet-behind-the-ears writer from the local weekly newspaper, The Assumption Pioneer,with her story of how Germans shoe-store salesgirls considered her large calf size "vade normal, freulein," that he reported she was a great success in Barbaria.
In our 2007 production of Menotti’s The Medium, soprano Gwendolyn Jones fired a pistol at the figure moving behind the curtain, then fired it again, and again, still with no sound. Frustrated, she hurled the gun toward the trembling fabric, and the character Toby, lurking behind, had the good sense to release the fake blood at the spot where the pistol hit the curtain.
In the 1980s, Millie and I visited former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster's Oaklawn Manor, an elaborately-furnished version of Madewood just outside Franklin, a week or so before Easter. Judging from the omnipresent decorations throughout the mansion, you’d have sworn there wasn’t another roll of pink, yellow or blue tulle available in the state of Louisiana.
We had a charming, conscientious South Louisiana guide who was awash in tartan and informed us that the carved dining room chairs were made in Italian, and that Governor Foster was “in that urn over there," mistakenly conveying the impression that the hog-riding politician was no longer with us, when it was only a hand-painted image of him on the outside of a 5-foot-tall vase to which she referred.
As we approached the rear door to exit the mansion, she emitted a tiny shriek.
“Good lord," she exclaimed, “I almost forgot to point out that lovely painting of the Biblical character Salami on the wall over there,” adding, as tour guides seem required to do in almost any situation, “Can you see how her eyes follow you around the room?”
Not really. But with all the shrewd politicians lurking around in those days, longing to have Mike Foster’s head on a platter, a painting of Salome seemed just the right touch for Oaklawn Manor.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.