Musical Category Soloist(s) and Orch./Ens. and/or Choir
Instrumentation (general) voices and chamber orchestra
Carla Caramujo (voice), Ângela Alves (voice), Sara Braga Simões (voice), Jorge Vaz de Carvalho (voice), Mário Redondo (voice), Armando Possante (voice); Otelo Lapa (actor); London Sinfonietta; Pedro Amaral (conductor)
Venue The Place
Country United Kingdom
Text / Lyrics
Author of the Text Maria José
Title of Poem or Text -
Salomé, by Fernando Pessoa, is a dream. It is the story of a dream, before anything else. The protagonist weaves her dream, out loud, bringing to life physical and temporal realities. The reality of beings and facts is transformed through the alchemy of this dream:
" I want men to die, people to suffer, mobs to roar or tremble, because I had this dream ."
It is thus that the head of a "killer bandit from the villages", severed from his body by order of the tetrarch, is taken by Salome as a random object. She grabs it, with her hands, and wishes that this head becomes that of a saint creator of gods.
When those around her alert her of the objective reality of this head, Salome has them executed - kills the one who contradicts her dreamt up universe. However, this last one ends up, in fact, transforming the past, present and future reality: after the dream, the head is no longer that of a bandit: it has become the head of a saint. Salome ended up purifying it, ended up turning it divine.
The ultimate stage would be the physical annihilation of Salome herself. Which turns out to be the case in the final lines, when she speaks, in the emptiness of her absence, to the John the Baptist before her dream (because the saint she had dreamt and had become real ceases to interest her):
" I will act as if I'm in a frenzy. I will dance about your head until I fall lifeless. I will dance in the funeral of the things that died with your life. Watch, I will do a moonlight dance, to sum it up."
* * *
The "mise en abîme" is intrinsic to the labyrinth of the dream: Salome dreams about a prophet who dreams about a god. In other words: Pessoa dreams up a character (Salome) who dreams up a second (John the Baptist) who dreams up a god. On the extremities we find the creator and the creature - is it the god that dreams up the poet or the poet that dreams up the god?...
Salomé, by Fernando Pessoa, is therefore the history of a labyrinth of dreams; and the protagonist is itself a dreamed up image. It is so not just in the immediate metaphorical sense - a character "dreamt" by her author - but is the very incarnation of the ideal of a woman, of beauty, of men's dreamt sensuality. Paradoxically, she is perfectly aware of her (almost) physical inexistence, of her purely allegorical reality:
" I am the perfume that, once dreamt, becomes the aura of imagination [...]."
... in the same way as we could imagine that one of Pessoa's heteronyms was aware of its immaterial existence, of its substance has the dream of another:
" I realized, in an inner lightning, that I am nobody. [...] I am the suburbs of a village that doesn't exist, the prolix commentary to a book that hasn't been written."
" I am that who always wishes to leave/ And always stays [...] / Make me human, oh night [...]."
As a character, Salome is therefore a "dream who dreams", we may say. This reinforces the narcissistic nature intrinsic to any kind of dream - because, it should be noted, she dreams up John the Baptist entirely in her self image. Salome creates saints as John the Baptist creates gods. The dream is, for both, their way of survival in a physical reality that is perpetually strange to them. They are both... "heads separated from their bodies" - if we take body as tangible reality and head as the only possible escape. They dream to survive, to try to exist. They could say, as Bernardo Soares does in the Livro do desassossego :
" I'm [ a person ] to whom the exterior world is an interior reality "
* * *
This is how Pessoa creates a character that creates another, like a game of mirrors that deep down always reflects its own image. Because Pessoa is himself the image of a bodiless head! A head that is strange to the physical reality that envelops him; a head that, in order to survive, plays at creating gods, and prophets, and characters that do not cease, themselves, to dream up others and create them.
" I feel multiple. I'm like a room with countless fantastic mirrors that bend into false reflections one previous unique reality that is not found in any and is in all. "
In the same way as John the Baptist and its god become a physical reality through the dream of Salome, also the poets created by Pessoa, his "heteronyms", acquire a real existence - so real that they write books, invent styles and literatures. As in the dream of Salome, Álvaro de Campos e Ricardo Reis show themselves impersonating prophets; like in the dream of John the Baptist, they create a god, a literary god which is a kind of ideal poet, Alberto Caeiro - who, according to Pessoa, wrote, in his Guadador de Rebanhos , the best in himself, in all himself.
Thus, John the Baptist is created in the image of Salome which is, herself, from the start created in the image of Pessoa - three manifestations or reflections of this same "unique prior reality which is not found in any but is in all."
* * *
How to convey this through music?
The whole of the text is, right from the beginning, marked by an extremely particular "sonority", which incites to the creation of a unique musical universe, with three flutes, two trumpets, three percussionists, one harp, five cellos, (which, throughout most of the opera, play in the acute extremity of the register) and a double bass.
Inside this configuration, every subgroup will have a function of its own. The percussions and the harp form a kind of context, over which lies the "enunciation" plane - the narrative plane sang by the Salomes (I meant to say: by Salome and her Maids). This context is something like a background plane, alive. Sometimes this background shares the harmonic reality of enunciation, other times it diverges - like the objective reality in relation to the dream of Salome.
Between the enunciation plane and that which I call the "context", we find two degrees of convergence: the three flutes follow the voices of Salome, paraphrasing them (we shall talk about them below); the five cellos, in the acute extremity of the register (like a voice that flees its real acoustic body), proliferate the elements of "context".
The two trumpets [ cors , in French, phonetically equivalent to corps , body or bodies], discrete, in this allegoric annihilation of physical reality, and the double bass - voiceless bodies, complementing all this bodiless voices - provide something like an objective harmonic substract that sustains all the musical edifice.
* * *
As for the voices, they are six in number: three sopranos (female singers with alike voices and silhouettes), and three baritones.
One of them sings about the brief character of the Servant. It is the only character that contradicts the dream of Salome, and for that he is executed. And because he contradicts the dream of Salome, because he belongs to a reality different from all the reality of the play, his form of expression is also absolutely diverse from that of Salome: in the parts where the female character continually proliferates incessant melodic lines, the Servant is characterized by an absolutely syllabic writing, following a rude rhythm, a kind of anchor to physical reality.
The two other baritones correspond to the characters of the Captain of the Guard, who executes the Servant, and of Herod, the father of Salome, who intervenes in the end, announcing that reality has been transformed by dream. The line of the Captain will be slightly more melodic than that of the Servant. The Captain, says Salome, is "blond and sad". I wonder why he is sad. Relating to Salome's observation about the colour of his hair, we may accept that the female character, with her coldness, in her purely allegorical reality, doesn't disdain an aesthetical appreciation of the man of arms. But, I insist, why is he sad?... It looks defendable to me that the Captain's sadness originates in a profound and inevitable melancholy connected to a platonic love of Salome (she which is "the princess that one day was all [his] life"). In this sense, the character of the Captain would be dramaturgically close to that of Narraboth, young Captain of the Guard, Syrian, in Wilde/Strauss's Salome . This one seduces her Captain so as to the prophet be brought to her, which later she will have executed; Pessoa's Salome seduces her Captain so that he kills the Servant. I therefore take this scene of Salome with the Captain as a scene of seduction and manipulation: the exuberant Salome before the Captain, debilitated by an incurable lover's melancholy, has him execute an order that possibly only the Tetrarch could give.
As for the Tetrarch, which here appears as the "father" (not stepfather) of Salome, his words are transported by a lyrical musical writing, although without the exuberance which characterizes the daughter's character. Unlike her, in fact, the musical background over which his song will rest, will be exclusively composed by strings - the cellos and the double bass which thus, in this point on the dramaturgy, change their functions.
The three female voices could directly represent Salome and her two maids, but I operate a dramaturgical transformation: if all is dream on this universe, the two maids can be seen as extensions of Salome's dream. The protagonist speaks to two women, who, initially, only respond with meditations on the nature of the dream and its opportunity. Meditations which constitute a meagre rational counterpoint to Salome's dreaminess.
In my musical understanding of the text, the voice of Salome is sung by the ensemble of the three sopranos, without us being able to distinguish who sings what, which body enunciates which part of the dream. That is why the three singers must have voices indistinguishable amongst themselves, dressed and made up in a way that one can distinguish between them as little as possible.
Musically, the composition of this core line, wholly one but, at the same time, wholly multiple, explores all the intermediate degrees between the most elementary monody and the most arboreal polyphony. This voice, one and multiple, sang by the three sopranos, hovered by the three flutes that follow her and "blur" her, constitutes the fundamental element of all of this musical dramaturgy, of all of this sonorous universe.
(text written as a project, prior to the composition of the opera)
by Pedro Amaral