Jennifer Holloway, singing the title role in The Atlanta Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ often controversial Salome, will not remove all her clothing during the infamous “Dance of the Seven Veils.” It became popular for directors in the 20th century to remove the final layer of clothing in the dance, leaving Salome fully exposed.
Perhaps stage directors in years past sought to heighten the shock-and-awe factor, which already includes a young woman kissing a severed head, a stepfather lusting after his daughter and other psychological sicknesses, all layered on top of a biblical story from the New Testament. The opera did, indeed, gather much attention for leaving audiences — well, those who stayed for the entire performance — unsettled.
Or perhaps, seeing as there is nothing written in the libretto that presents Salome nude at the dance’s end, it was male directors reacting to the outspoken female characters such as Salome and Herodias. When the opera made its world premiere in 1905, it rode the heel of the Victorian Era’s expectations of men and especially women. Specifically, those included constricting women, family hierarchies, sexuality and respect for religious leaders — themes Oscar Wilde, the playwright who wrote Salome, addressed in many of his works.