Devoted to productions of Salome by Richard Strauss, this dissertation discusses opera as a material exemplification of canonicity as a process. Its premise is that opera should be treated as a coexistence of repeated texts and particular performances, the latter constituting additional texts to be analyzed in turn.
Opera consists of an oscillating structure involving historical documents and present incarnations, which makes the figure of Salome both a body on a stage and a staged body. The familiar story and old songs are not only repeated but also recreated in the open spaces for mediation and embodiment that emerge in this act of repetition. My analyses concentrate on these spaces, which become particularly present in interludes and through silent characters or invisible voices, all demanding to be reinterpreted visually within the already established framework of music, the textual narrative, and the tradition of previous interpretations. I argue that these areas of likely recontextualization have become more present because of opera’s mediatization on DVDs, broadcasts, and video-sharing websites, which in turn represent a new opportunity for the opera scholar to focus on the concrete (bodily) work being done in performances. As an interdisciplinary musicologist, I have assembled critical perspectives from film, theater, and gender studies and literary and critical space theory to form a shifting background onto which I project different Salome phenomena and particular scenes for examination.
It soon emerges that the enduring notion of a unified work must give way to a non-identical entity that revolts against the idea of an opera as fixed, repeated content. Hence, as long as the practice of constructing and maintaining a canon involves bringing to life via interpretation (which in opera means physical materialization), canonization might foster radicalism instead of stasis.