Realist painter Henri sought a provocative and timely subject in Salome, the Biblical figure who served as her mother’s dutiful pawn in facilitating King Herod’s assassination of John the Baptist. By the late nineteenth century, Salome had evolved into a far more aggressive and decadent creature, as witnessed in Oscar Wilde’s notorious play of 1891. That Henri adopted the theme in 1909 suggests his desire to capitalize on Salome’s high currency for controversy, which had been confirmed by the New York Metropolitan Opera’s scandal-provoking performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome (based on Wilde’s play) in 1907.
Excerpt from “Mysteries of Love” on The Rest is Noise blog by Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker: “The first time the Metropolitan Opera staged Richard Strauss’s “Salome”… J. P. Morgan’s daughter blanched at the sight of a soprano making out with a severed head, and the production was shut down after one night. The ballerina who had performed the Dance of the Seven Veils on the Met stage decided to take her act to a vaudeville house, where she had a considerably warmer reception. America was soon in the grip of a Salome craze. In January, 1909, Strauss’s opera reappeared in triumph at Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera House, with the bewitching Mary Garden in the title role. Not long afterward [in April 1909], a singing waiter [Irving Berlin] at Jimmy Kelly’s, in Union Square, wrote a song entitled “Sadie Salome (Go Home),” which told of a nice Jewish girl who dismays her sweetheart, Mose, by playing Salome onstage.”
Click here to listen to “Sadie Salome (Go Home)”. The original sheet music cover and lyrics are copied below for your perusal and enjoyment.
Sadie Cohen left her happy home
To become an actress lady
On the stage she soon became the rage
As the only real Salomy baby
When she came to town, her sweetheart Mose
Brought for her around a pretty rose
But he got an awful fright
When his Sadie came to sight
He stood up and yelled with all his might:
Don’t do that dance, I tell you Sadie
That’s not a bus’ness for a lady!
‘Most ev’rybody knows
That I’m your loving Mose
Oy, Oy, Oy, Oy
Where is your clothes?
You better go and get your dresses
Ev’ryone’s got the op’ra glasses
Oy! such a sad disgrace
No one looks in your face
Sadie Salome, go home
From the crowd Moses yelled out loud,
“Who put in your head such notions?
You look sweet but jiggle with your feet
Who put in your back such funny motions?
As a singer you was always fine!
Sing to me, ‘Because the world is mine!’”
Then the crowd began to roar
Sadie did a new encore
Mose got mad and yelled at her once more: