Commissioned by Opera North Projects, a new score by Circuit des Yeux for the cult silent film Salomé will receive its world premiere at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds on Saturday 12 May as part of Leeds International Festival 2018, followed by a performance at the Barbican, London on Wednesday 16 May.
The vehicle for the otherworldly voice and songwriting of Haley Fohr, once memorably described as ‘a one-woman post-cabaret movement’, Circuit des Yeux combines fingerpicked guitar, avant-garde electronics, minimalism and song into a sound that has drawn comparisons with Nina Simone, Nico and even Scott Walker.
Fohr and her band bring their distinctive, dramatic sonics to the scandalous 1923 film based on the story of Herod’s stepdaughter, who demands the head of John the Baptist in payment for dancing for the lustful king. Like Strauss’s 1905 opera, which Opera North is set to perform in Leeds Town Hall and on tour in April and May, the film was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s notorious play of the same name, and Aubrey Beardsley’s decadent illustrations for it.
Conceived, produced, and financed by the Russian actress Alla Nazimova, who also took the title role, Salomé was a resounding flop on its release, shunned by the major studios for its salacious story and the rumours of debauchery that surrounded its star and instigator. In the years since, its weirdly beautiful atmosphere and aesthetic – combining Art Nouveau, modernism and the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age – have led to its growing recognition as an exotic gem, and a cornerstone of camp. Underground filmmaker and occultist Kenneth Anger is a notable fan, contributing to its legend in his infamous book Hollywood Babylon and paying homage to it in his films Puce Moment and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.
Jo Nockels, Projects Manager, Opera North, comments:
Opera North Projects’ long-running FILMusic programme is all about exploring new imaginative possibilities for classic and lesser-known celluloid works of art, and from this point of view Salomé and Circuit de Yeux feels like a dream combination. Contemporary viewers will find much to love in the strange, extravagant world of the film, and Haley’s score will transport it to unexpected new places while illuminating the ambiguities and eccentricities that originally made it so daring.
Salomé is the latest in Opera North’s series of soundtrack commissions, which have included new scores for the Louise Brooks classic Pandora’s Box by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Hildur Gudnadóttir and Philip Jeck, Carl Dreyer’s pioneering horror Vampyr and Maya Deren’s surrealist reverie Meshes of the Afternoon by German pianist Hauschka, and a Gamelan soundtrack for Lotte Reiniger’s fantasy animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Most recently, Norwegian musician Jan Bang and Matt Calvert of Three Trapped Tigers re-scored the seminal Soviet film Battleship Potemkin to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution.