Commissioned by Opera North as part of our FILMusic series, the acclaimed score by Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux) for the cult silent film Salomé will return to UK stages this summer for performances at Brighton Festival (Thursday 23 May) and Norfolk & Norwich Festival (Friday 24 May).
Memorably described as ‘a one-woman post-cabaret movement’, Haley Fohr combines folk influences, avant-garde electronics, minimalism and song with her extraordinary voice under the monikers of Circuit des Yeux and her ‘outlaw country’ alter-ego Jackie Lynn, drawing comparisons with the music of Nina Simone, Nico and even Scott Walker.
Haley 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.
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 recognition as an exotic gem, and a cornerstone of camp.
“This is a scene from the past, staged in the future!” says Haley. “The modern, avant-garde set design (beautifully designed by Nazimova herself) lends a natural compulsion to find the usefulness of this piece within our own contemporary world. This is a story about a woman who is yearning to be heard, not desired”.
“My interest in wordless music is something that has grown with age. After almost two decades of vocal practice, I have come to know the power of this fleshy instrument and its ability to express emotion without narrative. The body is after all, our ultimate resonator. There is something both personal and universal about the human voice – a sound we are all mysteriously naturally drawn toward deciphering. This curiosity has been designed by mother nature herself for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a mode of understanding centred on survival.
“When stripping the context of both Salomé and my voice, I find the audience becoming forcibly engaged in a collaboration. In this collaboration, I relay a sound, a feeling, and a mysterious hole in which a narrative or linear progression might normally reside. Each audience member then subconsciously or intentionally fills these holes with their own unique imagination, shaped by slow years of pivotal events that make each of us who we are and who we will one day become.
“I am looking forward to revisiting Salomé. It is an opportunity to expand the details of its composition, and I am especially looking forward to writing an additional 10-minute overture for these UK performances.
“The film is such a stunning and direct piece of work, I am left in awe after each viewing. It is a story that will remain timeless. I find its themes to be extremely relevant in today’s society. It has been a pleasure to create a piece of art directly inspired by another piece of art – it feels like a rare occasion. I like to consider it some sort of multi-generational celebration.”
The premiere of the score in the Howard Assembly Room at Opera North as part of Leeds International Festival last year was followed by a performance at London’s Barbican, and a handful of US dates. Musician and writer Damon Krukowski hailed the work as ‘a pulsing, breathing, frightening set of gestures that fluctuate alongside the emotions of the film. Nazimova moves constantly through it, but always slowly. And Haley Fohr’s composition mirrors the teetering, collapsing quality to her movements. I was on the edge of my seat.’
Commissioned by Opera North Projects for Leeds International Festival.