This is either ‘Azrael’ or ‘Queen of the night’, depending on which music I am listening to at the time. My work relies on ambiguity, I find either title suits this very powerful figure. They are not un-alike.
After all, this is a painting, not a picture.
‘The magic flute’ is rather like a fairy tale. A noble prince is commanded by the Queen to rescue her daughter, who has been kidnapped. Things get off to a great start with the appearance of a huge serpent which threatens our prince, but lo! 3 women (employed by the Queen) turn up and rescue him. He is then given a magic flute and sets off to rescue the daughter who is in the clutches of the High Priest of Isis and Osiris. The plot thickens, other characters appear, as does splendid music.
Moving quickly on, eventually the Prince and daughter get married in the temple after a series of very testing adventures. Furious at this turn of events, the Queen plots to destroy the occupants of the temple but the High Priest calls the shots and the Queen is vanquished.
Although she is hardly on the stage at all, this powerful and pivotal coloratura soprano is up to no good and has a huge influence on proceedings. An equivocal figure, of uneven temperament, she scales vocal heights which would terrify the faint- hearted.
The original play ‘Salome’ was written, in French, by Oscar Wilde. Richard Strauss saw the play and immediately set to work on producing a German operatic version. It was duly performed in 1905.
What with a heady mix of the biblical, the erotic, and the murderous all wrapped up in splendid music it was controversial to say the least, and banned in London until 1907.
Towards the end of the opera, after quite a bit of to-ing and fro-Ing, Salome, who must have been quite a girl, performs the then startling ‘dance of the seven veils’ before the besotted King Herod, finishing up lying naked at his feet.
Herod then promises to grant her most desired wish….. which, of course turns out to be the head of John the Baptist. Said head is duly delivered and is fervently kissed by Salome. Goodness. The climatic music is extraordinary, a much debated chord seems to echo the degradation of Salome. This lowly state does not last long, the lovely girl being crushed under the shields of the soldiers. Not too many jokes, but wonderful stuff.
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This painting was prompted by the closing pages of Wagner’s great Ring cycle.
Brunnhilde orders a huge funeral pyre to be built by the river Rhine.
Eventually she lights the fire, mounts her horse and rides into the fire to be consumed by the flames. The opera concludes with the glorious music of the Rhine
overflowing its banks and extinguishing the blaze.
The first Wagner I heard was at primary school age. It was the introduction to Das Rheingold. I had never heard of Wagner, just loved the stuff.
The horns and lower strings transport the listener to a magical world, rather like watching the time lapse growth and metamorphosis of some fabulous plant. Ravishing.