Maria Tippett

Maria Tippett a professor of modern British history at Cambridge, is currently attached to the Bowen Island Research Centre in British Columbia.Maria Tippett is a member of Clare Hall, Cambridge. Between Two Cultures: A Photographer among the Inuit appeared last year from Hamish Hamilton.

Is Quebec Crying Wolfe?

Peter Clarke and Maria Tippett, 22 December 1994

After Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo, the former British colonies went to France. In due course, Australia was opened up by French settlement, with a British cultural residue which remained long after the new nation’s independence. Only in New South Wales did a British community survive in appreciable numbers. Sydney, to be sure, became impressively bilingual, with the French élite long occupying the smart area of the city; but the bulk of the Anglophone population remained monoglot and showed a stubborn resistance to assimilation. Cultural links with Britain were one way of maintaining a sense of identity, which easily spilled over into politically sensitive assertions of independence. Hence the enormous fuss when a visiting British leader publicly endorsed the separatist slogan, ‘Free New South Wales’.

Seven Veils and Umpteen Versions

Maria Tippett, 30 January 1992

I recently attended a lavish production of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome at the Staatsoper in Vienna. Directed by Boleslav Barlog, sung by the diva Mara Zampieri, and staged, in keeping with Beardsley’s erotic drawings, by Jürgen Rose, it was a feast for eye and ear. And yet as I crossed the road to the Cafè Sacher afterwards I wondered how successful the performance had really been. Was it Barlog’s intention to provide Herod with a richly-textured personality and leave his daughter with the one-dimensional cardboard cut-out character of the evil temptress? Salome’s efforts to fill her audience with revulsion knew no limits. During her last aria she lies spreadeagled before the severed head of John the Baptist which between deep breaths she kisses and caresses with great theatrical gusto. I’m not suggesting that the director should have turned Salome into a Pollyanna – as Hollywood did in the 1953 film which had Rita Hayworth dance in order to save the life of the saint. Yet the Vienna production left me wondering uneasily about alternative portrayals. Would I have been happier with Ken Russell’s 1987 film Salome’s Last Dance, which set the tale in a homosexual brothel; or Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s equally controversial production at the Metropolitan Opera in 1989, with its explicit reference to the Aids crisis? The Mark Morris Dance Company’s version, Striptease, taking its cue from Roland Barthes’s notion that unveiling re-veils rather than reveals, sets out to break down this strongly gendered act by having both male and female dancers strip in an awkward rather than erotic manner. And Lindsay Kemp’s version, first staged at the Roundhouse in 1977, has a transvestite perform the Dance of the Seven Veils. Would any of these productions have spoken to me in a way that the Vienna Staatsoper performance did not?’

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