Home > Uncategorized > Madonna, Opera, and the Super Bowl

Madonna, Opera, and the Super Bowl

So I tend to remain oblivious about major sporting events, with a few exceptions. I’m better able to get into faster-paced sports like basketball and hockey (and I’m not just saying that because both have strong ties to Canada), but I still don’t root for specific teams. The 2010 Winter Olympics hockey showdown between my native land and place of residence was a major case in point, but both teams played very well. Even living near Texas Stadium, I was always caught by surprise upon hitting postgame traffic. I can only imagine how it is now with Cowboys Stadium also in Arlington, plopped amidst what used to be homes for people with low incomes, and partially funded with taxpayer dollars (while mass transit remains non-existent in Arlington).

Anyway, I remained rather oblivious to this year’s football playoffs and Super Bowl until recently. Still, I managed to catch the Super Bowl performance by “Madge,” which brought to mind some opera-related associations. The connections make little sense at first glance, but the length allotted to the halftime show is sufficient to accommodate at least two of my favourite grand finales from opera. One is Brunnhilde’s Immolation from Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung; funnily enough, in relation to one of Madonna’s costumes, music critic Alex Ross made a reference to Wagner on Twitter. The other is the final scene from Richard Strauss’ Salome (from my favourite videorecording of the opera). For a rough translation, see Oscar Wilde’s original text, starting on page 20 at “There is no sound.”

In terms of their public reputations, the affinities between the Salome and Madonna are quite apparent. At a broad level, one could identify their connections to sexuality and dance (note the title of this book), as well as gay iconography (via Wilde’s authorship of the play Strauss adapted). Most stunning to me, however, is Madonna’s 1989 song “Like a Prayer,” perhaps best known for its controversial video. At one level, it acts as a provocative and moving commentary on many hot button issues, bringing together race relations, religion, and sexuality. At another, the erotic (and perhaps even spiritual) desire of Madonna’s character for a holy man has strong affinities with the relationship between Salome and Jochanaan (John the Baptist). In the latter, however, there are no double-entendres on a par with “I’m down on my knees” (though Wilde’s metaphor “scarlet band on a column of ivory” is none too subtle, either). As Wilde’s text states, and as Strauss’ music strongly implies, Salome desires Jochanaan, while the holy man remains adamant in his renunciation of the teenage Princess of Judea (see page 6 from Wilde’s text, beginning at “Who is he, the Son of Man?”). And then there’s the section with the organ heard near the beginning of “Like a Prayer.” It shares some aural similarities with the theme from this section (~30 seconds) of the Salome final scene (which also features an organ). Might both snippets act as some mimetic portrayal of the ambiguities portrayed in their respective works?

Would it be possible to do a performance of the final scene from Salome, or even some other operatic work, at the Super Bowl? (Madonna might not be able to do it herself, though it’s difficult to resist the possibility of it happening in a parallel universe.) Albeit in different ways, both opera and the Super Bowl have reputations for being overblown spectacles. With supertitles and interesting staging, the combination might just work. Send in the cheerleaders, and there would be something for everyone.

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