Salome
  • Richard Strauss. Musikdrama in one act. 1905.
  • Libretto by Hedwig Lachmann, translating Oscar Wilde’s play.
  • First performance at the Hofoper, Dresden, on 9th December 1905.
CHARACTERS

Herodes (Herod), Tetrarch of Judaea

tenor

Herodias, his wife

mezzo-soprano

Salome, his stepdaughter

soprano

Jochanaan (John the Baptist)

baritone

Narraboth, Captain of the Guard

tenor

Page of Herodias

alto

Five Jews

four tenors, one bass

Two Nazarenes

bass & tenor

Two Soldiers

basses

A Cappadocian

bass

A Slave

soprano or tenor

On the terrace of Herod’s palace, outside the banquet-hall, the young Syrian captain Narraboth shows his love for Salome, daughter of Herodias. The ominous voice of John the Baptist is heard from his dungeon below, urging repentance. Salome leaves the hall, watched by Herod, and fascinated sees now Jochanaan, who has condemned the wickedness of her mother, a woman who killed her own husband in order to marry Herod, and of Herod himself. She expresses her desire for him, vainly offering temptation, while Narraboth, in despair, kills himself. Jochanaan withdraws, while Herod and Herodias come onto the terrace, the former lusting after his stepdaughter, whom he invites to sit with him. Herod fears Jochanaan, while five Jews dispute about his teaching. Herod promises Salome whatever she wants, if she will dance for him, after which she demands the head of Jochanaan. He is executed, his head brought in, now kissed passionately by Salome, whose death Herod commands. She is crushed to death under the shields of the guards.

The eroticism of Salome, both as a play and in the operatic version by Strauss, provided something of a sensation. The opera makes very heavy technical and dramatic demands on the singers, notably in the title role and in the role of Herod. The sensual nature of the subject and the music that matched it led the way to operas by Franz Schreker and other contemporaries that explored a similar vein of eroticism. The famous Dance of the Seven Veils enjoys a separate existence in the concert hall, as, less frequently, does Salome’s final passionate Wagnerian outburst, when she sees the severed head, Ach, du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen (Ah, you would not let me kiss your mouth).