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Drama in one act
Libretto by Richard Strauss based on Oscar Wilde.
First performed December 9 1905, Königlisches Opernhaus, Dresden.
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Salome is Herodias’ daughter and the Tetrarch Herodes’ step-daughter. His captain Narraboth goes into raptures about Salome’s beauty. The voice of the prophet Jochanaan, who is being held prisoner by Herodes, is heard, announcing the coming of Christ. Fascinated by his voice Salome asks the captain to bring Jochanaan to her, although this is strictly forbidden. The prophet laments Salome’s mother Herodias and her step-father’s iniquities. Salome falls in love with him: She wants to touch his body, his hair and kiss his mouth. Narraboth watches them and stabs himself in despair. But the prophet spurns Salome and damns her. Herodes is looking for his step-daughter. Narraboth’s death and the prophets words have given him panic attacks and terrifying visions. Herodias, badly stung by Jochanaan’s accusations, demands he be silenced. Herodes asks Salome to dance for him, to calm him down. Herodes has to swear to give her anything she asks for in return. After Salome has fulfilled her step-father’s wish, she asks for the head of the prophet. Herodes, believing him to be a holy man, tries to make her change her mind. But, bound by his oath, he is forced to give in and has the prophet beheaded. Salome kisses Jochanaan’s mouth.
Salome's request for the head of the Baptist electrifies the action. Strauss' hundred minute long opera is about frenzy and self-denial, power and death. Its elemental power and sensuality shook an entire epoch. The original source, the biblical tale of Salome, took on increasing importance over the millenia: the fascination with John the Baptist's death in Mark's gospel continued into the fin de siècle, when Salome became a popular figure for sculptors, writers and composers. Oscar Wilde, whose play fascinated the composer and inspired him to such radical reform, was not the first to have taken up the Salome subject. But with Wilde - and Strauss – this horrifying tale shows the collision between sensuousness and religious asceticism with extraordinary escalation and explosive force. Salome acts independently in Wilde's play: She demands the prophet's head from her step-father Herodes, because her love remains unfilfilled. Strauss concentrated on the conflict between Salome and Jochanaan. His opera is pioneering and regarded by many as the most important event in European music since Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Influenced by the fascinating text upon which it was based, Strauss enriched his harmony, rhythm and instrumentalisation with an intensity never heard before. A scandal, and ensuing world success, were certain.
With generous support from the