Richard Strauss 1864–1949
Drama in one act
Libretto by the composer based on Oscar Wilde's Salome (1891)
First performed December 9 1905, Royal Opera House, Dresden
This production first seen March 1 2020
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introduction (on video, in German) will appear here and on YouTube shortly before opening night
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 that 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.
The elementary force and sensuality in Strauss’ first great operatic success shook the world of music to its foundations. His source, the biblical tale of Salome, had taken on increasing significance over the millenia. Oscar Wilde, whose play fascinated the composer and inspired him to radical innovation, was not the first to have helped himself to the story. With Wilde the myth became a confrontation between sensuality and religious aesceticism with extraordinary intensification and a shocking climax. Strauss enriched his sound world in harmony, rhythm and instrumentation to an intensity never heard before. He didn’t bother with illustrating the text, concentrating instead on the conflict between Salome and Jochanaan and the radical nature of their differences. The piece starts getting out of control when Salome asks for the head of the prophet. Strauss’ hundred minute long one act opera is about intoxication and aesceticism, power and death, about a churned up turn of an era. He makes worlds, plans for life and imaginary love collide in a thrilling, unstoppable large-scale climax.