In one act and Libretto by RICHARD STRAUSS founded on OSCAR
On December 9th, 1905, this opera was performed for the first time in
Its success was immense, and can only be compared with that achieved at
Bayreuth in 1876 by the first performance of the Nibelungen Ring.
The well-nigh perfect interpretation of this highly emotional opera
proved to be the most difficult composition ever before attempted at
the Dresden Opera House.
Salome is the emanation of a genius; for the music is as weird and
passionate as the libretto, and moreover perfectly in keeping with its
plot. It would be difficult to do justice to it, for in order to
appreciate its complicated grandeur, one must have heard it performed.
It combines sublimity with asceticism and wickedness, in a most
Oscar Wilde, the unhappy poet, has produced a wonderful piece of
literature in his treatment of the brutal facts connected with
Salome's dance and Jokanaan's decapitation.
According to the Biblical tale, Salome is simply the tool of her mother
Herodias, at whose instigation she demands Jokanaan's head.
In Wilde's drama, as well as in Strauss' opera, Salome is a distinct
personality, full of passion, whose instincts are in revolt against her
vicious surroundings, and whose heart goes out in fiery love to the
only man who comes up to her standard of what manhood should be--namely
Jokanaan. When he repulses her, the passionate girl's love turns to
blind and unreasoning hatred.
In the first scene Herod's soldiers are talking of the holy prophet
Jokanaan, whose voice is heard from the well where he is kept captive
by the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod. Salome, hearing Jokanaan's strong,
deep voice, is seized with a wild longing to behold the prophet, and
she therefore declines her step-father's invitation to join in the
festival. The soldiers, not daring to disobey Herod, obstinately
refuse to grant Salome's request in regard to Jokanaan, so she turns to
a young Syrian, Narraboth by name, who is devoted to her, and who,
falling a victim to her charms, finally gives orders to lead forth the
When Jokanaan steps out of his prison, Salome looks spellbound at the
stern and powerful face. Not heeding her, the prophet calls for Herod
and his spouse, whom he vehemently reproaches for their sins.
Salome goes up to him, but he turns from he with lofty contempt.
Vainly she uses all her wiles in an attempt to bewitch him; he sternly
reproves her, and cursing her as the unfortunate daughter of a vicious
mother, he returns to his dungeon.
Meanwhile Narraboth, seeing that his love for Salome is vain, and that
she has only eyes for the prophet, stabs himself.
When Herod appears on the terrace with his wife, to look for his
step-daughter, he sees the young Syrian dead on the ground. He asks
the reason of his death, but receives no satisfactory answer. However,
he guesses the truth, seeing Salome sitting apart, absorbed in gloomy
thoughts. Herod is more in love with his step-daughter than with his
wife, whose first husband he killed, and this excites Herodias'
As a rule, Herod avoids the terrace, being afraid of Jokanaan's
prophecies, in which he secretly believes. But now he desires Salome's
presence to divert him, while she is in no mood to oblige him, and
coldly refuses to eat and drink with him.
Then the prophet's voice is heard saying: "Lo! the time has come, the
day which I prophesied has dawned." Herodias bids him be silent, but
Herod is all the more impressed by the voice he fears. The Jews, who
have been clamouring for six months for the prophet, again beg to have
him delivered into their hands. When Jokanaan proclaims the Saviour of
the world, the soldiers believe that he means the Roman Caesar,
with the exception of a Nazarene who knows that he refers to the
Messiah, who is accomplishing miracles and awakening the dead.
In order to drown his fears, Herod begs Salome to dance for him. He
promises her all his finest jewels, his white peacocks, and even half
his kingdom, but she nevertheless still refuses to dance for him. Her
mother entreats her not to dance, when suddenly Salome changes her
mind. After having made the Tetrarch swear by his own life to grant
her wish, whatever it might be, she is ready to comply with his wish.
Veils are brought, and Salome performs the dance of the Seven Veils, at
the end of which she sinks down at Herod's feet.
"Tell me what you want, Queen of Beauty", says Herod. "I will grant
you whatever you desire". "I want nothing more or less than Jokanaan's
head on a silver dish", rejoins Salome, rising, with a cold smile.
While Herodias eagerly seconds this awful wish, Herod shrinks back in
horror, but although he offers Salome every thing else which could
please her, she only repeats her first wish.
At last Herod gives in, and drawing a ring from his finger, which gives
the death-signal, he hands it to a soldier, who passes it on to the
executioner, and the latter goes down into the dungeon.
A death-like silence ensues, during which Salome vainly listens for a
sound or a cry from the dungeon into which she is peering. Finally she
can bear the suspense no longer. Shrieking wildly she clamours
for Jokanaan's head, and the executioner stretches forth a huge, black
arm, holding a silver shield, with Jokanaan's head upon it.
While Herod covers his face, Salome seizes Jokanaan's head, and
devouring its beauty with her eyes, she utters rapturous exclamations,
and at last passionately kisses the lips she has so ardently coveted.
Herod, horrified by this monstrous spectacle, orders the torches to be
put out, and turns to leave the dreadful place. When Salome exultingly
cries, "I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan!", Herod turns, and seeing
her, calls out loudly; "Kill this woman!" The soldiers rush forward,
crushing the princess beneath their shields.
Next: The Beauties Of Fogaras