Salome is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by the composer, based on Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. It was first performed at the Hofoper in Dresden on December 9, 1905.
The opera is famous (at the time of its release, infamous) for its Dance of the Seven Veils. Salome is performed frequently in the West and there are various recordings of it.
Narraboth gazes longingly from the terrace into the banquet hall at the beautiful Princess Salome. The voice of the prophet Jochanaan is heard from his prison in a deep well; Herod fears him.
Salome, tired of the feast and even more tired of its guests, aknist flees to the terrace. Here, she hears Jochanaan cursing her mother, Herodias. Her curiosity is piqued, but the soldiers will not honor her petulant orders to fetch Jochanaan for her. She turns her adolescent feminine wiles towards the Captain of the Guard, and successfully convinces the smitten Narraboth to bring Jochanaan before her. Fascinated by the prophet, Salome is filled with an overwhelming desire to touch him, but he rejects her. She begs for a kiss, and Narraboth, who cannot bear to hear this, kills himself. As Jochanaan is returned to the well, he preaches salvation through the Messiah.
Herodes enters, followed by his wife and court. He slips in Narraboth's blood and starts hallucinating. He hears the beating of wings. Despite Herodias' objections, Herodes stares lustfully at Salome, who rejects him. Jochanaan harasses Herodias from the well, calling her incestuous marriage to Herodes sinful. She demands that Herodes silence him. Herodes refuses, and she mocks his fear. Five Jews argue concerning the nature of God. Two Nazarenes tell of Christ's miracles; at one point they bring up the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which Herod finds frightening.
Herodes asks for Salome to eat with him, drink with him; indolently, she twice refuses, saying she is not hungry or thirsty. Herodes then begs Salome to dance for him, Tanz für mich, Salome, even though her mother objects. He offers her anything, up to one half of his kingdom.
After Salome inquires into his promise, and he swears to honor it, Salome prepares for the dance. This dance, very oriental in orchestration, has her slowly removing her seven veils, one by one, until she lies naked at his feet. Salome then demands the head of the prophet on a silver platter. Her mother cackles in pleasure. After Herodes cannot dissuade her with an offer of jewels, rare birds, or even the sacred veil of the Temple, he finally concedes. After an orchestral interlude, the head of the prophet is brought up out of the well and presented to Salome as she requested.
In one of the most voluptuously gorgeous musical love scenes ever written, Salome makes love to the severed head, finally kissing the prophet's lips passionately. The superstitious Herod is horrified. On his order, to a harsh cacophony, his soldiers kill Salome.
A brief stunned silence usually follows curtain-fall.
The role of Salome
The vocal demands are the same as those of an Isolde or Brünnhilde, with the impossible demand that she should look and behave like a sixteen-year-old prima ballerina. Few are vocally capable of the role. Ljuba Welitsch and Birgit Nilsson were among the most memorable in the last half-century.