Synopsis: Salome

von Richard Strauss


A terrace in Herod's palace
Narraboth, captain of the guard, in charge of the prophet Jokanaan, who is imprisoned in a cistern,watches the Princess Salome at a banquet inside the palace. His friend, the page of Queen Herodias, fears the consequences of this fixation on Salome.
The voice of Jokanaan can be heard proclaiming the coming of Christ. One of the guards wants him silenced, but the other explains that he is a gentle and holy man. He tells a visiting Cappadocian that the prophet came from the desert where he had been followed by a great multitude.
Oppressed by the atmosphere and disturbed by the way Herod looks at her, Salome runs out from the banquet in time to hear another utterance from Jokanaan. Is this, she asks, the prophet of whom the Tetrarch is afraid and who has spoken against her mother? Narraboth is evasive, but does tell her that the prophet is quite a young man. She wishes to see him and when she learns that the Tetrarch has forbidden it she persuades the infatuated Narraboth to give the order for the prisoner to be brought out.
As he emerges, Jokanaan denounces the abominations of Herod and Herodias. Salome is fascinated and ignores Narraboth's entreaties that she leave. Jokanaan, suddenly aware of her, also demands that she go, but she answers proudly that she is Salome, daughter of Herodias. He orders her to stand back, as her mother has filled the earth with her iniquities. Salome begs him to speak again, and he orders her to leave him and go into the desert and seek out the Son of Man.
Ignoring Narraboth's entreaties, and infatuated with Joakanaan, she begs to be allowed to touch his white body. He refuses angrily and she declares that his body is loathsome and leprous; instead, she is enamored of his black hair. When he spurns her again, she says that his hair is horrible, but she is in love with his mouth, and begs him to let her kiss it. "Never," he replies, and the distraught Narraboth kills himself with his sword, unheeded by Salome, who continues to beg for the mouth of Jokanaan. He replies that she must seek out Christ, who alone can save her from her sins; but when she persists, he curses her and retires into the cistern.
Herod appears on the terrace, looking for Salome, followed by Herodias, who tells him that he looks at Salome too much. He slips in the blood of Narraboth and orders the body removed. In a nervous state, he claims he hears the rushing of a great wind, but Herodias tells him he is sick. He offers Salome wine, so that he may drain the cup; fruit, which he will finish, and her mother's throne, but she answers in turn that she is not hungry, thirsty or tired. Herod is aggrieved, but Herodias approves her daughter's replies.
The voice of Jokanaan is heard proclaiming the imminence of the wrath of God and Herodias demands that he be silenced. Herod refuses, claiming that he is a great prophet, and denying Herodias' claim that he is afraid. His insistence that Jokanaan is a great prophet who has seen God provokes a great argument among a party of Jews, aggravated by two Nazarenes who proclaim that the Messiah has come. To calm the storm, Herod asks Salome to dance. She refuses until he promises to give her whatever she asks. Extracting an oath to this effect, she performs the dance of the seven veils.
When she names as her reward the head of Jokanaan on a silver salver, Herodias is jubilant but Herod is aghast and tries to bribe her with alternate treasures, unto half his kingdom and the veil of the temple; but in the face of her determination, has to give way.
As he collapses on his throne, Herodias takes his ring and hands it to the executioner who goes down into the cistern and, after a long silence, emerges with the head. As Salome seizes it exultantly, Herodias looks on with satisfaction, Herod hides his head and the Nazarenes pray. Salome addresses the head with a mixture of triumph, derision and regret, finally kissing the mouth. Herod orders her to be killed and the soldiers crush her with their shields.