Musical drama in one act by Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
after Oscar Wilde’s eponymous play
In German with German and English surtitles. Duration 1 H. 45 Min. Introduction 45 min before the performance.
The première of Salome in 1905 must have been an overwhelming affair: for this drama, Richard Strauss wrote ecstatic music that broke with everything hitherto known. The eponymous play by Oscar Wilde on which Strauss based his opera was considered indecent and had been banned by the censors in England for years. It is about the biblical Princess Salome, who demands the head of the prophet Jochanaan from King Herodes in reward for her erotic dancing. Salome kisses the bleeding head before the shocked Herodes has her killed. In his score, Strauss focuses entirely on the conflict between Salome and Jochanaan, capturing the psychology of the protagonists in a series of monumental, musically sensual and ecstatic climaxes.
In this revival, we will once again encounter the soprano Catherine Naglestad, who most recently celebrated successes in Zurich as Tosca, and previously as Minnie in La fanciulla del West. She will now be singing Salome, one of her most splendid roles, for the first time at our theatre. Thomas Johannes Mayer, whose Wagner performances have recently caused a sensation, will début as Jochanaan. The charismatic Doris Soffel – who sang the Countess in Zurich’s production of Pique Dame – will be taking on the role of Herodias. General Music and Artistic Director of Leipzig Opera Ulf Schirmer will be conducting for the first time at Zurich Opera House.
On the terrace in front of the Tetrarch Herod’s palace, soldiers are guarding the prophet Iokanaan, who is being held prisoner for his diatribes against the court – above all against Queen Herodias’s licentious way of life. Narraboth, captain of Herod’s bodyguard, has eyes only for Herodias’s daughter Salome, whom he is watching in the adjacent banqueting hall. Jealous and full of dark foreboding, his friend, who is one of Herodias’s pages, warns him not to stare at her all the time. Iokanaan’s voice rings out from the cistern and announces the coming of the Messiah. The soldiers’ conversation turns to the prophet.
Salome, disgusted by Herod’s leering stares and the quarrelling of his guests, seeks refuge on the terrace. Iokanaan’s voice resounds again. Curious about this man, of whom the Tetrarch is afraid and who berates her mother Herodias for her debauched lifestyle, she asks to see him. Herod has commanded that no-one is allowed to see the prophet, but by making a few promises Salome succeeds in persuading Narraboth, who is devoted to her, to ignore the order. Narraboth has the cistern opened.
Fascinated by his strange appearance, Salome seeks to become intimate with Iokanaan, despite Narraboth’s desperately jealous efforts to prevent her. Iokanaan, however, will neither speak to nor look at her. In response to her proud words – «I am Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea» – he demands that she do penance. Iokanaan’s wild accusations against her mother and his brusque rejection arouse an increasingly strong desire in Salome to touch him – first his body, then his hair, and finally she demands to kiss his mouth. Narraboth stabs himself, and Iokanaan withdraws into the cistern, cursing Salome as the daughter of an in-cestuous mother.
Herod and Herodias appear with their guests on the terrace. Intoxicated by wine and sexual lust, the Tetrarch asks Salome to keep him company. She coolly rejects his advances.
Iokanaan’s accusations again echo through the palace, and Herodias demands that he be delivered to the Jews, who consider him a false prophet. But Herod, tormented by fears and visions, defends him, claiming that Iokanaan is a «holy man». Just as the dispute between the Jews, the Nazarenes and the royal couple is about to escalate, Herod asks Salome to dance for him. She initially refuses, but when the king swears to grant her every wish if she does as he asks, she complies. As a reward she demands Iokanaan’s head, much to the satisfaction of her mother Herodias.
Horrified, Herod offers her all the treasures and all the riches he possesses – even half of his kingdom. Salome, however, insists on having her way. Herod capitulates. After minutes of tense waiting, the executioner presents Salome with the head of the prophet. She initially hesitates and bemoans her rejection by Iokanaan. When she finally kisses the mouth of the severed head, Herod, disgusted, commands that she be killed.