Salome Synopsis

The Story of Richard Strauss' One-Act Opera

Detail of Salome holding the Baptist's head
Carlo Raso/Flickr/Public Domain Mark 1.0

Composer: Richard Strauss

Premiered: December 5, 1905 - Hofoper, Dresden

Other Popular Opera Synopses:
Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Mozart's The Magic Flute, Verdi's Rigoletto, & Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Setting of Salome:
Strauss' Salome takes place in Judea at King Herod's palace in 30 A.D.

The Story of Salome

Under the bright moonlight, guard captain, Narraboth, intensely watches Princess Salome, with whom he is madly in love, from a terrace above the banquet hall as she dines with her stepfather and his court.

As the royal family continues their feast, screams from Jochanaan the prophet are heard bellowing from the cistern. King Herod fears the prophet and orders everyone to ignore him and to never make contact with him. Most people go back to eating, but Princess Salome has become bored with her father and his guests and excuses herself from the table. She makes her way to the terrace to get a breath of fresh air and hears Jochanaan cursing her mother, Herodias. Princess Salome immediately orders the guards to retrieve Jochanaan and bring him to her, but they refuse. Growing ever more curious about the feared prophet, she turns to Narraboth and charms him into bending to her will. Narraboth orders his men to bring Jochanaan to the princess, which they do so readily. Jochanaan emerges from the cistern shouting curses over Herod and Herodias. All but Princess Salome are unable to understand him.

When her eyes set on Jochanaan's milky white skin, she becomes instantly enamored with him. She cannot help but ask to touch his skin. After telling her no, he begins to prophesy that the Son of God will save mankind. Princess Salome isn't interested in hearing what he has to say. She asks to touch his long, silky black hair.

Again, he replies with a no and continues to preach about the Son of God. Princess Salome cannot take it anymore and asks to kiss him. Narraboth is shocked. He unsheathes his dagger and fatally stabs himself out of grief. Jochanaan returns to the cistern telling her to find salvation from the Son of God. Princess Salome, rejected, falls to her feet.

King Herod, Herodias, and their court have finished their feast and have moved to the terrace. When King Herod enters, he slips on Narraboth's blood and begins hallucinating. With lustful eyes, he approaches his stepdaughter despite Herodias' objections. Princess Salome turns him away. Jochanaan begins shouting again from the cistern, demanding that he be handed over to the Jews. He shouts curses over Herodias again, and Herodias orders her husband to keep him quiet, but King Herod is too afraid. Herodias mocks his cowardice. Several Jews in attendance debate the nature of God, and two men from Nazareth tell of the miracles performed by Jesus. King Herod overhears their conversations and becomes even more unnerved.

To take his mind off things, King Herod begs Princess Salome to dance for him. Having been rejected by her twice before, he provides her an incentive - he will grant any wish as long as she dances for him.

Piqued by his generous offer, Princess Salome makes sure that King Herod will uphold his bargain. When she is satisfied that he will do as she wishes, she begins the "Dance of the Seven Veils." This oriental style dance is quite seductive. Princess Salome slowly removes each of the seven veils adorning her until she lies naked at her stepfather's feet. After her dance, King Herod is thrilled to grant her one wish. She immediately asks for the head of Jochanaan to be delivered to her on a silver platter. King Herod nearly turns ghostly white and spouts off a myriad of more desirable things - jewels, property, rare animals, etc. The beautiful Princess Salome holds fast to her wish and the king does as she says. Moments later, the king's guards return with the prophet's severed head delivered on a silver platter as requested.

Princess Salome is overjoyed and grabs the head as if Jochanaan were still alive. She speaks to it passionately, then proceeds to kiss his lips. Disgusted by Princess Salome, King Herod orders his guards to execute her.