top of page

Jules Massenet


Massenet - Hérodiade 
Montserrat Caballé
Delacôte 4.1. 1984 - Liceu

Hérodiade is an opera in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Paul Milliet and Henri Grémont, based on the novella Hérodias (1877) by Gustave Flaubert. It was first performed at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels on 19 December 1881.

The libretto is a retelling of the story of John the Baptist, Salome, Herod Antipas and Herodias, but is strikingly less psychological and bloody than Richard Strauss's Salome, which is based on a text by Oscar Wilde. The opera premiered in Brussels because Auguste Vaucorbeil, Manager of the Paris Opera house refused to stage the work; "I do like your music," he had said to Massenet, "but as for the libretto, you badly need an author who knows how to build the skeleton of a play."

The opera reached Paris at the Théâtre des Nations on 1 February 1884, and the final performance of the run on 13 March featured the three De Reszkes; Jean (Jean), Édouard (Phanuel), and Josephine (Salomé). It was produced at the Théâtre-Italien in 1903 for 43 performances, then at the Gaîté-Lyrique in 1904, 1911 and 1912. The Italian premiere was at La Scala on 23 February 1882.



Opera in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Paul Milliet and Henri Grémont, based on the novella Hérodias (1877) by Gustave Flaubert.


A high priest 
A voice 
A young Babylonian 
La Sulamite
Chorus: Merchants, slaves, Israelites,
Roman soldiers


Time: Biblical times

Places: Jerusalem

Premiere cast, 19 December 1881


Soprano. Unknown to Salomg, she is the daughter of Herodiade, second wife of the Tetrarch Herode. She is in love with Jean (John the Baptist) who rejects her. Herode finds her attractive and Herodiade sees her as a rival. She despises Herodiade who is reviled by Jean. When she discovers that she is Herodiade’s daughter, Salome kills herself. Created (1881) by Marthe Duvivier.


Salome, (flourished 1st century AD), according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, tetrarch (ruler appointed by Rome) of Galilee, a region in Palestine. In Biblical literature she is remembered as the immediate agent in the execution of John the Baptist. Josephus states that she was twice married, first to the tetrarch Philip (a half brother of her father, Herod, and a son of Herod I the Great) and then to Aristobulus (son of Herod of Chalcis). She is not to be confused with Salome, sister of Herod I the Great.

According to the Gospels of Mark (6:14–29) and Matthew (14:1–12), Herod Antipas had imprisoned John the Baptist for condemning his marriage to Herodias, the divorced wife of his half brother Herod Philip (the marriage violated Mosaic Law), but Herod was afraid to have the popular prophet killed. Nevertheless, when Salome danced before Herod and his guests at a festival, he promised to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, who was infuriated by John’s condemnation of her marriage, the girl demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and the unwilling Herod was forced by his oath to have John beheaded. Salome took the platter with John’s head and gave it to her mother.

Herod's Banquet (detail) by Fra Filippo Lippi (15th century)

Mezzo-soprano. Second wife of Herode and mother of the long-lost Salome. Not knowing this is her daughter, she is jealous of her, because Herode finds her attractive. She encourages Herode in ordering the beheading of Salome and John the Baptist. When Salome realizes that Herodiade is her mother, she kills herself. Created (1881) by Blanche Deschamps - Jehin.


Herodias, (died AD 39), the wife of Herod Antipas, who was tetrarch (ruler appointed by Rome) of Galilee, in northern Palestine, from 4 BC to AD 39. She conspired to arrange the execution of John the Baptist. Her marriage to Herod Antipas (himself divorced), after her divorce from his half-brother, was censured by John as a transgression of Mosaic Law.

Herodias, according to Mark (6:19–20), would have had John killed but could not because Herod feared the man. Herod’s birthday celebration offered an opportunity to revenge John’s rebuke. Salome (Herodias’ daughter by her first husband) performed a dance that so pleased Herod that he offered to grant any wish she expressed. Prompted by her mother, Salome asked for John’s head on a platter, a wish the reluctant Herod was bound to fulfill.

Feast of Herod (detail) by Mattia Preti, c. 1660

John the Baptist:  
Tenor. John the Baptist, whom Salomé loves. He rejects her. He makes insulting remarks about her mother, Hérodiade , who encourages her husband to order Jean's—and Salomé's—execution. Created ( 1881 ) by Edmond Verguet .

St. John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist, (born 1st decade BCE, Judaea, Palestine, near Jerusalem—died 28–36 CE; feast day June 24), Jewish prophet of priestly origin who preached the imminence of God’s Final Judgment and baptized those who repented in self-preparation for it; he is revered in the Christian church as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. After a period of desert solitude, John the Baptist emerged as a prophet in the region of the lower Jordan River valley. He had a circle of disciples, and Jesus was among the recipients of his rite of baptism.

St. John the Baptist  by Leonardo da Vinci

Baritonr. Herode, Tetrarch of Judaea. Husband of Herodiade and stepfather of Salomd. Orders Salome and Jean (John the Baptist) to be beheaded. Created (1881) by Mons. Manoury.

Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas, (born 21 BC—died AD 39), son of Herod I the Great who became tetrarch of Galilee and ruled throughout Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry. In The Gospel According to Luke (13:32), Jesus is reported as having referred to him with contempt as “that fox.”
He divorced his Nabataean wife, the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the desert kingdom adjoining his own, to marry Herodias, formerly the wife of his half brother. The marriage offended his former father-in-law and alienated his Jewish subjects. According to Mark 6 and the parallel accounts in Matthew 14 and Luke 3, when John the Baptist, one of his subjects, reproached Herod for this marriage, Herodias goaded her husband into imprisoning him. Still unmollified, she inveigled her daughter, Salome, to ask for the Baptist’s head in return for dancing at her stepfather’s birthday feast. Antipas reluctantly beheaded John.

Herod Antipas


Bass. Chaldean astrologer. It is to Phanuel that Salomé admits her love for John the Baptist. Phanuel knows that Salomé is Hérodiade's daughter. Created (1881) by André Grene.



In a courtyard outside Hérode's palace in Jerusalem. After a short introduction merchants are seen arguing; they are calmed by Phanuel who urges co-operation with the Romans.

Salomé enters, desperately seeking her mother Hérodiade, who sent her away when she married King Hérode. Salomé is also looking for the prophet Jean with whom she had found comfort in her absence from the city.

Hérode has a passion for Salomé and comes from the palace. He is joined by his wife Hérodiade who asks him to act against Jean, who has insulted her; when Hérode, aware of Jean’s following, refuses, she vows to be avenged by herself. As she curses the prophet, Jean himself enters and the royal pair withdraw in fear. Salomé vows her love to Jean but he only speaks of a greater love, and new faith.

The Feast of King Herod by Ambrosius Francken


First tableau: Hérode's chambers

Slaves dance in order to divert the sleepless Hérode. Hérode next takes a philtre which gives him visions of his Salomé. Phanuel tells the king that the people are calling for the Messiah and acclaim Jean. Hérode however is sure he will defeat the Romans and win his subjects over again.

Second tableau: The palace in Jerusalem

Hérode calls the people to arms against Jerusalem's Roman masters. The Roman consul Vitellius appears and promises to respect the faith of the Israelites and open the temple. Jean, preceded by a joyful crowd and followed by Salomé passes by. Hérodiade notices the reaction of her husband at the sight of the young woman and accuses Jean of wanting to seize power.

Fra Filippo Lippi - Herod's Banquet



First tableau: The house of Phanuel

Phanuel asks heaven to say whether Jean is mortal or divine. Hérodiade visits the priest and consults Phanuel who foresees great suffering, while the queen refuses to recognize her daughter in the young woman.

Second tableau: The Holy Temple

Jean has been arrested. Salomé arrives, exhausted, at the prison. Hérode wishes to release Jean in exchange for help in getting the Galileans to help him fight the Romans. Seeing Salomé, he declares his love but she rejects him, saying that she loves one who is greater and stronger than he. Not knowing who she means, Hérode threatens Jean and Salomé with death.

The priests intercede with Vitellius and ask him to condemn Jean, but the consul gives responsibility for the execution to Hérode. Jean refuses to assist the king. Salomé asks to share her fate with that of the prophet – at this Hérode realises whom she loves and condemns them both to death.

The Dance of Salome by Benozzo Gozzoli (1461 - 1462)


First tableau: A subterranean vault

Jean, awaiting death in prison questions his soul. Salomé joins him. Jean is led away to execution while Salomé is taken to the king, who has decided to pardon her.

Second tableau: The great hall in the palace

Dances celebrate the Roman victory. Salomé begs Hérodiade to allow her to die alongside Jean, as it was he who looked after her when her mother abandoned her. Hérodiade remains silent. The executioner announces the death of Jean. Salomé draws a dagger and tries to kill the queen, who admits that she is her mother. In despair, Salomé stabs herself and curses Hérodiade.

Feast of Herod, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531

bottom of page