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Richard Strauss



Richard Strauss: Salome 

Richard Strauss - Salome

Recorded live from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, 2011 

Salome – Angela Denoke
Herodes – Kim Begley
Herodias – Doris Soffel
Jochanaan – Alan Held
Narraboth – Marcel Reijans

Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Stefan Soltesz, conductor

Salome, Op. 54, 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. Strauss dedicated the opera to his friend Sir Edgar Speyer.

Oscar Wilde originally wrote his Salomé in French. Strauss saw the play in Lachmann's version and immediately set to work on an opera. The play's formal structure was well-suited to musical adaptation. Wilde himself described Salomé as containing "refrains whose recurring motifs make it so like a piece of music and bind it together as a ballad".

Strauss composed the opera to a German libretto, and that is the version that has become widely known. In 1907, Strauss made an alternate version in French (the language of the original Oscar Wilde play), which was used by Mary Garden, the world's most famous proponent of the role, when she sang the opera in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Paris, and other cities. Marjorie Lawrence sang the role both in French (for Paris) and in German (for the Metropolitan Opera, New York) in the 1930s. The French version is much less well known today, although it was revived in Lyon in 1990, and recorded by Kent Nagano with Karen Huffstodt in the title role and José van Dam as Jochanaan. In 2011, the French version was staged by Liège Opera, starring June Anderson.



Opera in in one act by Richard Strauss with libretto translated (with a few excisions) into German by Hedwig Lachmann from the French original by Oscar Wilde

Herodes, Tetrarch of Judaea and Perea    -tenor    
Herodias, his wife (and sister-in-law)    -mezzo-soprano 
Salome, his stepdaughter (and niece)    -soprano    
Jochanaan (John the Baptist)   
Captain of the Guard    -tenor  
The Page of Herodias   
First Jew, Second Jew, Third Jew, Fourth Jew, Fifth Jew 
First Nazarene, Second Nazarene
First soldier, Second soldier
A Cappadocian   
A slave    -soprano/tenor 
Royal guests (Egyptians and Romans), and entourage,
servants, soldiers (all silent)

Time: about A.D. 30
Place: Judea
First performance at Dresden, December 9, 1905



Tenor. Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judaea. His second wife is Herodias; and Salome, after whom he lusts, is his 16‐year‐old stepdaughter. He holds captive the prophet Jochanaan, who has denounced the sinful Herodias, but Herod is still somewhat in awe of Jochanaan, the man of God. Herod is superstitious and not a little mentally disturbed, worried about the way the wind blows and how the moon looks. His desire for Salome is uppermost. ‘Dance for me, Salome’, he asks, and when she refuses, and all his bribes do not move...

Herod Antipater (born before 20 BC – died after 39 AD), known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch ("ruler of a quarter") and is referred to as both "Herod the Tetrarch" and "King Herod" in the New Testament although he never held the title of king. He is widely known today for accounts in the New Testament of his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.
After being recognized by Augustus upon the death of his father, Herod the Great (c. 4 BC/AD 1), and subsequent ethnarch rule by his brother, Herod Archelaus, Antipas officially ruled Galilee and Perea as a client state of the Roman Empire. He was responsible for building projects at Sepphoris and Betharamphtha, and more important for the construction of his capital Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Named in honor of his patron, the emperor Tiberius, the city later became a center of rabbinic learning.
Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, in favour of Herodias, who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod II. (Antipas was Herod the Great's son by Malthace, while Herod II was his son by Mariamne II.) According to the New Testament Gospels, it was John the Baptist's condemnation of this arrangement that led Antipas to have him arrested; John was subsequently put to death in Machaerus. Besides provoking his conflict with the Baptiser, the tetrarch's divorce added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea. The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas; a Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius, but abandoned upon that emperor's death in 37 AD. In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.
The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was first brought before Pontius Pilate for trial, since Pilate was the governor of Roman Judea, which encompassed Jerusalem where Jesus was arrested. Pilate initially handed him over to Antipas, in whose territory Jesus had been most active, but Antipas sent him back to Pilate's court.

Herod (Hérode), by  James Tissot



Mezzo-soprano. She is the second wife of Herod, Tetrarch of Judaea, and mother of the 16‐year‐old Salome. She is a cold fish—in order to marry Herod, she killed her first husband who was Herod's brother. Jochanaan has been imprisoned by Herod because of his denunciation of Herodias and she urges her husband to hand him over to the Jews. Herodias is aware that Herod lusts after her daughter, and she treats him with contempt, proud of the way her daughter stands up to him. She supports Salome in her refusal to dance for Herod and in her request to be rewarded with Jochanaan's head on a silver salver—after all, has not the prophet insulted her, Herod's wife? She enjoys the emotional struggle between Salome and Herod until he has to give in to her macabre request. Then Herodias takes the ring from Herod's finger and sends it to the executioner, a sign that it is an order from Herod and must be obeyed. Salome, Herod points out, is truly her mother's child (Sie ist in Wahrheit ihrer Mutter Kind!). Created (1905) by Irene von Chavanne.

Herodias (c. 15 BC — after 39 AD) was a princess of the Herodian dynasty of Judaea during the time of the Roman Empire.

Herodias's second husband was Herod Antipas (born before 20 B.C.; died after 39 A.D.) half-brother of Herod II (her first husband). He is best known today for his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, in favor of Herodias. According to biblical scholars, the Gospel of Matthew  and the Gospel of Luke, it was this proposed marriage which John the Baptist publicly criticized. Besides provoking his conflict with the Baptist, the tetrarch's divorce added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea. The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas; a Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius, but abandoned upon that emperor's death in 37 A.D.. In 39 A.D.

Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Herodias, by Paul Delaroche


Soprano. The daughter of Herodias and therefore Herod's step-daughter—her father was his brother, her mother's first husband, murdered to allow Herodias to marry Herod. Hearing the voice of the imprisoned Jochanaan coming from the cistern below the palace terrace, she demands that the soldiers bring him out so she can see him, until Narraboth, the young captain who is besotted with her, agrees to what she asks. Now she wants to talk with Jochanaan and touch his white body, but he rejects her.

she wants to kiss his mouth, his scarlet mouth. Again he rejects her, this daughter of an adulteress and, in the manner of a child refused what she wants, she tells him how she hates his body, ms hair, his mouth, and doesn’t want him at all. He returns to his cistern and Herod and Herodias join Salome on the terrace. Salome knows that Herod lusts after her, and finds his glances disturbing. She resists his pleas to drink wine with him ("I am not thirsty, Tetrarch") and to eat fruit with him ("I am not hungry, Tetrarch"). He asks her to dance for him, and she acquiesces only when he agrees to reward her with anything she desires. She dances the Dance of the Seven Veils (and in most productions these days the soprano does the dance herself) and claims her prize - the head of Jochanaan on a silver platter. Nothing, no offer of jewels, money, even the Veil of the Temple, will satisfy her. This is the only prize she wants, and Herod has to agree. As an executioner descends, Salome hovers over the cistern, disappointed not to hear the prophet stream. The severed head is brought up and handed to her, and thus begin the last twenty minutes of this opera, a perverted Liebestod for Salome.

Totally depraved, she drools over the head and speaks to it—why will Jochanaan not open his eyes and look at her? Now he can no longer resist her—at last she can kiss his mouth—it tastes bitter—is it the taste of blood or the taste of love? As her mother watches and approves, Herod can take no more and orders his soldiers to kill her. She is crushed by their shields. Arias: Du wirst das fur mich tun, Narraboth ("You will do this for me, Narraboth"); Jochanaan! Ich bin verliebt in deinen Leib ("I am in love with your body"). 
Created (1905) by Marie Wittich.

Salome and the Apparition of the Baptist's Head, by Gustave Moreau (1876)

Salome (c. AD 14 – between 62 and 71) was the daughter of Herod II and Herodias. According to the New Testament, the daughter of Herodias demanded and received the head of John the Baptist. According to Josephus, Salome was first married to Philip the Tetrarch of Ituraea and Trakonitis. After Philip's death in 34 AD she married Aristobulus of Chalcis and became queen of Chalcis and Armenia Minor. Salome has become a symbol of dangerous female seductiveness.

As Salome is not named in the gospel, she is sometimes referred to as "the daughter of Herodias", for example in the titles of paintings showing her.

Salome by Titian, c 1515

Du wirst das fuer mich tun - Richard Strauss: Salome.
Salome - Nausicaa Policicchio



Baritone. John the Baptist. He has been imprisoned by Herod in a cistern below the palace terrace, for his insulting comments about Herodias, Herod's second wife. His voice can be heard coming from the cistern, praising God and prophesying the coming of the Messiah. Salome is fascinated by his voice, and wheedles Narraboth into opening the cistern so that the Prophet can emerge and she can see him and touch him. Jochanaan appears, denouncing her mother and stepfather. When she tells him she is Herodias's daughter, he forbids her to come anywhere near him, calling her ‘Daughter of Sodom’. All Salome's attempts to attract him fail, and he swears she will never kiss his mouth, cursing her as the daughter of an adulteress and advising her to seek the Lord. He returns to his underground cistern and his voice is heard, causing great arguments among the Jews about the likelihood of the prophet having seen God. No more is seen of Jochanaan until his severed head is brought up to satisfy Salome's gruesome desires. Aria: Wo ist er?…wo ist sie…? (‘Where is he…where is she…?’). Created (1905) by Carl Perron.

John the Baptist was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early first century AD. John is revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these traditions, and is honored as a saint in many Christian traditions. Other titles for John include John the Forerunner in Eastern Christianity and "the prophet John" (Yaḥyā) in Islam. To clarify the meaning of "Baptist", he is sometimes alternatively called John the Baptizer.

John used baptism as the central symbol or sacrament of his messianic movement. Most scholars agree that John baptized Jesus. Some scholars believe Jesus was a follower or disciple of John. This idea is strongly controverted, however, by John the Baptist's own words in scripture, although several New Testament accounts report that some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John. John the Baptist is also mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus. Some scholars maintain that John was influenced by the semi-ascetic Essenes, who expected an apocalypse and practiced rituals corresponding strongly with baptism, although no direct evidence substantiates this.

According to the New Testament, John anticipated a messianic figure greater than himself. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus' coming. John is also identified as the spiritual successor of the prophet Elijah.

John the Baptist, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1560



Tenor. A young Syrian captain of the Guard. He is so fascinated by the Princess Salome that he allows himself to be persuaded to let the imprisoned Jochanaan come out of his underground cistern because Salome wants to see him. When he sees the way Salome drools over the prophet, Narraboth is so distressed that he kills himself. Aria: Wie schön ist die Prinzessin Salome heute nacht! (‘How beautiful is the Princess Salome tonight!’). Created (1905) by Rudolf Jäger.

Aubrey Beardsley illustrations for Salomé by Oscar Wilde


It is a beautiful, warm, moonlight night on the terrace off tbe banqueting ball of Herod, Tetrarch of Judea. Inside, among the banqueters, is Salome, the Tetrarch's stepdaughter; outside, a handsome young captain of the guards named Narraboth comments passionately on the beauty of the Princess. A well-wishing page tries to warn him against this dangerous mooning, but be is scarcely listened to.

From inside the hall comes the sound of the banqueting; but from below, from a cistern on the right-hand side of the stage, comes the prophetic voice of John the Baptist - or Jokanaan, as be is known in the German libretto-speaking of the coming of Christ. The soldiers are impressed but think ther prisoner probably mad.

Into the moonlit night rushes Salome, annoyed by the persistent sex-hungry glances of her stepfather. She is a pretty chit of only fifteen, but it would take no Greek dramatist or psychologically trained social worker to offer an unpromising prognosis from a glance at her case history. Her mother had murdered her father in order to marry Herod; Herod himself is a degenerate pleasure-seeker; she has been brought up in a viciously corrupt court; and Herod's desire to sleep with his stepdaughter has been weakly veiled at the same time that it has been strengthened by her obvious aversion to him.

The voice of Jokanaan strongly attracts her, not only for its natural manliness, but, perversely, because he has cursed out her mother for wickedness and because her stepfather seems to fear him. It does not take her long to seduce the love-struck Narraboth into ordering the prophet to be brought forth; and as he, in rags but with religious passion, denounces her elders, she is more and more physically attracted. Repeatedly, in successively higher keys and with broadened versions of the musical phrase, she cries: "I want to kiss your mouth, Jokanaan!" His advice to try penance instead only inflames her the further; while her shameless behavior disturbs young Narraboth so deeply that he suddenly whips out his sword and commits suicide. The charming girl does not even glance at the body; and Jokanaan, with a final admonition to seek Jesus, retires into his cistern cell.

The banqueting party, headed by the Tetrarch and Herodias, now adjourns to the terrace, with Herod demanding the whereabouts of Salome, and losing his balance as be slips on the blood of Narraboth. He invites her to share a piece of fruit so that he may place his lips where hers have just been. The reaction of Herodias to these undignified goings-on is one of cold contempt; but when she hears Jokanaan denouncing ber from his cistern, she turns in fury on her husband and demands why he has not delivered the prisoner up to the Jews. Five Jews now come forward to demand the prisoner; but Herod argues with them at some length, maintaining that Jokanaan is really a man of God. This infuriates the suppliants, whose parts are written for four tenors and a bass and whose complex, chattering music is unflatteringly satirical. The voice of Jokanaan, heard once more from the cistern, silences them all; and then two Nazarenes discuss some of the miracles of the Saviour, whom Jokanaan has been preaching of. Herod is badly frightened once more—as he had been earlier merely of a rising wind—and his peace of mind is not further promoted when Herodias turns on him to demand that Jokanaan, who is once again denouncing her and prophesying a bad end, be silenced.

Turning away from all these unpleasant aspects of his party, Herod asks Salome to dance for him. Herodias forbids it, and Salome herself shows a decided lack of enthusiasm. However, Herod persists, promising her all sorts of things. Finally she agrees on condition that he will give her anything that she demands. Ominous winds frighten Herod further, who superstitiously thinks be bears the flapping of wings. He makes his oath, tearing a chaplet of roses from his head because, he says, they are burning him. He falls back exhausted; and as some slaves prepare Salome for her dance, the voice of Jokanaan continues to prophesy doom.

Then comes the voluptuous music of the Dance of the Seven Veils, during which Salome sheds one veil after another as fhe dance mounts in intensity. Strauss had originally planned to have a ballerina take the place of the prima donna foe this dance and did not hesitate to compose physically taxing music to follow upon it. This is the way it was performed at the premiere, and this is the way it was done most effectively in a televised performance by the NBC Opera Theatre with a dancer who bore a striking resemblance to Elaine Malbin, the Salome of the occasion. Many prima donnas nowadays, however, like to perform their own gyrations. All too seldom can these be called dancing.

Much of the dance is usually performed with the cistern of Jokanaan as a pivotal point of interest; but at its close, Salome throws herself at the feet of Herod and, with an almost childish sweetness, asks for her reward—the bead of Jokanaan. Herod is horrified; but Salome, encouraged by her mother, sticks relentlessly to her demand, turning down all of Herod's alternative offers, which include jewels, white peacocks, the mantel of the High Priest, and the veil of the temple. Finally, weary and frightened, be gives in. Herodias takes a ring from his finger as an order for the execution.

As the bloody work goes on below, Salome leans over the mouth of the cistern, demanding that the executioner hurry. Clouds begin to cover the moon, which had previously lighted the scene brightly; and in the gathering gloom the hands of the executioner emerge from the cistern bearing aloft the head of Jokanaan on a platter. Salome seizes it and, in her last powerful and revolting scene, sings of her triumph over the man who repulsed her and slobbers over the dead lips and kisses them.

A ray of moonlight breaks through the clouds, and even the degenerate Herod is revolted at the scene, which Lord Harewood has aptly termed a “psychopathic Liebestod.” "Let that woman be killed!" he orders; and the soldiers crush her under their shields.

Karl Perron as Jochanaan in the Dresden performances, 1907


The music of Salome includes a system of leitmotifs, or short melodies with symbolic meanings. Some are clearly associated with people such as Salome and Jochanaan (John the Baptist). Others are more abstract in meaning. Strauss's use of leitmotifs is complex, with both symbolism and musical form subject to ambiguity and transformation. Some leitmotifs, especially those associated with Herod, change frequently in form and symbolic meaning, making it futile to pin them down to a specific meaning. Strauss provided names for some of the leitmotifs, but not consistently, and other people have assigned a variety of names. These names often illustrate the ambiguity of certain leitmotifs. For example, Gilman's labels tend to be abstract (such as "Yearning", "Anger", and "Fear"), while Roese more concrete (he called Gilman's "Fear" leitmotif "Herod's Scale"). Regarding the important leitmotif associated with Jochanaan, which has two parts, Gilman called the first part "Jochanaan" and the second part "Prophecy", while Roese labels them the other way around. Labels for the leitmotifs are common, but there is no final authority. Derrick Puffett cautions against reading too much into any such labels. In addition to the leitmotifs, there are many symbolic uses of musical color in the opera's music. For example, a tambourine sounds every time a reference to Salome's dance is made.

The harmony of Salome makes use of extended tonality, chromaticism, a wide range of keys, unusual modulations, tonal ambiguity, and polytonality. Some of the major characters have keys associated with them, such as Salome and Jochanaan, as do some of the major psychological themes, such as desire and death.

Strauss wrote the opera's libretto, in the process cutting almost half of Wilde's play, stripping it down and emphasizing its basic dramatic structure. The structural form of Strauss's libretto is highly patterned, notably in the use of symmetry and the hierarchical grouping of events, passages, and sections in threes. Examples of three-part structure include Salome's attempt to seduce Narraboth, in order to get him to let her see Jochanaan. She tries to seduce him three times, and he capitulates on the third. When Jochanaan is brought before Salome he issues three prophecies, after which Salome professes love for Jochanaan three times—love of his skin, his hair, and his lips, the last of which results in Jochanaan cursing her. In the following scene Herod three times asks Salome to be with him—to drink, eat, and sit with him. She refuses each time. Later Herod asks her to dance for him, again three times. Twice she refuses, but the third time Herod swears to give her whatever she wants in return and she accepts. After she dances and says she wants Jochanaan's head on a platter, Herod, not wanting to execute the Prophet, makes three offers—an emerald, peacocks, and finally, desperately, the Veil of the Sanctuary of the Holy of Holies. Salome rejects all three offers, each time more stridently insisting on Jochanaan's head. Three-part groupings occur elsewhere on both larger and smaller levels.

In the final scene of the opera, after Salome kisses Jochanaan's severed head, the music builds to a dramatic climax, which ends with a cadence involving a very dissonant unorthodox chord one measure before rehearsal 361. This single chord has been widely commented on. It has been called "the most sickening chord in all opera", an "epoch-making dissonance with which Strauss takes the depth of degradation", and "the quintessence of Decadence: here is ecstasy falling in upon itself, crumbling into the abyss". The chord is often described as polytonal, with a low A7 (a dominant seventh chord) merged with a higher F-sharp major chord. It forms part of a cadence in the key of C-sharp major and is approached and resolved from C–sharp major chords. Not only is the chord shockingly dissonant, especially in its musical context and rich orchestration, it has broader significance due in part to Strauss's careful use of keys and leitmotifs to symbolize the opera's characters, emotions such as desire, lust, revulsion, and horror, as well as doom and death. A great deal has been written about this single chord and its function within the large-scale formal structure of the entire opera.

Olive Fremstad holding the head of John the Baptist in the Metropolitan Opera's 1907 

The role of Salome

The vocal demands of the title-role are the same as those of an Isolde, Brünnhilde, or Turandot, in that, ideally, the role requires the volume, stamina, and power of a true dramatic soprano. The common theme of these four roles is the difficulty in casting an ideal soprano that has a truly dramatic voice as well as being able to register as a young woman.

Nevertheless, Maria Cebotari, Ljuba Welitsch, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Éva Marton, Radmila Bakočević, Montserrat Caballé, Anja Silja, Phyllis Curtin, Karan Armstrong, Nancy Shade, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Catherine Malfitano, Hildegard Behrens, Maria Ewing, Teresa Stratas (only in a film version, not on stage), Olive Fremstad, Brenda Lewis, and Karita Mattila are among the most memorable who have tackled the role in the last half-century. Each of these singers has brought her own interpretation to the title character. Perhaps the two most famous recordings of the opera are Herbert von Karajan's EMI recording with Hildegard Behrens and Sir Georg Solti's Decca recording with Birgit Nilsson as Salome.

In addition to the vocal and physical demands, the role also calls for the agility and gracefulness of a prima ballerina when performing the opera's famous "Dance of the Seven Veils". Finding one individual with all of these qualities is extremely daunting. Due to the complexity of the role's demands, some of its performers have had a purely vocal focus by opting to leave the dancing to stand-ins who are professional dancers. Others have opted to combine the two and perform the dance themselves, which is closer to Strauss's intentions. In either case, at the end of the "Dance of the Seven Veils", some sopranos (or their stand-ins) wear a body stocking under the veils, while others (notably Malfitano, Mattila and Ewing) have appeared nude at the conclusion of the dance.

As for the required vocal range of the title role, it is an extraordinary case: The highest note is the high B5, not irregular for a soprano or mezzo-soprano to sing, while the lowest note is a low G♭3, in the contralto range and officially below the standard range for a mezzo-soprano. Considering this range, which is similar to many mezzo roles (such as Carmen and Amneris), one might assume that a high soprano is not essential to the piece, but it is; most of the relatively low sopranos who attempted this role found themselves straining their voices throughout the opera, and having reached the closing scene (the most important part of the opera for the title role) were very fatigued. This role is the classic example of the difference between tessitura and absolute vocal range: While mezzos can perform a high note (like Carmen), or even temporarily sustain a high tessitura, it is impossible for a singer to spend such a long time (with the needed strength and breath-control) in the second octave above the middle C unless she is a high soprano. Moreover, the low G♭ occurs twice in the opera, and in both cases it is in pianissimo—more of a theatrical effect than music—and can be growled instead of sung. The other low notes required are no lower than low A♮, and they are also quiet.

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