Salome Synopsis

Herod, a ruling Tetrarch of the Roman province of Judaea, has married his brother’s wife, Herodias, but the marriage was consummated before Herod had his brother killed. News of these events has brought Jochanaan, an ascetic visionary who combines revelations about the arrival of the Messiah with invectives against Herodias and prophecies of her new husband’s death, into the city. Imprisoned by Herod within a palace cistern, Jochanaan is guarded by soldiers and observed by a group of wandering Nazarenes, followers of the new Messiah. The opera begins as Herod grows increasingly obsessed with his stepdaughter, Salome.

During a feast, Narraboth, the young Captain of his Guard, stares longingly at the princess Salome and tells a nearby page of his obsession with her. From the cistern where he is being held prisoner, Jochanaan can be heard proclaiming the coming of his Messiah.

Salome appears, seeking refuge from Herod’s lustful stares, and hears the voice of Jochanaan. She knows of his accusations against her mother and that Herod fears him. Intrigued, she demands to see him. After the soldiers refuse, Salome manipulates Narraboth into bringing the prophet to her.

His presence further enflames Salome’s desire. Undeterred by Jochanaan’s loud indifference, she praises his body, his hair and asks him for a kiss—which drives Narraboth to kill himself in despair. After rejecting Salome, Jochanaan returns to his prison and prophecies.

Herod enters, looking for Salome, followed by Herodias, who is disturbed by her husband’s interest in her daughter. The discovery of Narraboth’s body briefly unsettles Herod, and his advances on Salome are interrupted by Jochanaan condemning his marriage. Herodias insists the prophet be surrendered to the Jews who are demanding he be delivered into their jurisdiction. As Jochanaan’s attacks increase and Herodias becomes more agitated, Herod, frightened by his own sense of foreboding, seeks refuge in Salome. His requests for her to dine and dance for him are refused until he promises to grant the princess her heart’s desire. 

After she dances, Salome demands the head of Jochanaan on a silver platter as her reward. Fearful of the consequences of harming a holy man, Herod tries to dissuade Salome with sumptuous gifts, but she remains firm. Finally, Herod relents and summons the executioner.

Salome declares her love to the head of Jochanaan, caressing and kissing it—to the shock and disgust of all assembled. Horrified, Herod commands his soldiers to kill Salome, and she is crushed to death under their shields.