The myth of Salome caught the interest of many painters of Italian Renaissance and Baroque. It comes back and strongly reaffirms itself among the literature of the late nineteenth century, attracting also Oscar Wilde, who wrote a play in French. His work was at first censored but after it managed to be put on stage. When the great German composerRichard Strauss encountered Wilde's text, he used the original translation in German by Hedwig Lachmann but after he asked Romain Rolland to help him elaborating the vocal part according to the French text, while composing a new orchestration to get the score closer to Wilde's text. By doing this, the opera, in its French version which is sometimes shown, becomes symbolistic, portraying the protagonist with Wilde's exquisite aesthetic features. The opera was played in 1907 in Bruxelles. Who is Salome? For Oscar Wilde, and then Richard Strauss, Salome is the one who asks and gets the Baptist's death, driven by a love full of evil power. She's presented as a spoiled girl, pictured as a lost dove, an instinctive, weakly tenuous and stubborn, a whimsical fine-de-siècle dandy who wants the man who rejects her. Then she becomes a depraved adolescent with a narcissist immaturity. If in Tristano and Isotta by Wagner, the union of the two lovers in death represents the dissolution of the individual (Isotta's death and transfiguration intended like love winning over death), in Strauss's work the themes of attraction and dissolution, climax of the Romantic view of love, is expressed with a decadent key. Salome sings of an unfinished love she has never even felt, however desired, even through death.
Judea, A.D. 30. The Princess Salome is banqueting with her stepfather and his court. Narraboth, captain of the guard, is contemplating the woman he loves from the terrace. The voice of the prophet Jochanaan comes from a deep well, where he has been locked in by the king. Salome gets out of the court for fresh air and hears Jochanaan cursing Herodias, her mother. She demands to have Jochanaan brought to her; before his deathly pallor, she remains fascinated and feels an uncontrollable desire to touch him. Despite the prophet's rejection, she continues to beg for a kiss, Narraboth stabs himself in horror, and the prophet goes back to his well. Herod and his court arrive and Hero slips in Narraboth's blood, becoming unnerved and having hallucinations. Jochanaan's voice from the well keep harassing Herodias, who demands that Herod hand the prophet over to the Jews but Herod refuses to do it and starts begging Salome to entertain him by dancing. He offers her anything she might wish in return and Salome makes him swear he will grant what he's promised. She then performs the dance of the seven veil, slowly shedding her clothes one by one and finishing her performance at his feet. When she's finished, she demands the head of Jochanaan on a silver platter, ignoring Herod offering her jewels, rare birds and a sacred veil instead. The king finally accepts and the arm of the executioner rises from the well, offering the prophet's head to Salome. Salome observes her prize passionately, speaking to Jochanaan as if he was still alive, then she kisses his lips. Overcome with repulsion, Herod orders the soldiers to kill Salome.