Behind the palace of Herod. Night.
In the moonlight, Narraboth, captain of the guard, fixes his gaze upon Princess Salome who is attending a party at the court of her stepfather, the tetrarch Herod. A page warns Narraboth that he should be more discreet; it is dangerous to look at her. John the Baptist (Jokanaan) has been imprisoned by Herod deep in an old cistern in the back of the palace; his voice echoes as he proclaims the coming of the Messiah. Salome, disgusted by her stepfather’s glances and his guests’ lecherous behavior, steps out of the palace for some fresh air. She is fascinated by Jokanaan’s voice, and is particularly curious when he curses her own mother, Herodias, wife of the tetrarch. The guards refuse to let her speak to Jokanaan, so Salome uses her charms to make Narraboth comply with her wishes. He orders the prophet to be brought out. Salome is both fascinated and repulsed by the prophet’s appearance, but desires to touch him. Jokanaan rejects her, proclaiming the coming of the Son of Man. She continues her advances and even begs the prophet to kiss her. In horror, Narraboth kills himself. Jokanaan is returned to the cistern, cursing the young girl.
Herod appears, looking for Salome. He is preoccupied by the strangeness of the moon, and slips in Narraboth’s blood; seized by hallucinations, he hears the beating of vast wings. Herodias urges him to return to the palace. He refuses and brazenly continues his advances towards Salome who again rejects him. Jokanaan’s voice once more is heard from the cistern, this time calling for Herodias to be crushed to death. She demands that Herod turn the prophet over to the Jews. He refuses, insisting that the prophet is a holy man. The Jews and Nazarenes argue about the nature of God. The prophet continues his accusations, and Herodias furiously demands that he be silenced. Looking for some
relief from the chaos around him, Herod begs Salome to dance for him, and promises anything she desires in return — even half his kingdom. Salome makes Herod swear he will keep his promise, and dances seductively for him. Intoxicated by her, Herod asks Salome how he may reward her for the entertainment. She asks for the head of Jokanaan on a silver charger. Herod is horrified but Herodias laughs. In desperation, Herod offers Salome alternatives, but she rejects them all. Finally Herod gives in and orders the Executioner to go down into the cistern. Left alone, Salome seizes her reward.
Courtesy of Opera Theater of Saint Louis