Salome, August, 2006
Went to "Salome". This is the first time I've seen it with subtitles, and what a difference it made. Although I could follow the plot well enough without, from reading the synopsis and bits of the libretto, it apparently took a good deal of intellectual energy, which was much better spent on registering how the music fit in with what the players were saying. I now understand better why the opera was considered quite shocking when it first came out. (But it was very popular, too. The program notes contained the story that Kaiser Wilhelm said, after the first performance, "That young man has done himself a great deal of harm." To which Strauss replied, "The harm includes a villa in Garmish.")

So, the synopsis. Opera opens with John the Baptist (Jokaanan) locked in an underground dungeon below the stage. He sings, prophesying the coming of the Messiah, and, as an afterthought condemning Herodias, the wife of the Tetrarch, for marrying a man who is her half-uncle and also the brother of her first husband. (He seems to regard this as improper.) Salome, Herodias's daughter wanders through and wonders who is singing. When told it is John the Baptist, she asks to see him. She is told that is absolutely forbidden. She vamps Narraboth, the captain of the guards, who has quite a crush on her, into letting him out of his hole to come talk to her. She then proceeds to hit on him unmercifully. He isn't having any, and tells her to seek spiritual enlightenment instead. When she tries to force a kiss on him, he retreats to his dungeon, where he can get a little piece and quiet.

Narraboth is quite undone by all this, and, realizing it is at least partly his fault in letting her see Jokaanan against explicit orders, kills himself.

Herod comes in, and, lest the audience view him too sympathetically, notices the body (after slipping in the blood), and asks whose it is. When told, he replies "Why? I didn't order him killed." Herodias comes with him, and complains about the noise from Jokaanan, and, in what is apparently a longstanding argument, urges Herod to have him killed.

Herod, dirty old man that he is, proceeds to hit on Salome. After a bit of that, she proceeds to extract his promise to give her anything she asks if she dances for him. She proceeds to do the dance of seven veils. At its end, she asks for the head of Jokaanan on a silver platter. He tries to talk her out of it, while Herodias is muttering "Atta girl" in the background. He finally yields to the plea that he has sworn his royal oath, and cannot then renege. When the head is brought, she makes it clear that she had it done not because Jokaanan was saying bad things about her mother, but because, bad though it is to scorn the advances of any woman, to scorn a princess is infinitely worse. She finally seals her revenge by kissing the head on the lips. This is too much for Herod, and he orders her killed on the spot.

These people are all crazy. The only halfway normal person in the cast is Herodias, and she is a scheming, backstabbing, bitch.

Footnote: There are too dang many Herods. Herod the great was born in Judea, and led the political opposition to the Hasmoneans. He lost and was kicked out of the country. He was raising an army to get back in when it happened that Octavian and Cassius were moving against Marc Anthony, and thought they might need a little help. As a reward for picking the winning side, he was made King of Judea, using Roman troops. He is the Herod of the visit of the Magi in the book of Matthew. He died in 4 BC. He had made enough of a nuisance of himself to the Romans that they did not permit a new King of Judea to be named. His son Archelaus was named Ethnarch of Judea, and the outer parts (the Four Cities) were split off and given separate rulers. His son Antipas was given the title of Tetrarch of Galilee, and took the name Herod Antipas. This is Jokannan's Herod. Archelaus was fired by the Romans for incompetence, and, for a while Judea was ruled by the Roman governor of Syria. Then Herod's grandson Agrippa sucked up to the emperor, and was made King of Judea. He took the name Herod Agrippa, and is the Herod of Acts, and possibly, the crucification. He accused Herod Antipas of treason and had him executed, and made similarly short work of the other Tetrarchs, to again reign over the lands ruled by Herod the great.