Richard Strauss orchestrated a "38-curtain-call" world premiere when he set to music Oscar Wilde's play about the Biblical princess who unveils her most diabolical passions.
From the moonlit terrace of Herod's palace, Narraboth, captain of the guard, gazes rapturously inside at the princess Salome, who is feasting with her stepfather, the Tetrarch Herod, and his court. A Page warns him not to stare so intently, lest something terrible happen. The voice of the prophet Jokanaan proclaims the Messiah's greatness, echoing from a deep cistern, where he has been imprisoned by the tetrarch; two Soldiers comment on the prophet's kindness and Herod's fear of him. Salome, bored with Herod's lecherous glances and his coarse guests, rushes out to the terrace for some fresh air. She becomes curious when she hears Jokanaan curse Herodias, her mother. When the guards refuse to let her speak to Jokanaan, Salome turns her wiles on Narraboth, who orders that Jokanaan be allowed to come forth. Salome is fascinated by the prophet's deathly pallor and pours out her uncontrollable desire to touch him. The prophet rejects her, speaking of the Son of God who will come to save mankind. When Salome continues to beg for Jokanaan's kiss, Narraboth stabs himself in horror, and the prophet descends into the cistern, cursing the girl. She collapses in frustration and longing.
Looking for Salome, Herod appears followed by his court; remarking on the strange shape of the moon, he slips in Narraboth's blood and, unnerved, is visited by hallucinations. Herodias scornfully dismisses his fantasies and suggests they withdraw. Herod's thoughts turn to Salome, who spurns his attentions. Jokanaan's subterranean voice again is heard harassing Herodias, who demands that Herod turn the prophet over to the Jews. Herod refuses, maintaining Jokanaan is a holy man. His words incite an argument among the Jews concerning the nature of God, and a narrative of Christ's miracles by two Nazarenes. As Jokanaan continues his denunciation, the queen furiously demands his silence. Herod begs Salome to divert him by dancing and offers her anything she might wish in return. Salome makes him swear he will live up to his promise, then dances, shedding veils and finishing at Herod's feet. She shocks the tetrarch by asking for the head of Jokanaan on a silver platter. She is refused by the horrified Herod, but Herodias laughs approvingly. In desperation, Herod offers alternatives - jewels, rare birds, the sacred veil of the Temple. But Salome persists until the terrified tetrarch finally gives in. As an executioner goes down into the cistern, Salome peers impatiently over the edge. At last an arm is thrust from the cistern, offering the head to Salome.
As clouds obscure the moon, Salome seizes her reward passionately, addressing Jokanaan as if he lived and triumphantly kissing his lips. Overcome with revulsion, Herod orders the soldiers to kill Salome. They crush her beneath their shields.
- Salome - Nancy Shade
- Herodias - Elaine Bonazzi
- Jokanaan - William Dooley
- Narraboth - William Lewis
- Herod - Ragnar Ulfung
- Cappadocian - Andrew Taylor
- Page - Annette Spann
- First Soldier - Daniel McConnell
- Second Soldier - Julien Robbins
- Slave - Gloria Capone
- First Jew - Robert Grayson
- Second Jew - James Atherton
- Third Jew - Frederick Kennedy
- Fourth Jew - James O'Neal
- Fifth Jew - John-Paul Bogart
- First Nazarene - Gene Ives
- Second Nazarene - Stephen Bryant
- Conductor - John Crosby
- Director - Bliss Hebert
- Scenic Designer - Allen Charles Klein
- Costume Designer - Allen Charles Klein
- Lighting Designer - Georg Schreiber
- Choreographer - Maria Svetlova