An introduction to Salome

Here’s everything you need to know about ENO’s production of Strauss’s Salome.

It’s a shocking opera by Richard Strauss…

The troubled teenager Salome is promised anything she wants by her Stepfather, Herod. She wants the head of Jokanaan, a prisoner she had become obsessed with. Herod wants to give it to her, but only at a price.

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It’s based on a play by Oscar Wilde

In 1902 Strauss saw Austrian-born director Max Reinhardt’s production of Wilde’s Salome, although he was already considering giving it operatic treatment having been drawn to the play’s erotic and grotesque text. Originally written in French, Wilde based his play on the biblical tale of Salome and the beheading of John the Baptist.

The opera’s religious subtext made it hard to pass censorship

At the time the opera was written (and until 1968), all productions set for the British stage had to go through a process of censorship by the Lord Chamberlain’s office, before they could be publicly performed. Both the opera and the play had a hard time passing the censorship due, to the most-part, for the blasphemous use of Biblical characters. In fact, the ban on Oscar Wilde’s play wasn’t lifted for nearly 40 years. The first London performance of Salome was finally put on in 1910, some 5 years after the opera’s premiere in Dresden, Germany.

Read more about the controversy surrounding Salome, and other operas that shook society.

Salome made the composer very rich

Kaiser Wilhelm once remarked that Salome would do Strauss a great deal of harm. This ‘harm’, Strauss noted in a diary, allowed him to build his lavish Villa Strauss in Garmisch, Bavaria. Although Strauss lived and worked at the villa for the rest of his life, he was nearly evicted twice during the war (once by the Nazi’s and the second time by the Americans). Luckily for Strauss, his celebrity status allowed him to convince both parties to let him stay and live out the remainder of his days in peace.

Director Adena Jacobs makes her UK operatic debut…

This brand new production of Salome will be a radical feminist take on Strauss’s opera, and the UK operatic debut of acclaimed Australian theatre director Adena Jacobs. Adena is no stranger to the themes of Salome having directed Greek tragedies Antigone and The Bacchae in 2015.