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Salome, princess of Judea, lives in the palace of her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, Herod. Imprisoned in a well beneath the palace is the prophet Jochanaan (John the Baptist). Salome leaves Herod’s dining hall, troubled by the way her stepfather looks at her. Hearing Jochanaan’s voice, she becomes enthralled by it. Salome seductively convinces Narraboth, the captain of the guard who is secretly in love with Salome, to bring Jochanaan up from the cistern. Jochanaan is contemptuous of Herodias, and Salome, her obsession growing, praises his beauty, begging him to let her kiss his mouth. Jochanaan ignores Salome’s advances, refusing even to look at her, warning her she is damned. Meanwhile Narraboth, overcome with jealousy, kills himself.
Herod and his entourage appear in search of Salome, and discover Narraboth’s body. Although suffering hallucinations from the burden of his conscience, Herod flirts with Salome, offering her lavish gifts, which she refuses. Herodias reprimands her husband for staring lasciviously at her daughter, and they argue. Jochanaan’s voice is heard from the cistern, proclaiming the coming of the Judgement Day. A group of Jewish scholars resident in the palace disagree over the rumour that John the Baptist has seen God. Herod and a pair of Nazarenes jump into the argument, and the voice of Jochanaan is heard condemning Herodias. Herodias demands silence and Herod asks Salome to dance. Initially refusing, Salome agrees once Herod has promised that she may name her reward.
When her dance is finished, Salome requests her reward: Jochanaan’s head. Herod is horrified and tries to change Salome’s mind with offers of magnificent gifts, which she refuses. Since Herod has sworn an oath, Jochanaan is beheaded and his head brought to Salome.
Salome sings to the head as if it were alive. She asks Jochanaan why he still refuses to look at her, and chastises him for having cursed her. If only he had looked at her, she is sure he would have loved her. The moon emerges from behind a cloud, illuminating Salome engaged in a passionate kiss with the head of Jochanaan. Herod cries out an order to “kill that woman,” and Salome is put to death.
Richard Margison as Herod and Hanna Schwarz as Herodias in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Salome, 2013. Photo: Chris Hutcheson.