Salome, Op. 54, is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by the composer, based on Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. Strauss dedicated the opera to his friend Sir Edgar Speyer.
The opera is famous (at the time of its premiere, infamous) for its “Dance of the Seven Veils”. The final scene is frequently heard as a concert-piece for dramatic sopranos.
The combination of the Christian biblical theme, the erotic and the murderous, which so attracted Wilde to the tale, shocked opera audiences from its first appearance. Some of the original performers were very reluctant to handle the material as written and the Salome, Marie Wittich, “refused to perform the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils'”, thus creating a situation where a dancer stood in for her. This precedent has been largely followed, one early notable exception being that of Aino Ackté, whom Strauss himself dubbed “the one and only Salome”.
It was first performed at the Hofoper in Dresden on 9 December 1905, and within two years, it had been given in 50 other opera houses.
Gustav Mahler could not gain the consent of the Vienna censor to have it performed, therefore it was not given at the Vienna State Opera until 1918. The Austrian premiere was given at the Graz Opera in 1906 under the composer, with Arnold Schoenberg, Giacomo Puccini, Alban Berg, and Gustav Mahler in the audience.
Salome was banned in London by the Lord Chamberlain’s office until 1907. When it was given its premiere performance at Covent Garden in London under Thomas Beecham on 8 December 1910, it was modified, much to Beecham’s annoyance and later amusement. In New York, the premiere took place on 22 January 1907 after which, under pressure from wealthy patrons, “further performances were cancelled.” These patrons entreated the visiting Edward Elgar to lead the objections to the work, but he refused point-blank, stating that Strauss was “the greatest genius of the age”.
In 1930, Strauss took part in a festival of his music at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and conducted Salome on 5 November in a version with a slightly reduced orchestration (dictated by the size of the pit).
Today, Salome is a well-established part of the operatic repertoire; there are numerous recordings.