Opera Scotland

Hérodiade

Music
Jules Massenet (born Montaud, Loire, 12 May 1842; died Paris, 13 August 1912)

Text
Paul Milliet, ‘H Gremont’ (Georges Hartmann) and Angelo Zanardini.

Source
Story Hérodias (Trois Contes 1877) by Gustave Flaubert (1821-80).

Premières
First performance: Brussels (Théâtre de la Monnaie), 19 December 1881.
Revised version: Paris (Théâtre-Italien), 1 February 1884.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 6 July 1904.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 13 April 1931.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
Just as Massenet’s fourth opera, Manon, has dominated other operatic treatments of the Manon Lescaut story, so, by contrast, has his third opera, Hérodiade, been overshadowed by the great success of the Richard Strauss Salome of 1905. The first version of Hérodiade was given in Brussels because, as with the Samson story, the combination of eroticism with a biblical subject was thought unacceptable to Parisian audiences. The main variations in plot compared with the Wilde/Strauss version are that there is a genuine affection between Salomé and Jean, and also that the relationship between Herodias and Salomé is unknown to them both, and known only to Phanuel.

Main Characters
Hérode (baritone)
Hérodiade, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
Salomé, her daughter (soprano)
Jean – John the Baptist (tenor)
Phanuel, a Chaldaean astrologer (bass)
Vitellius, Roman Consul (baritone)

Plot Summary
In the courtyard of Herod’s palace, Phanuel prevents a fight developing between Judaeans and Samaritans, encouraging them to unite against their common enemy, the Romans. Salomé arrives, and tells Phanuel that she is searching for the mother who abandoned her as a child in Rome. She also tells him that she has fallen for John the Baptist. Herod now enters, having been in pursuit of Salomé, to whom he has taken a fancy. He is interrupted by Herodias, who is furious because she has been insulted by John the Baptist. She demands his execution, but Herod refuses because John is too popular with the people. John now arrives, and resumes his haranguing of Herodias. She and Herod retire to the palace. Salomé returns, and John gently tells her that he has a different destiny. In the palace, Herod is still preoccupied with Salome, but Phanuel warns him of the unrest of the people. Outside, Herod tries to foment a revolt to drive out the Romans, then take control himself. He is outmanoeuvred by Vitellius who quells the crowd by offering them religious freedom. The Baptist and Salomé lead a prayer. At home, Phanuel tries to foresee the purpose of the Baptist. Herodias, who wishes to know who the woman is that Herod has fallen for, interrupts him. She refuses to believe him when Phanuel explains that this is her own daughter. Herod goes to the cell where John has been imprisoned, but is distracted from releasing him by the presence of Salomé. He resists the arguments of the priests and Consul that John should be executed, until Salomé demands to die too. She then begs for John to be spared, but when the executioner comes in, having despatched him, she tries to kill Herodias. When the queen identifies herself as Salomé’s mother, the girl kills herself.

The Cast

Babylonian Slave
 
Herode
 King Herod
Hérodiade
 Herodias, wife of Herod
High Priest
 
Jean
 John the Baptist
Phanuel
 a Chaldaean astrologer
Priest
 
Salomé
 daughter of Herodias
Vitellius
 Roman Consul

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