San Giovanni Battista
Music by Alessandro Stradella
Text by Ansaldo Ansaldi
All-male cast after the model of the first performance
The opera didn’t have an easy time of it in seventeenth-century Rome; as a secular genre, it was too much at the mercy of papal censure. No wonder, then, that oratorios with a religious content were among the most popular and successful works in the Papal States. The scandal-ridden career of the Bolognese musician Alessandro Stradella would itself have provided rich material for many an opera – this is demonstrated at least by Friedrich von Flotow’s romantic opera of 1844 – but as a composer Stradella was able to make a name for himself primarily through his visionary instrumental music and his oratorios composed for Rome.
For Palm Sunday celebrations in 1675 he composed the popular biblical narrative for the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini: St John the Baptist comes to the court of Herod to denounce him for his adulterous relationship with his beloved Herodias. Everyone knows the plot: in doing so the holy admonisher loses his head; Herodias’s daughter had danced for Herod in too seductive a manner – a story that inspired musicians and the visual arts as did hardly any other through the centuries all the way to Richard Strauss’s Salome. Stradella’s oratorio is an early masterpiece of subtle sound configurations that attain complex portrayals through music of the individual figures. Since the conditions of the first performance made “Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils” impossible – women were prohibited from the stage just as were scenic interpretations of the Bible – the young princess enthrals here through song – a miracle in the art of musical seduction! Faithful to the first performance, the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival presents an all-male cast in this far too rarely performed work.