Outside Herod's palace in Jerusalem, a dispute between merchants of different sects is broken up by Phanuel. Phanuel meets Salome, who has come to Jerusalem to find her mother; instead she had met, and fallen in love with, John the Baptist. As Phanuel and Salome leave, Herod, who is in love with Salome, enters. His wife, Herodiade, follows him, demanding that John be punished for insulting her. Herod knows that John is popular and tries to deter her; as they argue, John himself enters and again insults Herodiade; she and Herod flee, and Salome enters. She offers herself to John, but he rejects her and advises her to seek a more spiritual love.
In Herod's palace, Phanuel tries to convince Herod to forget about Salome, with whom he is obsessed. The two of them plan revolution, but Phanuel disagrees with Herod's plan of killing John and other holy men; he thinks they will only become martyrs. In front of his palace gates, Herod is rallying his people to revolution, but the rally is interrupted by the arrival of Vitellus, the Roman proconsul, and his soldiers. Vitellus appeases the mob by allowing the High Priest to return to the Temple of Israel. John enters, accompanied by Salome, and Vitellus, alarmed by his popularity, has the prophet arrested.
Herodiade comes to Phanuel's house to seek his help in revenging herself on her husband's rival. Examining the stars, he tells the queen that only her daughter can help her. When he tells her her daughter is Salome, however, she denies it; Phanuel sends her away. In the temple, Salome again declares her love for John and her wish to die with him. Herod plans to save John to foment rebellion among the Jews; entering, he sees Salome and declares his love for her. She rejects him, and he threatens to kill both her and her rival. The people gather for worship; the hierarchs of the temple appeal to Vitellus to condemn John for his heresy; Vitellus passes the task to Herod, as John is a Galilean. Herod questions John and is about to save him, thinking the prophet will further his plans for freedom, when Salome reveals that she loves him. Herod, enraged, condemns them both; they are seized by the temple guards.
John is praying in his cell, saying that he is not afraid to die, but he is haunted by thoughts of Salome. She enters, and they declare their love for each other. John tells Salome to save herself, but she is determined to die with him. However, the guards take John away to be killed and drag Salome off to the palace, where Herod and Vitellus are holding court. Salome begs Herod and Herodiade for John's life; just as Herod is about to give in to her, the executioner carries in his bloody sword, indicating that John has already been killed. Salome draws a dagger and tries to kill Herodiade, but the queen tells her she is her mother; in despair, Salome kills herself instead.
contributed by Chris Hapka; © 1998