Alan's Blog...It's all Gesamtkunstwerk to me!

Thoughts from nearly 40 years on the professional stage

Salome in Philly with YNS

Last night brought the first of our two “semi-staged concert performances” of “Salome”, a co-production with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia. As you know, I’ve sung the role of Jokanaan MANY times--it’s one of my most performed roles. There are a few roles that I’ve taken out of my repertoire because I’ve either “outgrown” them or just became a bit bored with the character. I do not believe I will ever grow tired of singing the great role of John the Baptist. It was just last month when I sang the role in Munich and here it is again. I’ll return to it again this Fall in a run of performances in Munich. My career has also had me singing the role in Chicago, Washington, London, Baden-Baden, and Matsumoto.

With some roles, you get to a point where you can “coast” a bit. You know where the pitfall are but, as time goes on, the dangers become less apparent as you learn to negotiate the hazards. I don’t know that I’ll ever become that confident with this role. I always have to concentrate on vocal technic. I have to make sure that the drama doesn’t get out of balance with the music. Doing that leads to pushing or over-singing. Not getting the balance correct can lead to a bland interpretation as well. It’s always a challenge to get things just right.

This “production” here in Philadelphia originally started as a project with just the orchestra under the leadership of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. A few of my favorite colleagues were also signed up for the engagement. Then, Opera Philadelphia, came on board as well. It was decided to do a “semi-staged” production. Let me tell you, this run is as fully staged and as wonderfully presented as any run of “Salome” I’ve ever seen or been a part of. The direction is stunning. The lighting is magical. The costumes are just right. The set is perfect. Everything comes together just right. What I like most about the set is, for the first time in my career singing this role, I’m in a staged production that allows my character to be seen for most of the opera. Usually, I’m hidden offstage or under the stage and amplified for some of my hardest singing while I’m in my dungeon. The balance never seems quite right. Because of the way the set is built for this run, I can sing unamplified and far more naturally.

But, if I didn’t say more about the great conducting of Yannick and the fabulous playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I would not be giving enough credit where credit is due. In short, the musicians are incredible. They bring out the wonderful motifs, the incredible colors, and the great drama that Strauss brought to this true masterpiece. It is truly shocking, at times, to hear the brutality of this score and then have the ugliness covered by some of the most romantic and lush lines ever written. Yannick is truly a master of this score and knows every corner. He is constantly bringing the orchestra and the singers to new heights and better interpretations.

I am honored to live near Philadelphia. I have not been able to spend near as much time in this city over the years as I would like. I’ve only sung a few performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Philadelphia. I am hoping that this engagement will lead to many returns. Music and Art was well served last evening here in Philadelphia in this presentation of “Salome”. I hope tomorrow night will provide more of the same. Whatever the case, I’ll never grow tired of this monumental work. That could never be the case with such wonderful colleagues, musicians, and conductors joining me on the great musical and dramatic odyssey that is this opera.