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

Thoughts from nearly 40 years on the professional stage

Great performances can be hard to find...but this was close...Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

Any performer, especially opera singers, get excited about performances that really come together on all levels. For a singing actor, that means getting the drama and the music to meld into a performance where each aspect is nourishing the other so that the total presentation becomes a very satisfying creation. Herr Wagner called this Gesamtkunstwerk and I’ve long been an advocate of trying to see this happen in my performances. However, any singer will tell you that it is rare where things do come together so well. Last night’s performance of “Salome” here in Vienna at the Staatsoper was one of those occasions. It may seem strange to know that there are some evenings where you can just feel it in your core that the performance will be “one of those special nights” (Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have that feeling beforehand more often?). I felt it all during the day yesterday and in my dressing room before the show. Happily, it wasn’t just a feeling--it was real. We had NO orchestra rehearsal, NO time on stage rehearsing (except for 5 minutes or so before I got into make-up in order to check out just where everything was--let’s just say that a lot of improvisation occurred last night), and little time together as a cast--just 4 days of running scenes. What came together last night both musically and dramatically was very special. I will remember the engrossing feeling of performing last night here in Vienna for a long time--and I will cherish the audience response as well. It is because of nights like this that I continue in this art form. It is the hope and goal of having more nights like this that keeps me coming back for more. Does this mean that the night couldn’t be improved upon and that there weren’t things we could do better? Of course not. Singers are never totally happy with a performance--I’m not sure they ever will or should be. But we always have to remember---Perfection is not found on this earth.

It doesn’t hurt that I was singing one of my favorite roles, Jockanaan (John the Baptist). I never tire of singing the role of the great Prophet and rendering the wonderful aria that he sings to Salome in the middle of the opera. In this moment, he evangelizes to her and begs of her to seek Christ, kneel before the Lord, and confess her sins. The music is extraordinarily beautiful. Strauss wrote very well for baritones (happily, not so great for tenors). I truly felt that the soprano, Catherine Naglestad, and I were able to forget about the audience during our scene and experienced real theater (well, as real as it can get when you’re singing along with the incredible Vienna Philharmonic). It also was exciting to know that the performance was being broadcast on a large screen (pictured above) in the square next to the Staatsoper. I hope the folks (or is it Volks) outside on this cool October evening could feel the heat being created inside the historic and gorgeous theater.

Perhaps it was partially because I was on a high over this experience but sleep wasn’t easy to be had last night. In addition, I knew I had wanted to get up this morning to go to Mass at the St. Augustiner Kirche. The music was to be from Gounod’s great St. Cecilia Mass. (I might add that St. Cecilia is my wife’s patron Saint and the Patron Saint of Music.) When I first got out of bed, I thought that maybe I’d just go to Mass at the nearby church (Karlskirche) instead as it was a shorter walk and the weather also didn’t look so nice (it’s raining here in Wien). However, the music from the Gounod Mass is some of favorite music and I truly felt lead to get into Central Vienna. I’m so glad I took the longer stroll.

I truly didn’t expect to see the crowd at St. Augustine that was there. It was PACKED--and then some. People were standing everywhere (and this is a pretty large church) as all the seats were taken. Once again, it was so obvious how powerful the expression of something precious, meaningful, and Holy can be if all the elements come together and work as one unit. The choir was extraordinary as was the orchestra (The timpani strikes are still resounding in my chest). To have this incredible music presented in the context of the Holy liturgy nearly blew me away. Of course, the Mass was longer than normal with the size of the crowd and the longer musical selections---but the nearly two hours flew by (even as I had to stand through most of the Liturgy). Receiving the Eucharist is always blessed and special--but today, I nearly floated to the Feast as the sounds of Gounod lifted me so thoroughly.

I first heard the “Sanctus” from this Mass back in my early teens. My parents had a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it along with other famous choruses. I played it over and over and over--and I believe we even sang it one time as a choir when I was a sophomore in High School. I’ve not sung it since but have enjoyed hearing the “Sanctus” on recordings since then--never live for some reason (or at least that I can recall). It was possibly hearing this incredible music that lead me to a closer relationship with Christ---surely, this is the music of angels and indicative of how things will be sung in heaven. It was possibly this music that lead me towards the Catholic Church as well. It is indeed powerful stuff (even if it does traditionally have a major solo for tenor). I’m attaching two links to recordings of Gounod’s “Sanctus” from his St. Cecilia Mass. One is with the great Jessye Norman from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and the other is from a far more modest location in New Jersey with the wonderful young tenor, Michael Fabiano.


Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest.

Text from the Ordinary of The Mass--seemingly based on Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 21:9, and Revelation 4:8