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

Thoughts from nearly 40 years on the professional stage

Salome in Japan

We opened “Salome” on Sunday and tonight present performance #2 of the four show run. As many of you know, this is the same production that we had in Chicago in 2006. Three of the lead singers return from the cast (including myself). Also back are Deborah Voigt (our incredible and wonderful Salome) and an old friend, Kim Begley (King Herod).

I first sang this opera back in 1995 on a concert tour in England. The first run of any opera is a growing experience and one tries to find the best way to settle into a difficult role. I next performed the role at the Vienna State Opera in 2001 and have now gone on to sing it in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Munich, and Geneva. I have it on the schedule for October again in Vienna and then in Baden-Baden in June of 2011 (there may be a DVD made of that production). Every performance is different to be sure but I have to say, no matter how much I like or dislike the production, I LOVE THIS OPERA. Of course, when you have a cast that is so great to work with (both on and off the stage), you end up with quite a working experience---musically and dramatically. That I have sung this opera with Deb before also greatly helps in presenting a show that is so powerful. Our big scene together is truly physical, gripping, and exciting---we can feel it and have the bruises, cuts, scrapes, and a variety of sore muscles and joints to show for it. But you know, to me, this is the kind of theater that I’ve always wanted to do--to work with artists who are so committed to presenting the story (in addition to singing well) that you become caught up in the presentation to the point that you can really forget about the audience (not that we totally ever let that happen). Our moments on stage become a personal argument or a needful plea for action. This happens abundantly in this wonderful production by one of my favorite directors, Francesca Zambello, (recreated here in Matsumoto, Japan by my friend Christian Räth) and I’m very grateful for it. Because of productions like this, I can honestly say that this opera has become one of my favorites and I don’t seem to ever tire of singing the role of Jockanaan (John the Baptist). Much of my text, so clearly taken from the Gospel and utilized by Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss, never fails to move me in rehearsal and performance. It is a pleasure to sing this role.

In addition to working with folks I’ve worked with before (and how great to have a long time colleagues Jane Henschel along as Herodias and Dennis Petersen as the First Jew), it’s great to meet new colleagues to work with and in which to develop relationships. They are too many to list here--but let’s just say that with all the young talent on stage here in Japan, the opera world is going to be thriving for some time.

The sets are very modern but the costuming is quite traditional in some regards (over the top in others). The staging is also traditional which allows us to actually have more liberties as singing actors. The pictures above are actually from our time in Chicago in 2006 but since Debbie and I did the production there, I figured I’d just use the pictures from that time again here (same costumes and make-up for the most part). The picture of us together is from the production poster which is all over Matsumoto at this time.

The Saito Kinen Orchestra (also the name of this festival founded by Seiji Ozawa) is a fairly “new” orchestra (they’ve already been around nearly 30 years) that sees players come from other orchestras for the festival and other concerts throughout the year. What a band!!! There are players in the orchestra from the Berlin Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and many others. Omer Meir Wellber is conducting this production. He is a very young (28!!!) Israeli conductor with incredible talent and potential. Originally, Maestro Ozawa was to conduct this run but, due to his recent battle with cancer (and he’s now cancer free), had to withdraw.

I have been shocked, on this trip, to find this mountainous area of Japan to be so hot. We are very close to where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. In fact, we are in the same Prefecture as is Nagano. However, it is has ben hot, Hot, HOT!!! I was out a bit ago and it was over 100 degrees according to the thermometer at the train station (perhaps a bit cooler than that at the hotel). Many days have been over 90 and the mountains seem to trap the heat in the valley. The stage has been very warm but not as hot as sitting through Mass on Sunday mornings (no air conditioning in the Church). Wow, do we often live too pampered of a life.

It was great to be able to call back to Central Illinois (where I grew up) very early Monday morning. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. in Matsumoto, but only 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon there, when I called to wish my Aunt a very Happy 85th Birthday. A surprise party was being held and I’m just happy I was able to take part from afar.

Also, this past weekend, my wife took our oldest son back to college for his second year. It seems like just a few weeks ago when I brought him home for the summer after the concerts in St. Louis in early May. Even stranger, wasn’t he just born in Minneapolis a few months ago?

Being so far away from home brings a lot of challenges. However, when you are doing “good art” (as we like to say), it makes things enjoyable and far more palatable---even if my head is what ends up on the pallet in the end.