So long to the land of the Setting Sun

As I write this, I’m on Continental Flight #8 from Tokyo to Newark. What a gorgeous sight it is out my window as I say “Sayonara” for now to the Land of the Setting Sun. The final performance of Salome went very well last night and now I can just sit back and enjoy this 13 hour flight back to my family.

"Salome" on the other side of the world

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.

Matsumoto-shi, Japan

I don’t always take good pictures but I thought this one of the castle here in Matsumoto, Japan turned out pretty well. So many things catch my eye from time to time and I just don’t always seem to get the picture I see in my mind recorded properly. In some ways, on this sunny day, it came out even better than in my eye. The only problem is that the picture doesn’t let you see how large this edifice truly is. It was completed in the 16th century and is truly beautiful. With the exception of the God made mountains that lie at the outskirts of the city, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen during this visit.

The week has gone well with very fine rehearsals and loads of HOT and HUMID weather. I had checked the weather for Matsumoto occasionally this summer before flying over but didn’t really expect things to be this sticky. Still, I’ll take it over snow any day. The cast for “Salome” is VERY strong here and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

I’m happy I’ll be joined by a friend from England when we attend Mass tomorrow morning here in Japan. Last week, I only understood “Alleluia” and “Amen” as those were the only familiar words in Japanese and Tagalog (a group from the Philippine community was worshipping with us as well). No matter where I go, being able to attend Mass and know that the same readings are being said around the world in every Catholic Church each week truly moves me.

Tonight, Matsumoto had what must be one of their largest festivals of the year. The streets of this city (pop. just over 225,000) were jammed with people as the traditional Bon-Bon Festival took place. One web site calls it part parade, part dance, part party, and part carnival. So many different groups from around the city take part and all come together to travel the streets performing this wondrous dance with music playing through speakers on every street corner. It is a wonderful thing to see as the citizens of all ages take part. What a fabulous tradition. The costumes, the liveliness, and fun was just incredible to see. The entire journey through the streets (it’s not a straight route) takes about 4 hours. It all ends up at the castle where I’m sure one last dance takes place. And everyone is doing the same dance at the same time. Amazing. I watched very small children, teenage children, young adults, old adults, and very old adults all taking part. Oh, could we use something like this in many of our U.S. cities to promote community, health, and joy!!

Far from home

Although the date may say July 31, 2010, it’s actually August 1 as I am across the International Dateline in Matsumoto, Japan. It was a very long trip west yesterday but I am settled in and doing my best to get over the jet lag. With all the heat we’ve had on the east coast this summer, I thought I’d post this picture of a bit cooler locale. This picture was taken over Alaska yesterday from about 35,000 feet. The views of this spectacular part of the world are stunning from such an altitude. I have long had a yearning to visit our 50th State and hope to do so someday but from on land and not from such a distance.

I am in Japan for “Salome”. This is the same production we did in the fall of 2006 in Chicago and I’m looking forward to getting back on stage with my colleagues (some of whom were also in Chicago). I have many outings as Jockanaan (John the Baptist) in this coming season including visits to the role in Vienna and Baden-Baden on top of these performances here in Japan.

I had some time off this past month with the exception of the Varese Concert in NYC nearly two weeks ago. It was greatly appreciated to have so much time with family and friends. This past week found us cramming in loads of social time which always seems to be the case before I travel. I also enjoyed taking my two older boys out for an evening with Dad and then the younger two to a movie with Mom the next day. Great times!

My middle son is performing, as I write this, a new musical version of “Cinderella” back in Pennsylvania. They had an earlier performance today as well which I understand came off wonderfully. It seems the music and theater bug has bitten him hard. I’m very happy for him and will enjoy, someday, being a real stage Dad.

Back to the jet lag adjustment.......more soon!