Animal House

I decided, for this entry, to get off the subject of opera and write about something that is far more dear to me--animals. I have long felt that if I had not become a musician, I would have liked too have become a veterinarian. I remember reading those wonderful James Herriot books and thinking, although he had a tough job, that the caring for animals would be something that I’d like to do. I spent a lot of time with animals as a kid and always enjoyed working on the local farms in Central Illinois. We always had a dog or cats around our own home. I even had a couple of parakeets at one time.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, we went to the local animal shelter and picked out our first kitten (“Gretel”). Another (“Salome”) joined us a year later and then our first puppy (“Molly”) about 12 months after that. Except for a very few days since then, we’ve not been without at least one animal in the house. When we lost our wonderful Brittany (“Belle”) two years ago, we thought we’d wait months before getting another dog. She passed away suddenly in January and we didn’t want to take on house training in the middle of winter.

Those sentiments, happily, only lasted about 10 days and then this wonderful lab that you see in the picture came into our lives. “Julie” is such a sweet and gentle dog--but very rambunctious at times as well. She’s also an outstanding watch dog. Here you see her with my youngest son’s guinea pig, “Elvis” (full name--”Elvis Pigsley”). My son has taken a real liking to animals as well. Maybe he’ll be the member of the Held family who finally becomes a vet. I promise to help sing the animals to sleep every night. I’ve been doing that for human audiences for years.

Thank goodness opening night is over!

Last night was the opening night of “Salome” here in Geneva, Switzerland. Can anyone tell me what these five carcasses have to do with the opera? I was in rehearsal for nearly 6 weeks and I still haven’t figured it out. Since there are 5 slabs of pork here, I thought perhaps they were to represent “The 5 Jews” who sing in the opera. Perhaps it is just another attempt to show the denigration of humans? Whatever the meaning, we are seeing this kind of stage decor and direction far too often in musical theater/opera. What’s really funny is that this hanging carcass thing is becoming a cliché. I did a production of “Elektra” in San Francisco in 1997 that had a huge carcass of a bull. Sometimes, one gets really hungry for a barbecue when on stage--but really, what does all this nonsense have to do with the story of “Salome”.

I am certainly not an opera purist by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do think some of the stage ideas need to be thought out more consistently. The staging of Salome’s dance in this production is truly a low light in my opera career--I’m glad I’m not a part of that scene. We have a soprano who could truly give us a spectacular dance but unfortunately she’s not allowed to do so in this production. It’s sad and unfulfilling in many ways.

The performance last night went about as well as it could go under the circumstances. As suspected, the response from the audience was tepid. Sometimes, I just don’t think audiences can believe what their eyes and ears have just witnessed. This is hard for singers who have poured so much into the evening--but certainly understandable.

There will be 5 more performances of the opera in this run. I’m not sure much can be done to salvage Strauss’ opera during these weeks. We’ll give it our best shot.

And on it goes

We continue to rehearse “Salome” here in Geneva, Switzerland. In many ways, it seems like we’ve been doing this forever. Rehearsals began on January 5 and will continue for another week. We open on February 13. The show is in excellent shape (actually, it’s been in great shape for weeks). We finally started rehearsing with the orchestra yesterday which helps move things along a bit more quickly. Although we’ve had excellent pianists on the show, it’s nice to hear the colors than only an orchestra can bring to a Strauss score.

The production will be controversial but I’m happy with the characterization we’ve come up with for John the Baptist. It’s powerful and tortured-just as it should be for this opera. As always, it’s great to sing the great lines that came from the mouth of this great Biblical character.

The weather has, for the most part, improved during my stay here. It was at first a very grey place to be but we’ve had a few spectacular days since then. I’ve enjoyed the days with snow but there really hasn’t been all that much in the city. On the very clear days, you can see the mountains which have quite gorgeous white toppings. One of the closest mountains, Mount Blanc, is over 15,000 feet high. Once we get this show up and running, I’d like to get out of the city and do a bit more sightseeing.

This has been a very long last 12 months. Basically, last February commenced a time period when I’ve travelled more than at any other time in my career. The long time on the road basically continues until mid-May but at least I’ll be able to pop in and out of Pennsylvania a bit more often due to singing close by. I am greatly looking forward to being back on the east coast in the not too distant future.

I stayed up late to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night. It didn’t start until after mid-night in Europe. I made it to the third quarter. I then drifted off but awoke for the final few minutes. It was very exciting but by 4 a.m., enough was enough.

More important to the sports world, we’re at the height of the greatest time of year---basketball season!!! I can’t wait to be home and seeing many games including the NCAA tournament. It can’t come soon enough!!!