Interesting article

Rather than writing a journal entry of my own, this week I direct you to an article that appeared in last Thursday’s “Toronto Star”. You’ll see some great pictures of the “head making” process from our production of “Salome” here in Toronto. Just click on the link and enjoy (or not).

How opera singer Alan Held lost his head in Salome | Toronto Star

Busy Week--A Tale of Two Cities

It’s been quite a week so far. And, it’s only just half over. After singing the performance of “Salome” here in Toronto last Friday, I had a few days off before heading to Cincinnati to rehearse for this weekend’s concert at The May Festival. What a wonderful tradition this annual festival is for the city and region of Southwestern Ohio. I have long wanted to be a part of this great event. As I have a pretty significant background in choral music, taking part in this annual celebration (noted as “The Premiere Choral Festival in the Country”) is a joy.

However, one has to be able to get to rehearsals, etc., on time. My flight on Sunday was cancelled to Cincinnati (due to weather problems in several locales). I was able to book another flight but, instead of flying directly to Cincinnati, had to reroute through Atlanta. This meant that, for the first leg of my trip, I flew 700 miles to only get 30-40 miles closer to my destination. I finally arrived at my hotel at about 12:15 a.m. on Monday.

Rehearsals went well during the week--it should be an exciting and wonderful concert. The chorus sounds magnificent as does the orchestra. It is nice to work with James Conlon on the podium once again. And, what a thrill to work with one of my favorite sopranos (and best friends in the business), Christine Goerke. We last sang together in “Elektra” in Chicago which opened this current opera season. Our concert in Cincinnati is all Wagner and Verdi as we celebrate the bi-centennials of their births.

I needed to fly back to Toronto yesterday in order to be here for tonight’s performance of “Salome”. Again, it was a flight with connections. This time, the plan was to take me through Detroit. All went well up to Michigan but, upon arrival, I found out that my flight to Toronto had been cancelled (this just isn’t my week for smooth travel). There were strong winds in Ontario yesterday which grounded many flights or delayed them. I was told that I could get a flight later in the evening (but it was already announced as greatly delayed). I wasn’t sure if it would actually fly or not. I finally decided to head to the rental car counter and then drove the 4+ hour trip back to Toronto. Let’s just say, it was another long day. Oh, and just as I arrived into the Toronto area, that delayed flight landed at the airport.

Sometimes, we only think about the performances and the preparation for them--but the actual time getting to our venues is sometimes the toughest part of the business. I am so looking forward to getting onstage tonight and losing myself again in the music. Having one’s head cut off in “Salome” is preferable to hanging out and waiting for cancelled flights.

And, in the morning, I head back to the airport for my return to Cincinnati…….and on Sunday, it’s back to Toronto……..(did I mention I’m looking forward to a little time off that comes at the end of next week?

A Head will roll AND Hoffmann

It’s head rolling season once again as I begin a short run of performances tonight of “Salome” in Toronto at the Canadian Opera Company. I’ve sung the role of Jochanaan so many times over the past several years but it has been nearly two years since my last go around with the part. I’m jumping into this production with little rehearsal but still feel very prepared. The production has been running for a few weeks already but due to my time in Japan and Barcelona, it is only now that I’m popping into the cast. I’m looking forward to the shows.

This opera, a true masterpiece by Richard Strauss, always packs a punch, to say the least. I first sang the role in concert performances back in 1995 in England. Since then, I’ve gone on to sing staged and concert performances in Vienna (in a fabulous production that dates back to the early 70s when Leonie Rysanek was the star), Washington, Chicago, Matsumoto, Japan, Munich, and Baden-Baden, Germany. The Baden-Baden production is available on DVD. Strauss wrote so well for Helden-Baritones and I never get tired of singing the role of Jochanaan (John the Baptist). Although I meet a gruesome end in the piece, I relish the chance to sing such a wonderful Biblical character even if the playwright, Oscar Wilde, certainly took some liberties with the Gospel account concerning the great prophet.

One of the challenges of the production is having a cast made of your head that Salome will sing to in the last scene of the opera. For the production here in Toronto, my head was completely covered in goo that hardened to make a very realistic looking likeness. The artists, who have put together this “prop”, have done an outstanding job of coloring the head and “decorating” it just right. It looks so realistic, even down to the copious amounts of dripping blood. Yes, it can be disturbing to see your head oozing blood and being used in a disturbing manner in an opera production. It can be hard to sit an audience and watch all of this transpire as well. The opera, however, is so full of magnificent music and total theater. It’s an experience of music drama that I highly recommend.

And, I look forward to the concert performances that are scheduled for next May (2014) in my home area of Southeastern Pennsylvania with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I don’t know that we’ll have a decapitation for the concert performance at The Kimmel Center. Some things are better left to the imagination in a symphonic presentation. But, you never know….I just may have to have yet another molding and a copy placed upon my mantle.

On a side note--as I write this, I’m listening on Sirius-XM Radio to the 1993 performance of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” in which I sang the Four Villains at The Metropolitan Opera opposite Placido Domingo, Carol Vaness, and Suzanne Mentzer. I don’t always like to listen to my recordings. However, I have to say that I truly like the life that is coming through over the airways. I was a very young singer when this was broadcast. In fact, I am almost shocked to think how young I was, up against such incredible singers, and with Maestro James Levine in the pit. I truly loved the old Otto Schenk production--a production that really allowed me to do what I do best--sing and act in a combined effort within a production that tells the story and provides quite a bit of physicality. I have great memories of that time period. My wife accompanied me to performances and our young son, Andrew, was along as well. He was only 2 yeas old and often played “Jenga” outside my dressing room with some of the great people who are part of the company. He was a bit disturbed, however, watching me sing one of the Villains, Copp
élius, who has to destroy the mechanical doll, Olympia, during the Act 1 finale. He asked, when I came off the stage, “Why are you so angry with the doll and why did you break her?”. Ah, the memories that flood the mind when listening to a fine performance….

OH, and Andy had a few big days of his own this past weekend. He graduated from Cedarville University with his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science. Now, it is his goal to break all the dolls and help to shape the characters of the world. It’s nice to see that we’re keeping at least part of the business in the family.