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.