Opera Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Orchestra to Join Forces in First-Ever Co-Production: Richard Strauss’s SALOME

Richard B. Worley, chairman of The Philadelphia Orchestra, joined Opera Philadelphia chairman Daniel K. Meyer on Monday, March 25, to announce plans for a first-ever artistic collaboration in the 2013-14 season—a theatrically-inspired production of Richard Strauss’s compelling and provocative masterpiece, Salome. The performances, set to take place on Thursday, May 8, and Saturday, May 10, 2014, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, will be led by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. With this initial collaboration, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia reinforce their strong commitment to delivering more diverse offerings to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond through groundbreaking performances and innovative collaborations. This new partnership leverages Opera Philadelphia’s reputation as a dynamic producer of theatrical opera, and The Philadelphia Orchestra’s standing as one of the preeminent orchestras in the world.

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin commented: “Salome is to me one of the greatest masterpieces written in the 20th century, and bringing this great operatic score to Philadelphia Orchestra audiences is special on its own.  To now work closely with Opera Philadelphia to create a theatrical environment around the music makes this project even more exceptional. This will be a unique and dramatic telling of the story of Salome that will mesmerize both Orchestra and Opera audiences. I am thrilled to begin my journey with the Orchestra into the world of opera by working together with our new partners at Opera Philadelphia.” 

“I am so ecstatic that two of Philadelphia’s iconic performing arts organizations will be sharing the stage of Verizon Hall in 2014,” said David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia. “This partnership is born out of a genuine alignment between our two companies’ shared artistic goals, and together we will be creating an amazing moment of civic pride for our city.  Salome will broaden the operatic experience for our audience, perfectly complementing our 2013-2014 season’s large-scale operas in the Academy of Music and the intimate chamber works of the Aurora Series at the Perelman Theater. I am confident that our staging of Salome will allow audiences to follow this well-known story in an exciting, thought-provoking setting.” 

In recent seasons Opera Philadelphia has been recognized nationally for its innovative production design and collaborative partnerships, exemplified by the 2012 production of Puccini’s La bohème, in collaboration with the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Extending the company’s production footprint from the Academy of Music and Perelman Theater into Verizon Hall for Salome is a natural extension of the Opera’s mission to present both traditional and contemporary opera in innovative, engaging ways.

“This is a thrilling time for us as we prepare to join forces with one of Philadelphia’s flagship cultural organizations in a project that will combine and advance our shared institutional goals of artistic growth, innovation, and reinvigorated concert experiences,” said Allison Vulgamore, Philadelphia Orchestra CEO and president. “We are incredibly fortunate and proud to have an organization such as Opera Philadelphia to partner with in this exciting initiative, and look forward to giving audiences everywhere an even more compelling reason to visit Philadelphia and experience everything it has to offer as a musical destination.”

Considered scandalous when it premiered in 1905, and banned for years in the U.S. and elsewhere, Strauss’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play is among the most important musical works of the 20th century. Mahler, who attended the 1906 premiere along with Puccini, Zemlinsky, and Schoenberg, praised the piece as “one of the greatest masterworks of our time.” This fast-paced, one-act opera is known as much for its revolutionary use of large-scale orchestra and virtuosic singers as it is for its graphic depiction of this deeply psychological tale. At the core of this erotically-charged opera set in biblical times exists a tangled and disturbed triangle: the persecuted John the Baptist, a lecherous King Herod, and the monarch’s pathologically seductive stepdaughter, Salome, who eventually demands the head of the imprisoned prophet on a silver platter. This virtuosic score of massive proportions culminates with the famous and controversial “Dance of the Seven Veils,” as well as an explicit scene with the beheaded prisoner.

A production team comprised of stage director Kevin Newbury and designer Vita Tzykun gives this age-old biblical tale a timeless treatment, transforming Verizon Hall with custom-built design and staging elements, stylized costumes, theatrical lighting, and innovative design elements such as sculptural pieces integrated into the hall’s architecture. The result is a completely immersive, 4-D concert environment—one that transports the audience into the heart of the action, with the musical score as the driving force.

Kevin Newbury, whose productions have been staged by many of the world’s top opera companies and symphonies, believes Salome is ideally suited to a theatrical symphonic staging. “The opera features gorgeous music, rich characters, and a potent story about sex, greed, and morality,” said Newbury. “Opera audiences are usually denied the opportunity to actually see the orchestra playing a score. A staging in a symphonic setting allows us to feature the music front and center. The orchestra itself plays a major character both musically and theatrically.”

Newbury and Tzykun are drawing inspiration from the architecture of the Kimmel Center. They arealso using the “symbols of terror” in the opera for inspiration: the gaping mouth of the cistern; Salome’s virginal white veils; and, most importantly, the moon. 

The role of Salome will be performed by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund, who has performed leading roles at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, and the Vienna State Opera.  American bass-baritone Alan Held is Jochanaan, a role he has sung to critical acclaim at the Saito Kinen Festival in Japan, the Vienna State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and in Baden-Baden, Germany. Tenor John Mac Master is familiar to Philadelphia opera audiences for creating the role of Casey in Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner. He has triumphed as Herod in Frankfurt and Stuttgart and has performed the role of the twisted king with San Francisco Opera, Vancouver Opera, New Orleans Opera, and Montreal Opera. German mezzo-soprano Birgit Remmert, who has performed numerous Strauss and Wagner roles at the Bayreuth Festival, Zurich Opera, and the Vienna State Opera, will sing the role of Herodias.

2013-14 season subscribers may purchase tickets to Salome as an add-on to their Philadelphia Orchestra or Opera Philadelphia subscription by visiting or by calling 215.893.1955. Individual tickets will be made available for purchase at a later date.