Salome Monday Recap: Guest Blogger John Mac Master

Monday was day 5 of putting Salome together here in Philadelphia. We have been staging the work for six hours a day with piano in a rehearsal hall (the wonderful Lisa Keller played our 'orchestra'), but yesterday was a two-hour call when we sang through a good part of the opera with The Philadelphia Orchestra in all its splendor. I did not count, but I am sure we are using the full complement of players that Richard Strauss called for - about 106. I know that I have never sung this with more than the 77 players called for in the reduction of the score - and that is still a big orchestra in most opera house pits! One of the many great joys of working with Yannick Nézet-Séguin is that he is such a singer's conductor! He knows every word and has thought about how he wants them all sung - he delights in what shape, colour, and thought you bring to each line you sing. And he encourages you to look for more, to find more in the way he shapes the phrase with his physical gesture. Making music with Yannick is collaboration like with no other in my experience. And the level of detail and precision that he calls out of the orchestra is nothing short of miraculous. As one of my colleagues said to me yesterday "this is a level of detailed preparation that you have to admire," and I will add, that is quite rare.

Photo courtesy of @nezetseguin

What a joy to hear all my colleagues giving their all with the orchestra! I can attest that singing Strauss with over 100 players calls on you to bring all the sound you can. BUT if you oversing, or push, you risk harming your voice, and you lose the overtones in your singing that allow you to be heard over so many players. To hear the shimmer in Camilla Nylund's Salome; the thunder - and tenderness - in Alan Held's Jochanaan; the highs notes, and wonderful chest tones of condemnation in Birgit Remmert's Herodias, and the plaintive ardour in Andrew Staples' Narraboth was thrilling!

Today, Tuesday, May 6, is day 6 of our process. We have two 3-hour calls in Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center, the orchestra's home. The playing area has been built for us behind the orchestra and into the choir stalls 12 feet above the stage. We will add costumes and wigs and the orchestra will be with us onstage. We have one day to pull it all together before tomorrow morning's dress rehearsal.

And it's my birthday! What a gift! It does not get any better than this, I can assure you!