Salome Thursday Recap: Guest Blogger John Mac Master


It’s the morning after the opening of Salome last night. The joy – and challenge – of live theatre/opera/concerts is the thrill of the high wire act. We never know what will happen, whether we are the audience or the performers. The great errors are edited out of our CDs, DVDs and other recorded media. A live performance of an opera may be one of the hardest things to get right when you consider trying to coordinate over 100 players in the orchestra and a cast of 16 – with the great distances between performers that a conductor has to bridge - plus lighting, staging, costuming, special effects – all of which must come together in the moment to reveal the stage director, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, conductor AND performers’ vision and imagining of the piece ….and there is never enough time or rehearsal!

Now add to that you are performing Salome, one of the more complicated, involved and sophisticated compositions in the standard repertoire, and you are performing it in a venue (Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center) that has never been used for a fully staged opera before. Lots can go wrong!

I’m here to tell you just a bit of what went SO very right last night in our first performance of Salome. I will leave it to the audience and critics to tell us what they thought of our work, but I will share a bit of what it feels like from a performer’s point of view.

We opened this show only one week after arriving here to rehearse (I’ve never had less than three weeks before). Every day we asked a lot from ourselves and each other. Every day was a continuously improving curve towards the opening. While I am sure that everyone involved had concerns about whether the challenges could be met, any negative energy was put aside, and everyone simply got on with the work.

I believe that Yannick Nézet-Séguin has set a tone here, a style of leadership that I have experienced from him before at his beloved Orchestre Métropolitain in Montréal. His leadership style is collaborative, positive, energized but also demanding of excellence and reaching for the very best from all concerned, all the time. That search for excellence starts with himself. I have never seen anyone so well prepared.  The score, the words, the historical and musical context, even the names of all the cast down to the smallest role… It is a kind of striving, searching, that reveals the soul of an artist.

Perhaps some come to the performing arts for the glory, but if you stay in this profession, it is because of your passion to discover all that there might be in this art form, and a great desire to share that with your collaborators and audiences. Yannick does this on a daily basis, and gathers people around him – performers, artistic collaborators, administrators, donors too! – who want the same, and he helps to create an atmosphere where this uncovering of truth and meaning takes place.

Finding the meaning in an art work is a form of spirituality.  Salome can still shock us more than 100 years after its composition, and it does so in a world where we can and do see much worse on the web every day. I wonder if Salome still shocks because the story is at the intersection of faith/belief (Jochanaan’s, the Cappidocean and Nazarene’s belief in Jesus; Herod’s fascination in the unknown; Herodias’ fear of both Jochanaan and the man from Galilee) AND eroticism (Salome’s infatuation with Jochanaan, the purest of those around her and the one least attracted to her; Herod’s incestuous attraction to Salome).

Richard Strauss does not shy away from this body/spirit duality, from the juxtaposition of eroticism and grace, and this production does not shy away either. It is easy enough to find/see the erotic, but how wonderful to see/hear the ecstatic love – both carnal and spiritual – that are in this score, brought so vividly to life by Yannick encouraging the best out of us all.

I know we will be talking about these performances for a long time. They will not have been perfect; live performance never is. But we have been striving for the sun and the moons. Thank you for the opportunity, and the leadership, Yannick!

Once again, on Saturday! Onward and upward!


Photos by Dominic M. Mercier