Soprano Patricia Racette’s 2016/17 season features a triple run of Salome, with recent performances for the Metropolitan Opera and Pittsburgh Opera, and now in Los Angeles, where it’s her fifth leading role. (She’ll also reprise the femme fatale for a semi-staged version of Salome with the Minnesota Orchestra in August.) We asked for her thoughts on this notoriously challenging role.
Both vocally and dramatically, Salome makes some formidable demands on the soprano. How did you go about learning the role for the first time?
The first part—before I ever really put my voice on it—was the recognition of its musical complexity. Some of the passages are a total mouthful in terms of language and being able to capture the declamatory nature of the German while still maintaining a sense of legato where necessary. I’m a pretty quick study, but Strauss has to be picked apart carefully and methodically before one can put it back together again. The good news is that I now feel that I have spent so much time with her that the part is really now part of me!
Did the character come easily to you? Was there any specific moment when you suddenly “got” her?
Oddly enough, after playing so many delicate and dying heroines, yes, it did come easily to me! Jokes aside, I had a few “aha” moments in bringing her to life. I realized that she is much more complex than just trying to make her some sort of monster—even though her stepfather Herod does label her as such in the end. To me Salome is “damaged goods,” someone who has had no good role models in her life. She has never been told no, she knows no real boundaries—and it shows!
Salome has been performed by vastly different types of sopranos: dramatics, lyrics and even a few brave mezzos (such as Maria Ewing, LAO’s first Salome). What makes the role performable by so many different voices?
What makes any role performable by any singer includes the basic question of range, tessitura, and “architecture” of the part. Someone like Ewing always sang “outside the box,” which I love and admire. More importantly, Salome has a more specific requirement for the function of the voice. The weight, size and timbre of the voice can be interchangeable in terms of choice and subjectivity—taste, really—but the function of the role must lie within the vocal vocabulary and capacity of that singer.
It would seem that Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils has to be the result of a particularly close collaboration between the soprano and the choreographer.
This process, by my own insistence, has always been paramount in the productions I have done thus far. Choreographer Peggy Hickey, whom I know both professionally and personally, is well aware that I had done rigorous choreography in my previous incarnations of Salome and that I welcome a whole new take on it for Los Angeles. We had several early conversations, including how the costume would function, which is obviously pretty vital. In terms of the rehearsal process, the dance is the aspect of the show that typically gets the most time. Of course Peggy already had some ideas in mind, as did I. The beginning creation is all about finding a vocabulary so that we could build it together.
The dance arrives near the very end of the opera, just before that huge final scene. Is it a hindrance or a help for you to have the dance come at that moment?
I love when the dance happens, that the dance happens, and that I get to invest myself 100% into performing it! The timing, placement and function of the dance are perfect primers for the last scene for me.
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