Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia team up for ‘Salome’

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nzet-Sguin with Opera Philadelphia General Director & President David B. Devan and Philadelphia Orchestra President & CEO Allison Vulgamore. PHOTO: Katherine Blodgett
Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nzet-Sguin with Opera Philadelphia General Director & President David B. Devan and Philadelphia Orchestra President & CEO Allison Vulgamore. PHOTO: Katherine Blodgett
Posted: March 26, 2013

Next season's previously announced performance of Salome, Richard Strauss' erotically charged biblical opera after Oscar Wilde's play, will be a co-production of Opera Philadelphia and Philadelphia Orchestra, the two groups announced Monday.

It is the first in a series of anticipated collaborations between the organizations, though leaders could not say exactly where the sharing of resources might lead.

"This one's all about getting something started," said Opera Philadelphia general director David B. Devan. "Let's keep investment levels modest, but do something really spectacular."

Salome, scheduled for two performances in Verizon Hall in May 2014, will be done neither as a concert opera nor in the usual fully staged format, but in a state in between - a demi-staged production. Director Kevin Newbury and designer Victoria "Vita" Tzykun have been engaged to create a presentation in which the large orchestra will be on stage and singers in costumes, and which will use lighting and "sculptural pieces integrated into the hall's architecture."

Concepts are not expected before September, but design elements, as well as some singers, could end up out in the hall.

Devan said that the great value of projects like this - "Let's call it a theatrical mashup," he said - is the ability to bring in singers who, unable to commit to the five weeks necessary for regular productions, would otherwise not be heard here.

What this isn't, he said, is the first step in any kind of consolidation of the two organizations:

"That's not where this is going. I can say emphatically there is nointent for the Philadelphia Orchestra to be the pit band for Opera Philadelphia. We have worked with our orchestra over the last number of years and I think they are playing at their all-time best. We are now able to consider repertoire expansion that 10 years ago we would not have been able to think about on a quality basis."

Any further projects with the orchestra would be in addition to the opera's regular offerings, Devan said.

The two performances of Strauss' one-act opera - May 8 and 10 - will cost an extra $250,000 above and beyond the regular expenses of the orchestra, singers, rent and stage crew, said orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore. All costs considered, the project total is between $900,000 and $1 million. Each company will raise $125,000 to cover the costs not already accounted for in the budget.

A third performance is not currently planned.

"We're looking, and if a third possibility opens up, I'd be delighted," said Vulgamore. "But to be direct, we didn't sell out [a 2012 concert version of Strauss'] Elektra . . .. I'd love nothing better than to be forced to think about a third performance, or to put screens in the lobby or other areas, if we have demand."

Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct a cast that includes soprano Camilla Nylund in the title role, mezzo Birgit Remmert as Herodias, tenor John Mac Master as Herod, and bass-baritone Alan Held as Jochanaan.

The director for Salome was chosen by Opera Philadelphia, the principal singers by the orchestra, and rest of the cast in partnership, Devan said.

Though the Philadelphia Orchestra has a strong historical relationship with Strauss and his works - he guest conducted the orchestra in 1904, when   he was composing Salome, and Wolfgang Sawallisch made Strauss a regular part of the repertoire - this production marks the first time the ensemble has performed his first important opera.

Information: 215-893-1955, www.philorch.org.

Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at


www.philly.com/artswatch.

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