Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing two back-to-back performances of Richard Strauss’s 1905 masterpiece Salome at Florida Grand Opera, where I have been employed as the company’s Public Relations Manager since January 2017. I came to South Florida after a nearly three-decade tenure as an editor at Opera News Magazine in New York City, and this weekend’s performances of Salome brought back some early opera-going memories and impressions I wanted to share with readers of followkellow.com. I should say up front that I write this less from the point of view of a public relations executive than I do from the point of view of a music lover.
I have written on a number of occasions about the impact on me of the first production I attended at the Metropolitan Opera: Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, in September, 1982. It was a pivotal moment that opened up a whole new world to me. Der Rosenkavalier, for all its magnificence, is not the landmark work that Salome is. With Salome, Strauss did something much more than create a great vehicle for a brilliant singing actress: he tested new and challenging dramatic territory on the opera stage. He also essentially reinvented the opera orchestra and the way that audiences hear it, trailblazing the path of musical modernism. The emotions generated by the opera’s famous chord in that explosive final scene are not possible to shake off.
Sitting in the audience this weekend, and sensing that the audience was being pulled into the powerful current of this great work brought back many happy memories of my early days of opera discovery. As conductor Timothy Myers, soprano Kirsten Chambers and tenor John Easterlin brought the afternoon to a shattering close, I wondered how many lives might have been changed on some level—how permanent that moment of discovery might turn out to be. Productions change, and casts change, and seasons come and go. But it’s exciting to think that the experience and memory of Salome itself might have the stuff of permanence about it—for a lot of people. That’s something that can be triggered only by the live performing arts.