Dance of the Seven Violas

Yes, we’re doing Salome this week. What a bitch. And Salome’s not a very nice person either. In fact there’s not a character in the whole opera I’d want to have a beer with.

We did the opera about eight years ago in concert. I don’t remember it being this hard. Of course being in the pit doesn’t help. It’s a huge orchestra, so the pit is jammed (the percussion is actually in the trap room) and I’m right in front of the oboes and flutes. As a result there are large chunks of the opera during which I can barely hear what I’m doing. I certainly can’t hear the fiddles at all, which is a definite handicap in this piece. I tried plugs, but there are lots of solos, which I find unbearable to play with plugs. But playing without plugs is pretty unbearable at times.

It’s a wonderful work. I think it suffers from early-Strauss compositional overkill, though – lots of extremely hard and counter-intuitive passagework that can’t be heard at all (just as well, perhaps). And it goes by fast, and there are lots of meter changes and tempi changes and key signature changes. That wouldn’t matter so much if the parts were less challenging. As it is, I feel that I’m running out of brain. No doubt it’s a piece that’s much more manageable after it’s been internalized the way that orchestra musicians internalize the warhorses of our repertoire.

The big question for any production of Salome is, of course, does she or doesn’t she at the end of the dance. I’m told that this production features full backal nudity. Fortunately we have a wonderful soprano who is not a blob. Unfortunately the violas are quite busy at the critical moment.

I guess I’ll have to settle for Catherine Malfitano on YouTube.


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