Patricia Racette tackles "Salome" with Pittsburgh Opera

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Pittsburgh Opera's production of "Salome," which I placed on my list of top 10 musical events for the fall, opens at the Benedum Center this weekend. My preview of the opera was published in today's Post-Gazette. 

The casting of soprano Patricia Racette in the title role is a major coup for Pittsburgh Opera. She was going to sing Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly" here in 2002 but had to withdraw after rehearsals had started. Interestingly enough, that was going to be, essentially, her role debut as Butterfly. She had sung it dozens of times in the late 1980s while with the Merola Opera Program. "But I put it away, so it was going to be the resurfacing of that role in a fully grownup, professional sense," Ms. Racette said.

Coincidentally, Cio-Cio-San is a role with which Ms. Racette would become closely associated, although she retired it last year.

20161103smsOpera06-5Nmon Ford, top, plays Jochanaan, and Patricia Racette plays Salome, in Pittsburgh Opera's production of Richard Strauss' "Salome." The two were photographed at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in Oakland on Oct. 24.(Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)

She is also known for her stints as a host of and performer in the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series, which I've written about a few times on this blog. Now a decade old, the program is somewhat controversial, and it is often accused of taking away in-house audiences, among other issues. Ms. Racette's response?

"I like them as a performer, as a host and as someone in this profession," she said. "What people know about the existence of opera now in the United States as opposed to before all this HD stuff is so much more."

She didn't want to weigh in on the issue of ticket sales since it's not her area of expertise, although she understands the incentives for audiences to pay for cheap seats with a good view in a movie theater. "However — and I'm saying this in bold caps — there's nothing like experiencing it live. There's nothing like it," she said.

"You're not seeing it as three-dimensionally as you are in the theater," she said of the movie options. "I hope that would continue being a priority for the public."

But she did raise another important point — that opera can be somewhat subservient to its own traditions, which can hinder the development of new audiences.

"I think it's important to have the public be exposed to different ideas of a way to tell a story and not just the one old-fashioned idea," she said. "We've got to invigorate and reinvigorate this art form to keep it alive. We have to. And I think HD assists and helps in that greatly."

One more thing: A reader alerted me to the fact that the Monroeville Readers Theatre will perform an edited version of Oscar Wilde's "Salome" at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Monroeville Public Library, 4000 Gateway Campus Blvd., Monroeville. A German translation of Wilde's play is the basis for Strauss' libretto. A question-and-answer session will follow.


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