Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera unveil plan for collaboration on Strauss’ ‘Salome’

The president of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Allison Vulgamore, has run the numbers: in Philadelphia, the audience for classical music and the audience for opera are different.

“What we’re learning is there’s an opportunity in Philadelphia to leverage attendance and enjoyment of music overall: the opera at the orchestra’s house, and the orchestra at the opera’s house,” said Vulgamore at the Kimmel Center as she and David Devan, the president of Opera Philadelphia, announced a collaborative production next season of the Richard Strauss opera “Salome.”

It will be the first time the two organization will have worked together, and the first effort to cross-pollinate their respective audiences.

“It has a lot to do with history,” said Devan. “The Philadelphia Orchestra is such an older organization, it developed an audience before there was an opera company. We’ve been around for only 35 years. In cities when you have an orchestra and opera growing up at the same time, you see synergies between audiences.”

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“Salome” will be performed in May 2014 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, the orchestra’s home turf where it expects to take center stage. The musicians will be sitting amid a built set through which the invited singers — sopranos Camilia Nylund and Birgit Remmert, bass-baritone Alan Held, and tenor John Mac Master — will move, fully costumed.

‘Salome’ suited for singular production

Devan says the unique qualities of Strauss’ “Salome” make it possible for it to exist as a “mash-up,” somewhere on the spectrum between a concert and a theatrical production.

“It’s an opera about ideas,” said Devan. “It has a narrative structure, but not something you’re bound by — not like ‘La Boheme,’ with a very particular narrative plot that you need to follow. It’s more about ideas and emotion.”

“It’s meant to create an environment that is informed by the opera’s story, which the orchestra plays within as a member of the cast, so to speak,” added Vulgamore.

There are seven entities in Philadelphia producing opera, including Center City Opera Theater, the Academy of Vocal Arts, and the Curtis Institute.

“We’re not territorial,” said Devan. “We want everyone to like opera. We have some capacities to help others do that. I think it’s kind of awesome that everyone wants to do opera.”

The opera will be conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director who has described the score as some of the best music written in the 20th century. It’s on his desert-island list.

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