Nina Stemme: Becoming Salome
This month, Franz Welser-Möst leads The Cleveland Orchestra in a rare concert performance of Strauss’s Salome. In a recent break from her performances in Tosca at the Vienna State Opera, Nina Stemme discussed the challenge of performing as Salome in what will be her Carnegie Hall debut.
Given your recent performances, what is it like to return to the hypercharged character of Salome?
At the moment, I’m singing Tosca in Vienna for the first time in 14 years! Floria Tosca is also a pretty charged character. The biggest difference between the two ladies is that Salome grew up in a very dysfunctional family, which definitely shaped her personality. She doesn’t take “No!” for an answer— she has no limits or ethical rules. Salome lacks empathy until the final scene where she—too late—discovers what love could have been and what it means to her. For me, it is totally fascinating to enter the character of Salome through this fantastic music.
What is it about Salome that most intrigues you?
I think it is the way she—totally unlike anybody I know—is ready to literally walk over corpses in order to have her way. It is also the teenage revolution against her parents that is also totally different from what I did at that age. I quite enjoy singing this nasty Salome because she can’t really help that she turned out this way.
As a singer, how do you adjust your performance for a concert environment versus a staged opera?
Regardless of the setting, I always try to sing as convincingly as possible. In a concert situation, I can hear the colors of the instrumentation clearer than from the opera stage. This helps my coloring of the voice, whether it happens intuitively or not.
Performing the role of Salome is quite a way to make a Carnegie Hall debut. What does this mean for you?
This is so great and very exciting! I have sung far too little in New York, partly because I have three children in Stockholm. To make my debut with this role—a core role in my repertoire—feels just right and very demanding, but I am definitely in good hands.
You have had a lot of experience working with Franz Welser-Möst. In the opinion of a singer, what is most admirable about him?
Franz is one of the best conductors of our time for singers. In the opera house, he always has his ears and eyes on the stage and on the singers. He lets you use your instrument as it is, and he lets singers and musicians in the orchestra phrase together—he trusts our musicality. At the same time, he knows exactly where to take over and where he is really needed. He inspires me to search for and find new and more colors in my voice.
There so many great dramatic sopranos who hail from Sweden, all who have impressive vocal strength without sacrificing musical beauty. Is there a national tradition?
This is a question I get asked very often. I wish I had the answer. We do have a long tradition of Wagner and Strauss singers, especially sopranos. Maybe it is, apart from successful vocal training, a result of us living so close to nature. We can stand the pressure that this repertoire puts on us—physically and psychologically.
Thursday, May 24 at 8 PM | Stern/Perelman
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