Elisabet Strid has her work cut out for her, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. The Swedish soprano is currently in the throes of rehearsals for the forthcoming offering at the Israel Opera House in Tel Aviv. And it’s not any old production. The work in question is Richard Strauss’s Salome, with 10 shows lined up for January 8-24. Not an outing for the fainthearted, performers and audiences alike.
Strid says she is looking forward to the challenge. “I like having variety. When something new comes up it is really refreshing and wonderful.”
Challenges keep the singer on her toes, and keep her engaged and enthused as she crisscrosses the globe, to take part in productions of various ilks, at different venues and for different audiences. Her lead role in Salome is a case in point. For starters, this is Richard Strauss we are talking about. His expansive oeuvre spans a wide range of styles and genres, beginning in the Romantic Era and wending its way through more contemporary avenues of sonic endeavor, including atonal music. Some of the latter is woven into the fabric of Salome, which promises the Opera House audiences a roller coaster emotional ride, and a visually arresting experience.
Strid is not “just” a singer, she appears to be something of a dancer too. Her part in Salome features choreographed spot too. “No, I’m not really a dancer,” she notes deferentially. “This is just one of those things you have to get over, and let yourself go.” Modesty apart, the operatic profession often requires vocalists to shake a leg in an artistic and thespian fashion, and that applies to the part in question. When pressed, Strid eventually admitted to indulging in a degree of nimble hoofing and movement. “In general I am very active on the stage, and I like to put myself into roles and really live them for some hours.”
Besides the entertainment and creative added value, the Swede feels there are some curative benefits to be had. “It is a great feeling because, after you let yourself go with something like this, especially roles like Salome, you feel really like newborn afterwards. It takes away a lot of bad energy, and it just cleans you somehow. It is a peaceful feeling.” That, in Strid’s case, involves an introspective take. “I transform myself into the character I am making,” she states. “I really live the life of the character, for as long as the character lasts. I think to look too much from the outside, that’s not really helpful, because it can be very critical.” By that, the soprano means trying not to take too much of a clinical view of her level of performance on any given day. While she is conscious of the fact that she is on stage, and performing for an audience, she does her best to focus on her craft, while accepting the transient nature of her profession. “It’s always possible to do things better, and to improve, but I think, at the moment you step out on the stage, you just need to catch the moment and make the figure come alive, and to give all and everything.”
Strid has been doing her best to achieve that for two decades now.
Her interest in music started in childhood. “I’ve been singing all my life,” says the 42 year old. “I sang pop songs and folk songs in the kitchen. It was sort of mainstream. Then I got the chance to sing jazz and folk music, and also classical.” It was the latter discipline that really grabbed the young Strid. “When I sang classical music I thought, wow! this feels good.”
She promptly joined an amateur company which mostly performed at a basement venue in her small hometown. But any fantasies she may have had about strutting the boards at opera houses around the world were tempered by some sober parental guidance. “I wanted to continue with opera. But, when I was around 20 – I don’t have a professional musical family. They have other jobs. No one really believed that it would be an option for me, to become an opera singer. No one told me I couldn’t do that, but no one had the idea that it could be possible.”
So, young Strid got down to the business of getting herself a “normal” means of making a living. She qualified as a nurse, while keeping her operatic endeavor to her spare time, with evening spots at various places around town. However, the opera singer inside her could only be kept bottled up for so long and she subsequently studied singing at the Stockholm opera school, and took off from there.
She does not regret the time she spent getting her nursing degree and, indeed, says she incorporates some of the practical nursing experience she gained, at psychiatric hospitals, in her current line of work. “It is very helpful when you are creating some of these difficult [operatic] personalities.” That certainly comes into play in Salome. “It is a lot of help if you have seen these strange kinds of personalities. It is very helpful and I am very happy for those gifts. I have seen these completely crazy people in real life, and I have tried to speak with them and understand them. That was, of course, extremely difficult, because they were living in another world. But it is something I wish many artists should be in those situations. It brings a lot of understanding, when you have seen the body language of crazy people. It is interesting. It is not all and everything but it gives you something.”
That, coupled with the efforts of director Itay Tiran, set designer and costume designer Eran Atzmon and costume designer Orna Smorgonsky, along with the work of lighting designer Avi Yona Bueno and video designer Yoav Cohen, not to mention conductor Dan Ettinger and Strid’s fellow soloists should offer the Opera House audiences with an evening to remember.
Strid certainly feels that way.
“It’s really another kind of Salome that I performed before.” Her first outing in the Strauss opera was with the Leipzig Opera company. “It’s very exciting, here, in this production in Tel Aviv. It’s more about the power of Salome. Of course she has this family problem. She is abused, in one way or another, by her stepfather. This we know, but how she then reacts through a story about gaining power and creating a new world. This is very far away from how it was in my first production. I loved that too, but this is taking a step in another direction.”
Strid is happy to take the leap, and feels the effort could make waves. “You see a much bigger view of everything. I think this is a production that will be much spoken about. The director brings so much to this piece and he allows us to explore. I think this is a production that will be spoken about worldwide. I think it will be an unforgettable experience for everyone.”For tickets and more information: 03.692.7777 and www.israel-opera. co.il
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