Patricia Racette is excited. That, she admits, is not an unusual state for her.
Other sopranos spend much of their careers trying to produce and project pearly tones. They often tend to be reserved, if not placid, in interview situations, too. Racette, who takes on the archetypal agonies, and some might say, perverted ecstasies of Richard Strauss’ Salome at Ravinia this summer, isn’t much like her standard-brand colleagues.
Of course she sings beautifully, gently and gracefully when introspection is required. But she lets loose — some might say dangerously — when passion looms. “If I am a flawed singer,” she said, “I don’t care. At the end of the day I want to, need to, offer a piece of my heart and soul. I want to create a transporting experience.”
Given the soprano’s communicative proclivities, Racette and Salome should be compatible entities. James Conlon, mastermind and chief conductor at Ravinia, obviously thinks so. He persuaded Racette to undertake her first Salome as the festival celebrates Strauss’ 150th anniversary, in a concert performance of the opera Aug. 2, with Conlon leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Time and repetition in conventional opera houses will tell if Racette and Salome are a good match. She is optimistic. “I thrive on variety,” she says, “and this role is exciting, juicy. My voice loves the thrust of a challenge like this.”
The role’s uncommon demands do not intimidate her. “When my voice gets going,” she explains, “it likes to run — and run.” While she acknowledges that some observers may worry about the danger of overextension, she remains undeterred: “My motto has always been simple: know thyself.”
She did have reservations. “When I started working on the role, it felt yucky,” she admitted. Apparently, the yuckiness did not last.
She regards the Judean princess as “a little vixen,” yet insists that the character should not be calculating or vulgar. “She is not a monster, not a superwoman, not self-consciously debauched, cruel or vindictive,” she said. “To play her like that is one-sided, uninteresting. Salome is just a child, a teenager. Ultimately she is damaged goods, a victim of her horrendous surroundings.”
For the complete interview from Ravinia’s magazine, go to ravinia.org.
PHOTO: Patricia Racette in “Andrea Chenier” at the Metropolitan Opera last season. | Photo courtesy of the Met