Melanie Henley Heyn has been performing folk, classical and opera music since childhood and can be heard on the soundtrack of the cult television series, “Battlestar Galactica.” She received early training at the Manhattan School of Music, graduated from University of Southern California, and went on to earn triple master’s degrees at the Konservatorium Wien in Vienna, Austria.
She is currently appearing in the title role of Richard Strauss' "Salome," in a modern adaptation produced by Spoleto Festival USA.
Q: What does it feel like to be given this opportunity to perform Salome at Spoleto?
A: I am grateful to Spoleto for taking the risk with me as this is my first full-length opera performance. I am very excited to start.
Q: How did the role of Salome come about for you?
A: I was recommended by a friend, and I got an email from the directors (Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser) asking if I could audition for them. So I did, in Vienna, and flew to Berlin after, to audition for the conductor (Steven Sloane). I spent hours learning the rigorous final scene and got selected.
Q: How did you fit into this musically complex and physically challenging role?
A: I have to dig deeply into the music and the text. The role sits in a very high range and I have to sing slightly different, which is coloring my voice. There are also very low notes for Salome.
As I am not a dancer and am concerned about stamina. ... I work on maintaining my energy by eating well ... and exercising.
Q: The themes in “Salome” are complex. How do you feel about the acceptability of topics such as sexual awakening, seduction, murder and necrophilia among the Spoleto audience?
A: Opera has always been controversial and themes might not always be accepted. “Salome” carries a provocation to express human nature. But it is beautifully composed, the music is intense and the play inspired.
Q: This is Caurier and Leiser’s second staging of “Salome” at Spoleto (the first was in 1987). What has changed?
M: In their first production, the early-20th century war period served as the background for the opera. Today, we are watching a play about the dynamics of power and desire, which resonate just as much. It is still standard human emotions we are dealing with.
Q: Your musical career goes beyond opera to include a vast repertoire of chamber and folk music. Taking the example of your inventive recital, “Vienna to Hollywood,” can you talk about the impact of classical music as an art form in bringing about social awareness?
M: The role of art in general is to bring about awareness. With “Vienna to Hollywood,” my partner Diedre Brenner and I wanted to showcase the lives of the Jewish composers (who fled Vienna for Los Angeles on the eve of World War II) through music. It is important to share a perspective, and I feel it is easier to portray such perspectives through a recital than opera.