Park City’s Erin Voellinger, substitute clarinetist with the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera said performing in the Utah Opera’s "Salome" is
Park City's Erin Voellinger, substitute clarinetist with the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera said performing in the Utah Opera's "Salome" is fun and distracting in a good way. (Photo courtesy of Erin Voellinger)
The Utah Opera's production of Richard Strauss's "Salome" that runs through Sunday, Oct. 20, is not a traditional performance.

The story line is still about King Herod and his stepdaughter Salome, who is obsessed with John the Baptist, but there have been some adjustments.

First off, it's being presented in Salt Lake City's Abravanel Hall, not the Capitol Theatre, which is undergoing major renovations.

Secondly, there is no orchestra pit for the Utah Symphony. So the musicians, singers and sets are all set up on the same stage.

That provides some interesting dynamics, said Erin Voellinger, a Park City-based clarinetist who is performing with the symphony.

"I love playing opera and it's really fun, but when I can see what the actors and singers are doing on stage, it's very distracting," Voellinger said during an interview with The Park Record. "As a musician, I'm used to hearing what the singers are doing with their voices, and the inflections and sounds they create are inspiring, but when I get to see the action and what they're doing, I get caught up in it all."

The full orchestra is set up in the back of the stage and there is some overhead scenery hung on the track lines and battens above the musicians, Voellinger said.

"There's a giant moon that serves as the backdrop and the main scenery is set up close to the front of the stage," she said. "The pit where John the Baptist is imprisoned in is actually behind a black scrim that, when lit from the back, becomes transparent so the audience can see the singer."

King Herod's throne room is set up on the other side of the stage, so most of the action takes place center stage.

"We've been through a couple of run-throughs and it is pretty cool," Voellinger said.

Voellinger, who is playing with the symphony as a substitute clarinetist this season, was the organization's acting associate principal clarinet last year.

Utah Opera’s Marcy Stonikas, standing, plays the title role of Richard Strauss’ "Salome," who is obsessed with Jochanaan, also known
Utah Opera's Marcy Stonikas, standing, plays the title role of Richard Strauss' "Salome," who is obsessed with Jochanaan, also known as John the Baptist, portrayed by a bound Michael Chioldi. (Photo courtesy of the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera)

"My contract ended in August and my husband and I moved up here from Salt Lake," she said. "I'm continuing to play on a substitute basis, because this opera calls for four clarinets and they asked me to play."

The clarinetist first listened to "Salome" a couple of years ago in her car as she was driving down from Boise, where she is part of the Boise Philharmonic, to a Utah Symphony audition two years ago.

"For auditions, we play a list of solo excerpts and 'Salome' was on that list," Voellinger said. "I was already familiar with Strauss' music, and it was rather loud, big and had lots of soprano."

Unfortunately, the soprano was mixed too loudly, so Voellinger couldn't hear the instruments clearly, but after playing the piece during rehearsals the past few months, Voellinger learned the things she had missed.

"The orchestral part seems to paint a background and provides a setting of a sort," she said. "Strauss is good at that and it sounds like he threw in things that basically created a picture.

"The more I play it, the more I can hear how the different instruments work with each other," she said. "The clarinet line will flow into the flute line and the flute will flow into the piccolo line and it all interweaves together."

Voellinger's fascination with music began when she was growing up in Littleton, Colo.

"I remember being in kindergarten and first grade and not being able to read the hymnals in church," she said. "I thought it would be cool to read the music and wanted to do that so badly."

Voellinger's official music training started with her stepmother.

"I was in fourth grade and she started me on piano," Voellinger said. "She also played clarinet and, when I was in sixth grade, I had the chance to play in the band and asked to play clarinet."

Voellinger discovered she enjoyed the clarinet more than the piano.

"It's always fun when you're good at something," she said.

A member of the Boise Philharmonic, Voellinger continues to chase opportunities with her playing.

That's how she got involved with the Utah Symphony.

"I took a year off from Boise and my husband and I moved to Salt Lake," Voellinger said. "Last May, we knew we didn't want to live in Salt Lake, nor did we want to move back to Boise, so we moved to Park City."

Voellinger is thankful for the opportunity to play "Salome" with the Utah Symphony.

"The music is challenging and complex and, like I said, I love playing opera," she said.

The Utah Symphony/Utah Opera will perform "Salome" at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, through Sunday, Oct. 20. Tickets range from $18 to $95 and are available by calling (801) 355-ARTS or by visiting www.arttix.org.