Joseph Gaines' take on San Giovanni Battista

We asked our friend and fantastic tenor, Joseph Gaines, to give us a little taste and summary of his view on our March 30 piece San Giovanni Battista. This Houston premiere will be featuring him alongside countertenor Jay Carter, soprano Sherezade Panthanki, bass-baritone Sam Handley, soprano Sydney Anderson, and tenor Alex Scheuermann.

“As a singer for whom standard operatic roles are my bread and butter in any given year, I am (and certainly any opera fans out there will undoubtedly be, too) pretty familiar with Richard Strauss' wild and bloody treatment of this same story, SALOME.  

In fact, I made my debut as a soloist with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2014 performing the Third Jew in that crazy masterpiece, conducted by Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, both that Orchestra's music director and also now the newly-appointed Music Director of The Metropolitan Opera.

Anyway, the source material for each are quite different -- Stradella's is clearly biblical, while Strauss' take was adapted directly from a play by the inimitable Oscar Wilde.  In writing the play, Wilde was drawn to the more-than-a-little-insane mix of piety and aristocracy, prophecy and murder.  Strauss' operatic adaptation, too, is capped is by an ending worthy of "American Horror Story" that still manages to shock audiences well over a century after its controversial world premiere in Dresden in 1905.  

This 1675 work by Stradella, however, puts things clearly in a more sympathetic light towards John the Baptist. That makes total sense, given that this piece is an oratorio in the truest sense of the word -- an unstaged opera on a religious theme, and meant to be performed in a sacred space -- rather than a deranged thriller of a play whose inherent madness is made all the more fully terrifying once it was set to music.

Stradella also wraps things up with a bit of subtle cognitive dissonance, with Herod at the end wondering why, if everyone around him is celebrating, does he still feel so disturbed?  For the listeners, it's less of Strauss' murder-y shock-and-awe, and more of a lingering, deep-seated sense that something is deeply wrong with what has just happened.

Do I like one more than the other? Nah, it's totally an apples and oranges comparison.  Both, though, are gorgeous, and both are super fun to play and sing. And I'm so happy to have a shot at bringing this gem of a baroque rarity to life with my friends at Ars Lyrica!  Can't wait!” - Joseph Gaines

San Giovanni Battista will be performed on March 30, 2019 at 7:30 pm. The concert will take place at The Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall. Don’t miss this Houston Premiere!

Tickets available online at or by phone at (713) 315-2525