Most of all he has been admired in such Wagner roles as Daland (Der fliegende Holländer), Gurnemanz and Titurel (Parsifal), King Marke (Tristan und Isolde), Fasolt and Fafner (Das Rheingold / Siegfried), Hunding (Die Walküre), and Hagen (Götterdämmerung). At the Bayreuth Festival he first appeared in 1976 as Titurel (Parsifal), and Hunding (Walküre) and Fasolt (Rheingold) in the Jahrhundertring (Centenary Ring) in 1976, celebrating the centenary of both the festival and the first performance of the complete cycle, conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Patrice Chéreau, recorded and filmed in 1979 and 1980. He continued until 1989 adding Fafner (Rheingold, Siegfried), Daland (Fliegender Holländer), King Mark (Tristan und Isolde), Heinrich (Lohengrin), Pogner (Meistersinger), Landgraf (Tannhäuser) and Hagen (Götterdämmerung) to his roles there. Other important roles are King Philip II (Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi), the Grand Inquisitor in the same work, Seneca in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, and the title roles of Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina. Salminen is also one of the most videotaped opera singers in history. At least three different performances as Hagen are available on DVD; also two performances as the Commendatore, and two as Daland. In his youth he earned money for voice lessons by singing Finnish tangos in night clubs. He first caught public eye as a lucky understudy in the role of King Phillip II, which he continues performing (pirated recordings exist from as recently as 2008).
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