Most great performers have a pre-performance ritual; tenor Richard Cassilly usually eats a pound of hamburger and a fried egg four hours before he goes on stage. It's easy to digest and gives him energy to perform. He's a heldentenor; "helden," literally meaning "hero" in German, refers to a singer who is "pretty strong, doesn't tire easily and is loud," according to Cassilly, who often performs in such title roles as Tannhau ser and Otello at the Met.

Next Saturday and Sunday, as a guest artist of the Theater Chamber Players in the Terrace Theater, Cassilly will tackle a different sort of role. He will, among other things, sing three unpublished songs by composer Kurt Weill, whose works include "The Threepenny Opera" and "Lady in the Dark."

The three songs are set to poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. All of them come from Rilke's "Das Stundenbuch" ("The Book of Hours"), in which the poet explores his relationship to God. Cassilly, a native of Maryland who is an alumnus of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, says the works are "very difficult" to perform, that it's "very heavy stuff."

Cassilly believes the public is growing more receptive to opera, partly because of "various educational programs in the schools." There are least 100 professional opera companies in the country now, he says, and "It's just the beginning."