Thursday, September 29, 2016


Listen to or read this downloadable podcast by General Director Aidan Lang. Hansel & Gretel comes to Seattle this fall in a compelling, whimsical, provocative production which should delight your eyes and ears and stimulate your imagination. French director Laurent Pelly’s contemporary interpretation of this famous German opera premiered at England’s Glyndebourne Festival in 2008, and has been a hit in a number of countries.

Hi, everyone, welcome to the podcast, this is Aidan Lang. Of course Hansel & Gretel is our opera up at the moment, so I’m going to be sharing some thoughts about this piece, a piece which I think has a lot more below than the surface than I think maybe we think from a cursory glance.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A trans story told through opera

As One offers music, story, and dialogue Nov. 11 – 19, 2016 at Washington Hall 

This fall, Seattleites can hear opera in a Central-District venue that once housed performances by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. But the location isn’t the only new thing about Seattle Opera’s As One, which will be presented in the historic Washington Hall. As One, a chamber opera with only two singers, tells the story of Hannah, a transwoman, and her journey to self-understanding. The opera is meant to be both an experience, and a vehicle for meaningful conversation.

Based in part on true events, As One offers a narrative that’s both specific, as well as universal.

“This beautiful, brave opera is about becoming whole – becoming true to one’s self,” said stage director L. Zane Jones, Artistic Director of Seattle's Civic Rep. “It is one woman’s journey to becoming her authentic self; a love story—an adventure—and finally, a celebration."

The newly-renovated Washington Hall. The hall has served as a popular performing arts venue, hosting musicians and speakers such as Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimi Hendrix, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Joe Louis. Many of these events were held at Washington Hall because it was the only venue of significant capacity in Seattle that would allow people of color to perform.
Seattle has never experienced opera in quite this way before. In As One, the grandeur of the company’s mainstage performances are stripped away in favor of a vulnerable, immediate approach. With a string quartet and singers performing in-the-round, the production puts the audience right in the heart of the action.

Award winning filmmaker and librettist Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons), and award winning librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night) created the powerful story for As One. Laura Kaminsky, a former chair of the music department at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, composed the piece, which premiered in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In this 90-minute opera, the single protagonist, Hannah, is portrayed by two singers—a baritone and a mezzo-soprano. Hannah before is sung by Jorell Williams, praised by The New York Times as “magnificent” and “rich toned.” Hannah after will be sung by Taylor Raven, a rising star currently in residency with Pittsburgh Opera.

Kimberly Reed is a filmmaker/librettist, whose personal journey of going from male to female served as inspiration for the opera "As One." Reed and Mark Campbell wrote the libretto for As One, which was composed by Laura Kaminsky.
Throughout the course of 15 songs, the audience will experience Hannah’s challenges growing up in a small town on the West coast, her quest for knowledge and understanding, and her discovery of the trans community. The opera embraces humor and heartbreaking realities within this personal narrative. While Hannah before is faced with violence, Hannah after names those who did not survive similar attacks. At the end of the opera, the protagonist finds peace, as well as her own self-acceptance and love, in rural Norway.

Prior to the performance, attendees can grab a drink from the in-house bar to enjoy during the performance. Afterward, audience members are invited to participate in a discussion on topics affecting the LGBTQ community.

Hannah before will be sung by baritone Jorell Williams, and Hannah after will be portrayed by Taylor Raven. 
Supported in part by The Wallace Foundation and Pride Foundation, As One reflects Seattle Opera’s commitment to creating a safe and welcoming space within the arts. Moving forward, the company’s work will reflect the diverse communities of the Pacific Northwest in terms of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and cultural/multicultural background. Seattle Opera is working to reduce barriers that have historically made the art form inaccessible to certain groups.

As One premieres Friday, Nov. 11, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 19. 

Tickets & info:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Opera’s Greatest Witches

Witches—be they sopranos, mezzos, contraltos, or (coming up in this fall’s Hansel & Gretel at Seattle Opera) tenors—bring intense drama and spectacular music to any number of great operas. Enjoy these memories of great witchy performances at Seattle Opera! If you’d like to listen to them all in one go, open our Witch Album over at SoundCloud and simply press play.

MACBETH: A Stage Full of Witches
Something wicked this way comes! When he set about transforming Shakespeare’s Macbeth into an Italian opera, Giuseppe Verdi multiplied Shakespeare’s three witches into a whole bevy of them, and then wrote them some spectacularly creepy music. The scene in the witches’ cavern becomes a huge production number as the witches brew their hell-broth and await the evil king. Seattle Opera’s 2006 production of Macbeth was conducted by Nicola Luisotti.

LOHENGRIN: Ortrud Invokes the Ancient Gods
In Wagner’s Lohengrin, wicked witch Ortrud transforms the young Christian prince Gottfried von Brabant into a swan with all the powers of hell.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Top 4 Most Impressive Sets

Whether they're realistic or fanciful, literal or abstract, naturalistic or architectural, sets are an important element in creating the world of a particular opera. Here are just a few of our favorite scenic designs from recent productions:

#1: Natural beauty in the Ring

Top Photo © Elise Bakketun | Left Photo © Elise Bakketun | Right Photo © Alan Abastro

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Top 4 Costumes

Opera transports the audience to worlds far away from the everyday, and costumes play a big role in creating that on-stage magic. Here are just a few of our favorite outfits from recent productions:

#1: The glam rock-inspired noblemen from Count Ory

© Jacob Lucas

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Praise for Count Ory

Seattle Opera presents The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory. Jacob Lucas photo
THE SEATTLE TIMES - Melinda Bargreen
Read: Count Ory bubbles with vibrant visuals, sensational singing

“Fast-paced and fun!”

“Frothy, fast-paced, and irresistibly funny: Count Ory may go down in history as Seattle Opera’s most uproarious season-opener ever. The opening weekend had opera patrons asking each other, ‘Why don’t companies produce this work more often?’”

“…[presented] with a tongue-in-cheek storybook ambiance that was met with wild enthusiasm in the audience.”

Sarah Coburn (Countess Adèle), Hanna Hipp (Isolier) and Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory). Philip Newton photo

“Australian stage director Lindy Hume kept the action continually on the boil, while Dan Potra’s ingenious designs provided an ever-changing set with elements that revolve, slide, open, and close constantly into new forms, all beautifully lighted by Duane Schuler…much to the delight of operagoers."

“The over-the-top costumes (which, like the set, were built by Seattle Opera) seem to draw inspiration from Liberace or Elton John, with a side of Monty Python: there are wild colors, frills and spangles, as well as codpieces in remarkable dimensions."

Patrick Carfizzi (The Tutor) with members of the Seattle Opera Chorus. Philip Newton photo
“All the entertaining visuals are the backdrop to some spectacular singing.”

“The ensemble work was terrific."

Giacomo Sagripanti’s conducting kept the fast-paced score galloping along, while attentively supporting the singers. A hearty ‘Bravi’ to his fleet-fingered orchestra.”

SEATTLE WEEKLY – Gavin Borchert
Read: Seattle Opera’s Spicy Comedy Is Second to Nun

“Dan Potra’s ingenious set design [is] full of smart visual play."

Sarah Coburn (Countess Adèle) with Hanna Hipp (Isolier) and members of the Seattle Opera chorus. Philip Newton photo
THE STRANGER – Rebecca Brown
Read: Giacomo Rossini’s Gender Fluid Count Ory Explores Lust and Sex at Seattle Opera

“Seattle Opera’s new production of Rossini’s final comic opera is about the fluidity of gender, how we often don’t look like who we are, the vicissitudes of lust, and the lengths people go to get in the sack with someone.”

“The sets and costumes make this production."

Barry Banks and members of the Seattle Opera Chorus. Jacob Lucas photo
“…terrific soprano Sarah Coburn…”

“Seattle Opera favorite tenor Lawrence Brownlee is hilarious as the Count, the hermit, and the female Ory disguises himself as in Act II.”

“In this world, where time can slip forward and back through the centuries and gender is only as fixed as the clothes you wear, everyone ends up in harmony together."

Hanna Hipp (Isolier) with sets by Dan Potra. Philip Newton photo
A Rollicking Night at the Opera

“At its best, opera should be total theater, not just first-rate singing and music but also top-notch acting, staging, and movement. By this or any other standard, Count Ory is a winner. From the opening moments to the rollicking closing scene, Ory is a nonstop hoot.”

“…so much frivolity and fun!”

“…the entire cast was in terrific voice.”

“Conductor Giacomo Sagripanti kept the orchestra going at sometimes-breakneck speed while everyone, onstage and off, seemed to be having the time of their lives."

Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory), center; Rodion Pogossov (left) and members of the Seattle Opera Chorus. Philip Newton photo

The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory
Aug. 6, 7, 10, 13, 17, 19, & 20, 2016
Tickets & info:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Count Ory: History of a Dirty Joke

Some Rossini comedies are G-rated. The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, and The Italian Girl in Algiers are great operas for little kids. (Enjoy music from our productions of these shows on SOUNDCLOUD.) Not only are those three full of zany humor; their music is extremely accessible to young people, full of catchy tunes, dazzling pyrotechnics, and—most importantly for young listeners—propulsive rhythms. These three operas also teach important lessons. The stories reward characters who display loyalty, perseverance, humility, and quick thinking, whereas characters who are bossy, cruel, selfish, or vain get punished by the great scourge of comedy: laughter. And in Rossini’s Italian comedies, all the characters—even the villains—always live happily ever after.

Count Ory marches to a different drumbeat. Written in French, this sex-obsessed opera really isn’t for little kids.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Creating costumes for Count Ory

This August, Seattle Opera presents The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory—a brand-new production that packs the punch of a Broadway musical with a nod to the humor and visual style of Monty Python. Australian Stage Director Lindy Hume and Production Designer Dan Potra have let their imaginations run wild in creating a mashup of medieval France and psychedelic, ‘70s flower power. You can see this zany combination in Potra's costume designs currently in progress below.

Photos by Genevieve Hathaway 
Costume Assistant Sophy Wong puts one of Dan Potra's designs on a mannequin. 
Two of Count Ory's looks -- the first as a nobleman with inspiration from 70s glam rock; the second , which  takes inspiration from new religious movements of the same time period, is his disguise as a love guru.  
Countess Adèle Act 1 and Act 2; Ragonde and Alice costumes.
Hume and Potra meditated on the similarities between medieval peasants and hippies. Thus, the show combines various cultural phenomenons of the 70s  (think Yellow Submarine, hippies, rock n' roll) with the French medieval setting envisioned by Rossini.
Two of Ory's minions: Isolier, the androgynous page (a trouser role played by a woman); and Raimbaud, Ory's crony. 
The knights and Tutor. 
Costumes for The Tutor, Isolier, and two looks for Raimbaud.
Waist details. 
Raimbaud details. 
Studs, leather, ruffles. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016


In this downloadable podcast, General Director Aidan Lang discusses The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory—coming to Seattle for the first time this summer, in a brand-new Seattle Opera production—with stage director and Rossini specialist Lindy Hume. Listen to Aidan, who’s British, and Lindy, who’s Australian, share their enthusiasm for this delightful and outrageous comedy—or read this transcription of what they had to say.

Hello, everyone, it’s Aidan Lang here. Normally I do these podcasts on my own, but it’s the first day of rehearsal, there’s a music call going on, so I took Lindy Hume, our wonderful director, out of rehearsal to join me here. Lindy, welcome to Seattle!

Thanks, Aidan! It’s great to be here.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Opera Auditions, Seen from Both Sides

Ksenia Popova, soprano, is a former Seattle Opera employee who co-founded our local Opera on Tap chapter and is now an Associate Artist at Opera San José. Aren Der Hacopian, Seattle Opera's Director of Artistic Administration, selects the singers who appear at McCaw Hall. 

How do you nail an opera audition? Today, we hear from two people who know a thing or two about how to do this. For them, auditions are simply a part of life — but they approach them from opposite directions. 

As a singer, Ksenia Popova is used to being in the "hot seat" or, more accurately, the "hot stand" as she performs with an accompanist on piano before an audience of adjudicators. (Though, as founder of Seattle's Opera on Tap, she's also been on the other side of the table). That's the side where Aren Der Hacopian, Seattle Opera's Director of Artistic Administration, usually sits. Aren listens to countless auditions in order to select the singers who star in our productions at McCaw Hall. 

As both soprano and arts administrator will tell you,  there's far more to auditioning than simply entering into a room to be judged. In fact, both singer and adjudicator may have more similar goals in that room than you'd think.    

What’s the first thing you look for in a singer?
Aren: I can't stress enough the importance of originality. Is this singer able to take us to our most basic, sensitive, emotional state — yet at the same time, deliver the highest form of artistic and vocal technique? It's not about perfection; it's about how they deliver their unique package of good and bad, strength and weakness, and how it all comes together. Does the singer know and love what they're doing? Do they have the confidence to make the character their own?

What are the first things you think about in order to pull off a successful audition?
Ksenia: Beyond preparing arias that I know completely forwards and backwards, the rest tends to be mental. It’s so easy to put too much pressure on yourself. Singers very rarely get to perform on the days where everything is 100 percent, so walking into an audition and giving the best representation of yourself is key. A good friend of mine taught me to think of it like dropping a business card: You go in, sing, now they know you. You might hear from them in a day, in a month, a few years down the road, or never and you just let it go.

How long does it usually take you to decide on a singer? 
Aren: Ninety-nine percent of the time, it takes 10-15 seconds for me to figure out if a singer interests me. I have learned to quickly grab on to what a singer can do with the limited time they're allowed to audition and/or perform. 

Typical audition room setup
How do you prepare for an audition?
Ksenia: You start thinking about it a week out. I’m notorious for not staying hydrated enough, so I start upping my water intake (I do the same for performancse). You avoid situations that might compromise your health: no loud bars, no staying out too late. A few days before I make sure whatever I plan on wearing is good to go  washed/steamed, and though I like to think I do this early, usually the night before I make sure my binder is arranged. Your audition binder contains all pieces that you’re ready to offer that day — and nothing more! I’ve been known to sometimes make an emergency copy store run to photocopy a new head shot or clean copy of an aria, but I try to avoid that.

Also, eating! Make sure you're not singing on an empty stomach.

Do singers get nervous when auditioning?
Aren: If singers don’t get nervous auditioning, it would be strange. It's not really what they are trained to do. And of course I'd prefer to see every potential new hire in performance at another opera company, but that simply isn't possible. Having said that, there are some singers who are much more comfortable auditioning than others. I've seen nervous singers who have great auditions, as well as bad auditions. As a former singer myself, I know that their job is indeed difficult  they may have working on their artistry for 10-15 years, but they only have 10-15 seconds to get my attention! Only 10-15 seconds to fight the stigma of their voice type, or a color they've been told is not pretty or not good enough. They have to get over all these thoughts in a strange room with bad acoustics and strangers sitting in front of them (who might be very hungry and tired after being in auditions all day). 

Do you get nervous when you audition?
More nervous than performances, but it's usually not too bad. Getting nerves before an audition usually depends on two things for me: 1.) how close my relationship is to who I’m singing for and 2.) how well I’ve mentally prepared myself. Surprisingly, I find it more nerve-wracking to sing for people I know well, as opposed to strangers.

How does an opera audition work?
Ksenia: There are many different forms but in the simplest terms: You are scheduled an audition (you’ve received the audition either through an artist manager, or you contacted the company or they contacted you). When you walk into your audition, you typically present a list of arias you’ve brought that day. Often 4-5 pieces, and you generally pick your first piece and the panel (often made up of the main casting personal — artistic director, general director, maybe a conductor) might ask for a second, maybe a third. Having been on the other side of the table and auditioned singers, I often know if I’m interested within seconds of the first piece. A second piece is usually to confirm my feelings about them, though it might be because I am looking for something I didn’t see in the first piece. As a singer, you can end up playing the guessing game of “what will they want to hear?” and try to analyze their decisions. I go back to only offer things that you 150 percent can rock. That way, you won’t be nervous about “that one piece” (because it doesn’t exist.)

Ksenia Popova says an audition can be like a guessing game of "what do they want to hear?"
How do you get an audition for Seattle Opera and what is it like?
Aren: Auditions are by invitation only, and often, we work with a singer's agent. We're friendly folks. It's pretty standard. The singer comes in and we all say hello. Usually, there's not much time for socializing, especially when you're auditioning over 30 singers that day. If they're auditioning for a specific role, they may sing that entire role. Usually, we like to hear something we're considering them for, as well as something we're not. That way, we can take note of their potential and level.

Opera companies plan their season several years in advance. Thus, if you are auditioning someone for a role they will perform in 2-3 years, what are the risks involved? 
Aren: So many things. Their emotional balance could change, as could their availability, vocal balance, and health (including allergies, food poisoning, other illnesses). Then of course, once they get here, they might not have good vocal chemistry with the rest of the cast or understand the concept of the stage director or conductor, which can lead to challenges. However, hopefully we have done a good job in casting, and most of the time, the final ensemble of singers and creative team mesh well, and a great production is created with wonderful performances. Condition of an artist's voice and performances are directly related to the condition of that singer's emotions and mind.

Name a time where you learned something that affects how you audition today. 

Ksenia: The biggest thing that I’ve learned with auditions is to walk in, give the best representation of you (throw down or “flip a table” as some of my colleagues and I say), then smile, say thank you, and forget about it. There have been times where I walked away thinking, “What even came out of my mouth right now?” and felt down about it, then realized that the auditions where I have felt unsure have been the auditions where I’ve gotten a job. The ones where I walked out feeling amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard back from. It’s best to get out of your head, do your job, and then move on.

How big a role does a person's physical appearance play in casting at Seattle Opera? There's been concern recently that our art form is beginning to cast more according to Broadway or Hollywood standards. 
Aren: There is some truth to this, simply because today, we have so many accomplished singers to choose from. Additionally, while we are indeed first a musical art form, theater is also part of who we are. If we have two different outstanding artists, we may select the one who is easiest to imagine as the character. Of course, your ability to embody a character has nothing to do with body shape or size, and really, interpretive ability is crucial. At the end of the day, you have to find a balance between many factors. Once again, it comes back to artists having that well balanced full package.

Ksenia Popova with fellow Opera on Tap Managing Divas: Kim Giordano and Melissa Plagemann.
Do you have any audition tips? 
Ksenia: Always sing/perform pieces that you are 150 percent comfortable with! There should never be a worry of “Will I have enough breath to get through this phrase?” or “Will I hit the high or low note?” Sometimes singers feel like they have to show off all the tricks or push themselves past what they really should be singing at this moment, and none of that is necessary. Also, be respectful to everyone along the way, from the first contact you have to the audition, to when you leave. The people in the building are the people you’re hoping to be working with someday, so be kind and professional. Finally, reward yourself afterwards, even if it’s a tiny treat (I personally like a martini, but whatever makes you smile). Auditions are hard, so be kind to yourself.

Other do's and don'ts?
Aren: Don’t sing something you don’t know well. Don’t be crazy! Sometimes singers come in and they have this crazy, nervous energy. Just calm down and find comfort upon entry point, whether it's an item in the room or a person, find something that will help you relax. Also, don't wear something that will upstage you. If you're going to wear a ballgown with diamonds, that's fine, but you're going to have to be more fabulous than that ballgown!

Ksenia Popova takes a bow with Christopher Bengochea in Tacoma Opera's Roméo et Juliette.
Ksenia: Do keep your binder, materials (head shot/resume/rep list), and yourself neat and tidy! No crazy fonts, spell check everything, and have a friend proofread for an extra set of eyes. Be kind to other singers in the Green Room, and generally keeping to yourself is always acceptable. There are audition spots in NYC like Nola that are notorious for the “smell of 50 years of depression and self-loathing” (I kid you not!). Everyone is stressed and packed into a small space. Don’t be the person chatting up everyone else or flashing around your resume. Just focus on yourself.

How do you decide what to sing – are you always auditioning for a specific role? 
Ksenia: If auditioning for a specific role, I often try to offer the main aria of that character. That said, sing what you sing best. There’s this idea in school that one must sing five arias in a variety of languages and styles, and once you’re out in the world, none of that matters. Some are Mozart singers and will have a list full of Mozart, others are made for Puccini. Find what makes you special and sell that.

What’s the strangest audition you’ve ever been a part of?
Ksenia: I once had an audition where instead of the casting director sitting mid-way in the room, he walked around me in a circle as I sang; definitely odd! I also once had a callback for Jerry Springer: The Opera, not a weird situation but most certainly very different callback music.

Aren: We were in New York and there was something going on with a pipe in the wall. We heard this loud sound that kept pounding to the rhythm of the aria that the singer was singing! I thought, "Well, that’s appropriate." Usually though, nothing funky really occurs. The worst is when you see a singer realizing that they are not having a good audition, and yet, they still have to go on. This happens to the best of them; even to people who've sung that aria 100 times. And of course, no one feels comfortable when the singer isn't feeling comfortable or performing well. I think singers forget that we want them to succeed. Singers can dwell on the fact that we are judging them, which we are but we're also in fact, cheering them on.

Aren Der Hacopian with singers from Seattle Opera's 2016 Flying Dutchman.