Thursday, July 20, 2017

Our Kate Pinkerton tells a story of Japanese American injustice

Sarah Mattox. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway 

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox plays Kate Pinkerton in Seattle Opera's upcoming Madame Butterfly Aug. 5-19. But she's also a composer and co-librettist of Heart Mountain, the opera, based on the journal of the late Kara Kondo recently directed by Dan Wallace Miller and conducted by Stephen Stubbs
By Lauren Brigolin 

When mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox takes the stage in Madame Butterfly this August it will be in the role of Kate Pinkerton—wife of the good-for-nothing B.F. Pinkerton who sees his own American culture as superior to Puccini’s Japanese heroine.

“My first thought is, ‘Oh no, I end up with Pinkerton? What a horrible person!’ I’ve always really, really liked the singers who play Pinkerton but, wow the character,” Mattox says.

While offering some of the most beloved music in all of opera, Madame Butterfly tells a harsh tale: A young Japanese woman Cio-Cio-San thinks she’s marrying the man of her dreams—and meanwhile, he (Pinkerton) is toasting to the day he marries “a real American bride.”

Butterfly is a work of fiction. But the fact that westerners hurt people of Japanese ancestry through cultural imperialism, for example, is real. Anti-Japanese attitudes in the early 20th century had devastating consequences—including the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Years later, the U.S. Government would deem this forced removal of 120,000 people as the result of “racism, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

It’s this very injustice that’s motivated Mattox. Ironically, her character is married to an oppressor of Japanese people in Butterfly. But in her work outside of Seattle Opera, the opera singer (also a composer and librettist) has used her artistic medium to elevate one Japanese American woman’s story.

Kara Kondo
Kara Kondo (1916 - 2005)Photo: Gordon King from Yakima Herald Republic file.

On June 6, 1942, Kara Matsushita Kondo was removed from her long-time home along with 1,300 other Japanese Americans who lived in Yakima Valley. Kondo kept a journal during her time living behind barbed wire, and it was her words that would inspire Mattox’s opera.

In 2012, the chamber music ensemble that Mattox performs with, TangleTown Trio, was hired by Yakima Valley Museum for a special performance. Prior to the event, the trio worked with event coordinators to decide on programming. The coordinators hired the group based on Mattox's song cycle, “Rumpelstiltskin and the Falcon King” but it was only half an hour, when they wanted a 45-minute concert.

Sarah Mattox's opera "Heart Mountain" show poster
Show poster for "Heart Mountain" from the Vespertine Opera Theater.
“I said, ‘well, you are a history museum. Can I write something on your local history?’”

The people at the museum loved the idea. To help her get started, they sent the opera artist information from museum displays, including material from the “Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers in the Yakima Valley.” This exhibit chronicled the forced relocation of Japanese families to Heart Mountain, Wyoming in 1942, and their re-emergence as a community in the Yakima Valley after World War II.

Out of everything that the museum had sent, Mattox realized that the words that were inspiring her all came from the same source.

"There are just certain lines that speak in a poetic way that leap on your face and won’t let go,” she says. “I kept reading them and all the ones that leapt out and grabbed me said, ‘from the journal of Kara Kondo.’”

Mattox had a clear mission: obtain a copy of that journal.

Kondo passed away in 2005 at the age of 89. But the museum was able to help Mattox contact her daughter, Elaine Kondo-McEwan. McEwan had just finished typing up her mom’s journal as a Christmas gift for her family and was able to provide Mattox with a PDF version.

“It was two in the afternoon when I opened it up and I started reading and it got dark without me even noticing. It was just absorbing,” Mattox says.

The journal included various scenes from Kondo’s life she had written down, as well as some poetry, which Mattox incorporated into the libretto.

While she had originally only needed to compose 15 minutes of music, it soon became clear that Kondo's journal represented a much longer, more involved project. Mattox premiered two arias at the museum to an audience that included those who had known and loved the late Kondo. Several scenes were premiered at the 2014 John Duffy Composers Institute, where Mattox was selected as a Composition Fellow.

The final, two-hour opera focuses on Kondo, her sisters, and the profound effect that living behind barbed wire had on their lives. During her creative process, Mattox also reached out to the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League and other local Japanese American organizations because, she says, “it’s their story.” Additionally, two soloists featured in Mattox's production were granddaughters of Heart Mountain incarcerees.

Operas are known for being long. But if one could see an opera written down, he or she might think they’re short. (It can take many seconds to sustain a single note with the drama, flair and skill of a professional opera singer!).

“The most important part of writing an effective libretto is in cutting it down to its barest essentials. So it can work in an uncluttered way onstage,” Mattox says.

Heart Mountain went through multiple rounds of edits. Mattox continued to refine the piece following two staged performances directed by Dan Wallace Miller and conducted by Stephen Stubbs for Vespertine Opera Theater in partnership with the Yakima Valley Museum. Seeing audience members moved by Kondo’s story made Mattox happy.

It can be difficult to wrap one's brain around the injustice of 120,000 people being wrongfully imprisoned by the United States Government. But Kondo (whom Mattox credits as the co-librettist of the opera) has a way of making this painful topic accessible to everyone.

"The power of Kara Kondo’s writing lies in her ability to share this overwhelming story in small, intimate scenes ... It’s a rare talent, and she used it beautifully, inviting the listener to become a part of her story.”

Heart Mountain Relocation Center Plaque
Heart Mountain Relocation Center Memorial Park plaque in  Park County, Wyoming.
Mattox is still working on re-writes of Heart Mountain and hopes to mount a larger performance after a few tweaks. But before her work takes the stage again, the mezzo-soprano is looking forward to performing at McCaw Hall. While she will sing the role of Kate Pinkerton this time, Mattox has more frequently performed as Suzuki, Butterfly’s faithful servant (and in fact, she's covering the role for this upcoming production).  

Suzuki is a character who truly gets what’s going on, even while Cio-Cio-San fails to realize that Pinkerton doesn’t intend on staying committed to her. Getting to play Suzuki has made Mattox more empathetic and aware of marginalized people—because through Pinkerton, one sees how ugly and hurtful American cultural dominance can be. Butterfly offers a lot to think about in that way, she says.

“I hope people can come to a better understanding of multiculturalism. I hope each audience member can embrace that other cultures are just as deserving of respect as their own.”

Heart Mountain, the 124-acre Japanese Internment Camp that was used in 1942.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 8 Reasons to attend Summer Fest

By Lauren Brigolin

Seattle Opera’s Summer Fest not only kicks off a new season of fantastic performances, it's a celebration for kids of all ages. With live music, amazing costumes to see up-close, loads of activities, (and a remote-controlled swan?!), don't resist the charm of Seattle Opera's free event. Give in to the fun. Here are 8 reasons to add Summer Fest (noon - 3 p.m. on July 15, McCaw Hall) to your calendar!   

1. FREE event! 
Need I say more?
Young guests at Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Young visitors to Seattle Opera’s Summer Fest enjoy the remote-controlled swan from Lohengrin. Photo by Philip Newton. 
2. Summer Fest is for everyone
Kids. Parents. Grandparents, it’s a day of play! Plus, parking is super close.

3. Perfect setting to give opera an "adventure bite." 
Never seen an opera? Not sure if you'll like it? That's the beauty of Summer Fest. You get to hear excerpts from Seattle Opera’s entire season! Live! And trust me, there's something supremely magical about experiencing opera up close that you just can't get during a formal performance.

Soprano Serena Edujee
Soprano Serena Eduljee gets ready to sing at last year’s Summer Fest. Photo by Philip Newton.
4. You can still sleep in that morning. 
Yes, July 15 is a Saturday. However, festivities start at noon and go until 3 p.m. so no worries about hitting the snooze button first. (Also, you can come and go as you please) 

5. You get to do stuff.  
Besides making opera's acquaintance, you can make masks, learn how to fold origami, and learn some street art techniques from Mike Wagner.

Cheryse McLeod Lewis, Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Cheryse McLeod Lewis, member of the Seattle Opera Chorus, and family. Photo by Philip Newton.
6. It's not long. Or serious. 
After all, Jet City Improv will perform a version of the entire opera season in one performance, and that’s no laughing matter.
Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Photo by Philip Newton.
7. It's not all about opera.
Experience the magic of seeing Seattle Kokon Taiko when they perform on their incredible Japanese drums. There's also award-winning guitarist Andre Feriante and flamenco dancing, too!

8. In addition to awesome music, you'll have lots to look at. 
Check out displays of Seattle Opera costumes and try your hand at costuming an opera character.

Seattle Opera's Summer Fest 2016
Monte Jacobson, Chloe, and other attendees enjoy Summer Fest 2016.  Photo by Philip Newton.

Crowd at Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Photo by Philip Newton.

Girl playing a trumpet at Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Photo by Philip Newton.

Stage at Seattle Opera's Summer Fest
Photo by Philip Newton.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Listen to or read this downloadable podcast by General Director Aidan Lang. Puccini’s powerful Madame Butterfly returns to Seattle this August (eight performances, August 5-19). Aidan considers Madame Butterfly Puccini’s greatest tragedy and, in this podcast, explains both its human story and its anti-imperialist indictment of the politics of colonialism.

Hello, everyone! This is Aidan Lang, and here I am again to talk about our summer opera, which is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly is, according to those lists of ‘most-performed operas,’ always in the top three most-performed operas in any given year around the world. That’s perfectly understandable: it has everything on the surface which an opera needs. It has romance, it has tragedy, it has incredibly beautiful music, and it’s normally depicted in a very attractive, visually appealing fashion.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Melanie Ross takes her final bow at Seattle Opera

Melanie Ross. Photo by Alan Alabastro
By Melanie Ross 
Director of Artistic Operations & Season Planning

At the end of this month I will retire from Seattle Opera as an employee.

When I told Aidan last fall this would be my last season with the company, I knew this next step in my life would be daunting. After all, I have worked here my entire adult life for three General Directors, including my father Glynn Ross, the founding General Director. I even met my husband, Tim Buck, here. So I will be setting aside a very large piece of myself—one that is familiar and comfortable.

Working at Seattle Opera wasn’t pre-planned. One day my dad asked me to come in to the office to help translate Italian scenery plans. When I had an hour or so to kill before Dad was ready to go home, the Administrative Director asked me to type some envelopes, but I couldn’t finish by the end of the day so I came back next day. A week later it was mimeographing, ugh. And so it continued. I was very aware of being the boss’s daughter and worked my tail off. Each day there was a job for me—at the front desk answering phones, helping to reconcile numbers, transporting miniature donkeys in my Ford Falcon (no joke!)—I was your basic go-to assistant. Eventually I settled in Production. 

Producing opera is an intense and joyous business, and certainly my passion is in this company along with much of my identity. The memories I’ve made show by show, success by success, with some conflict thrown in to keep us real, make it seem inconceivable to leave. But as I move on, forever embedded in my soul is the community of colleagues, performers, advisors, donors and audience members with whom I have worked and collaborated far and wide. Each and every one has taught me something, challenged me with a task, trusted me, offered me an opportunity and definitely shared in the triumphs and (the few) misadventures. Many have become lifelong friends.

This company, and every one of you, have given me a rich and exciting life. Thank you for your generosity of spirit, thank you for your support, thank you for a million things, for everything. You are too wonderful and I am forever grateful.

I know I will stay in touch with many of you or see you at future performances of the opera.

Gratefully and faithfully yours,

Melanie Ross

Melanie Ross with each of Seattle Opera's General Directors, beginning with her father. From right: Melanie's mother, Angelamaria “Gio” Solimene Ross, Glynn Ross, and Melanie. 
Melanie Ross and Former General Director Speight Jenkins. 
Melanie Ross and General Director Aidan Lang. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Asian American partners inspire new understanding of Madame Butterfly

Panelists for Seattle Opera's upcoming panel: "Asian American Arts Leaders Respond to Madame Butterfly" include (clockwise from top, left): The Shanghai Pearl, Matthew Ozawa, Angel Alviar-Langley, Karl Reyes, Roger Tang, LeiLani Nishime, Frank Abe, moderator, and Kathy Hsieh
With stylized sets inspired by Japanese theater and lush, colorful kimono worn by singers, Seattle Opera’s grand production of Madame Butterfly coming this August may seem like business-as-usual. But there’s a dramatic difference that sets this Butterfly apart: the broader conversation taking place on cultural appropriation, yellowface, and Asian American representation. While certainly not new to many Asian and Pacific Islanders, these conversations have permeated the Puget Sound theater scene for the past several years following a production of The Mikado that made national news. 

In many ways, this dialogue is a direct challenge to how opera has been done in the past—especially an opera like Madame Butterfly, where Asian characters are frequently portrayed by white performers. (Seattle Opera’s production will not attempt to change a given singer’s race through wig or makeup). As seen by The Metropolitan Opera’s 2015 decision to drop the use of blackface in its Otello and other events, the opera world is just beginning to reevaluate its tradition of color-blind casting and starting to have more conversations about how the art form is changing. Considering General Director Aidan Lang’s vision of serving the diverse people of Washington State, Seattle Opera will not shy away from critical voices in the community,

Seattle Opera presents Madame Butterfly Aug. 5-19, 2017. Unlike how the opera has traditionally been presented, the company will not attempt to change a given singer's race with wigs or makeup. Neil Mackenzie photo
“We have work to do in order to become a company that truly stands for racial equity,” Lang said. “Ultimately, we aim to preserve the awe-inspiring universal qualities of our art, while changing Eurocentric inequities. We know from our community-engagement works such as As One, a transgender story, and An American Dream, depicting the incarceration of Japanese Americans, that opera has the power to serve diverse groups. It’s our responsibility to help make it happen.”

In an attempt to listen and learn surrounding Butterfly (August 5-19), Seattle Opera has organized three community-engagement events, including performances of the opera An American Dream, and two panels featuring exclusively Asian American artists and leaders. In addition, during the performance run of Butterfly, large-scale lobby exhibits will provide greater context for what the audience member is about to see. The viewer will learn about Puccini’s intentional criticism of American imperialism, and rampant anti-Japanese attitudes in the early 20th century when he was composing. Such attitudes would continue to have devastating consequences for people of Japanese ancestry, including the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, which is where An American Dream picks up.

Seattle Opera will pair  Madame Butterfly with its community-engagement opera An American Dream to provide a more complete picture on how cultural imperialism and anti-Japanese attitudes in the West would impact people of Japanese ancestry well into the 20th century and beyond. Philip Newton photo
In a heartbreaking tale of cultural imperialism, Butterfly depicts a trusting Japanese maiden who is abandoned by a reckless American naval officer. Four internationally acclaimed artists make company debuts in this exciting production. They include: Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian and Japanese soprano Yasko Sato (also her U.S. debut) as Cio-Cio-San, with Russian tenor Alexey Dolgov and American tenor Dominick Chenes as Pinkerton. (Alexia Voulgaridou, who was originally scheduled to sing Cio-Cio-San, is now expecting her first child and has withdrawn). Returning artists for Butterfly include Weston Hurt (Sharpless), Renée Rapier (Suzuki), Sarah Mattox (Kate Pinkerton), Rodell Rosel (Goro), Ryan Bede (Prince Yamadori), and Daniel Sumegi (The Bonze). Carlo Montanaro returns to conduct, and director Kate Cherry makes her Seattle Opera debut with a production hailed as “sublime, visually fantastic, must-see” (

An American Dream composed by Jack Perla with libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo returns in fall 2017 as part of the company’s community-engagement work to introduce opera to new audiences. Presenting partners include Densho and Seattle’s Japanese American Citizens League chapter, who, through post-show discussions, will help take attendees deeper into the civil-rights implications of this story and its themes of wartime hysteria, racism, and xenophobia. Inspired by true stories from Puget Sound’s history, Dream depicts two intersecting narratives during World War II: a Japanese American family facing incarceration, and a German Jewish immigrant preoccupied by those she left behind. Details regarding the performance will be announced on in the coming weeks.

Seattle JACL and Seattle Opera are partnering together for An American Dream, a community-engagement opera depicting the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. 
The other activities surrounding Butterfly include two panels. The first, “Asian Arts Leaders Respond to Madame Butterfly” on July 9 at SIFF Cinema Uptown 2, is moderated by Frank Abe, co-founder of Seattle’s Asian American Journalists Association. Angel Alviar-Langley, a queer Filipina American street-styles dancer, will perform and also serve on the panel, which will include Kathy Hsieh, a celebrated actor and arts leader; LeiLani Nishime, an Associate Professor of Communication whose research focuses on Asian American representation among other topics; Matthew Ozawa, opera stage director; The Shanghai Pearl, internationally-beloved burlesque artist; Roger Tang, the “Godfather of Asian American theatre” (A. Magazine); and Karl Reyes, a frequent performer in Seattle Opera mainstage productions, as well as a longtime member of the Seattle Opera Chorus. 

Later in the month, “Reversing the Madame Butterfly Effect: Asian American Women Reinvent Themselves Onstage” will take place on July 28 at Cornish Playhouse Studio Theatre. The evening will include three short plays by Asian American women playwrights as well as conversations on reclaiming Asian female representation in art and entertainment. The event is curated by Kathy Hsieh and presented in partnership with SIS Productions.

Celebrated Seattle actor and arts leader Kathy Hsieh will serve as both a panelist on July 9 and is curating "Asian American Women Reinvent Themselves Onstage" on July 28. 
Of course, these plans are simply a start toward greater equity and inclusion, and creating a more welcoming environment for everyone to be able to experience opera. 

“I can’t speak for all people of Japanese or API ancestry—some of whom love opera and love Madame Butterfly,” said Sarah Baker, President of Seattle’s Japanese American Citizens League. “But I can say that Butterfly is frequently a hurtful and problematic work to many in our community. Seattle JACL hopes you will let your voice be heard at Seattle Opera’s panel discussions. Let’s help create a better future for the arts. Ultimately, Asian Americans and all people of color need to see our own narratives onstage, brought to life by performers, storytellers, and directors who include people from our own communities.”

Monday, May 15, 2017

Praise for The Magic Flute

Nian Wang, Jacqueline Piccolino, and Jenni Bank (Three Ladies) with Andrew Stenson (Tamino). Philip Newton photo
"Mozart would have loved it (Seattle Opera's production of The Magic Flute)."
- Bachtrack 

"A brilliant collaboration between the forces of design, direction and music."

"Colorful, imaginative, fun, thoroughly delightful, not to be missed."
- Seattle Gay News

"Zandra Rhodes’ colorful, imaginative costumes light up the stage." 
- City Arts 

"There’s a new conductor in the orchestra pit — the excellent Julia Jones, in her company debut — who gracefully supports the singers while crisply illuminating the score with all of its humor and pathos." - The Seattle Times

Christina Poulitsi (Queen of the Night). Philip Newton photo
"It’s always exciting when the Queen of the Night steps forward for her two killer arias, and Christina Poulitsi proved more than capable of Mozart’s stratospheric vocal challenges. She sang with uncanny power and accuracy right up to the high F’s, which were stunningly good; Poulitsi also is a powerful actress who knows how to use her voice as a weapon." - The Seattle Times

"Adorable animals! Equally adorable children with green hair! A queen clothed in the night sky! Three Spirits riding around on scooters and wearing curly orange wigs, shiny silver shorts, and winged high-top sneakers! Temple guards in iridescent disco armor! A blue meanie who can dance! What could be better?"- Seattle Gay News

Rhino designed by Zandra Rhodes. Philip Newton photo
"The 2011 production sparkles even more this time around thanks to a few minor changes by director Chris Alexander, the hilarious updating of several captions by Jonathan Dean and the crisp conducting of Julia Jones." - Seattle P.I. 

"Jonathan Dean’s wonderfully colloquial projected captions have a few witty new twists." 
- The Seattle Times

"Kudos to all who collaborated to create the fabulous menagerie of animals, a sheer delight to see."

Isabel Woods, Johanna Mergener, and Emili Rice (The Three Spirits). Philip Newton photo
"Local young artists, many of whom have participated in Seattle Opera’s education and community engagement programs, were cast as The Three Spirits and Papageno and Papagena’s children. The Three Spirits, played by Johanna Mergener, Emili Rice and Isabel Woods are quite skilled, in their roles and absolutely delightful as they ride on kick scooters and sprinkle glitter on the principles. The younger children playing Papageno and Papagena’s 'chicks' are simply adorable." - UW Daily News 

"Andrew Stenson, already a veteran of such SO productions as The Daughter of the Regiment and Orphée, brought a sweet presence to the role of Tamino. His commitment projected Tamino's principled resolve winningly, both vocally and in his characterization." - Bachtrack 

"Lauren Snouffer proved the ideal Pamina: crystal clear voice, consistent from top to bottom and completely at ease, even fearless, in the high notes." - Bachtrack 
Lauren Snouffer (Pamina). 
"John Moore demonstrated his ability to be equally comfortable as the lovable Papageno as he was in his Seattle debut role of Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. His voice was vigorous, and his uninhibited characterization was engaging. Amanda Opuszynski sparkled as Moore’s feminine fantasy partner, Papagena. Her ringing tones balanced Moore’s robust sound, and their chemistry together was indeed magical." - Bachtrack 

"Craig Verm’s Papageno (was) a particular delight."- Seattle P.I. 

"At the other end of the sonic spectrum, the resonant, resounding bass Ante Jerkunica made Sarastro’s arias among the production’s high points."
- The Seattle Times
Randall Bills (Tamino) and Amanda Forsythe (Pamina). Philip Newton photo
"Taking over on Sunday were Randall Bills, a first-rate tenor who illuminated Tamino’s nobility and ardor, and Amanda Forsythe, a Pamina of lyrical delicacy and vocal subtlety. Craig Verm was an adroitly funny and vocally nimble Papageno." - The Seattle Times

"The visual team of set designers Robert Dahlstrom and Robert Schaub, lighting designer Duane Schuler, and costumer Zandra Rhodes create a wondrous Technicolor world full of fancy and glitz."
Seattle P.I. 

"In the relatively small role of Monostatos (the blue meanie), Rodell Rosel commanded the audience's attention whenever he appeared, cavorting and dancing around the stage with villainous glee. What a performer!" - Seattle Gay News
Rodell Rosel (Monostatos). Jacob Lucas photo
"The Three Ladies (Jacqueline Piccolino, Nian Wang, and Jenni Blank) were sly and sexy, and sang with exquisite harmony."- Seattle Gay News

"All this adds to the great group of singing actors gathered together by Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang, who has a worldwide knowledge of singers to draw on. For this he has picked not only international stars...but also graduates of Seattle Opera’s Young Artists’ program...Lang has an unerring ear for matching the right voices to the opera, and makes sure all voices in a production are of equal merit for what they are singing. " - City Arts 

Amanda Opuszynski (Papageno), John Moore (Papageno) and their baby chicks. Philip Newton photo

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs comes to Seattle Opera in 2019

Co-commissioned by:
Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera,
with support from Cal Performances

A new artistic collaboration between Seattle Opera and three partner organizations will result in a world-premiere inspired by the late Steve Jobs, visionary co-founder of Apple and Pixar. The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs will first play at Santa Fe Opera in July 2017 before coming to Seattle Opera for its west coast premiere during the 2018/19 season.

This highly-anticipated performance represents a new direction for Seattle Opera, with many collaborations planned for the next two years. Partnerships between artists and multiple opera companies allow for the creation of the same beloved art but in a way that’s more financially sustainable. From grand opera at McCaw Hall to chamber pieces performed in the community, Seattle Opera will continue to be involved in projects that push the art form to new heights, and in new directions said Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang.

(R)evolution tells the story of a man who was brilliant, yet unknowable as he led a cultural transformation in the digital age,” Lang said. “It’s an honor for us to be working with Santa Fe Opera and San Francisco Opera to create a work that illuminates a side of Steve Jobs we’ve never seen before.”

Jobs led a binary life — magnetic and unapproachable, empathetic and cruel, meditative and restless. He helped people connect all while building a firewall around his own emotions.

“(Composer) Mason Bates’ new opera is a deeply layered, moving portrayal of a man grappling with the complex priorities of life, family, and work,” said San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock. “Like all great operas, I have been so impressed by how it speaks to the universality of the human condition. This is not just an opera about one man. It is an opera about all of us.”

The story takes off at a critical moment in the CEO’s life and circles back to examine the people and experiences that shaped him the most: his father’s mentorship, his devotion to Buddhism, his relationships, his rise and fall as a mogul, and finally his marriage to Laurene Jobs, who showed him the power of human connection.

Making his Seattle Opera debut is composer Mason Bates, a master at combining traditional symphony orchestra with electronic sounds. Joining Bates on the creative team are several Seattle veterans: Librettist Mark Campbell, of the famous Silent Night, who made his Seattle Opera debut with As One (2016), and Kevin Newbury, director of stage and screen who returns following Mary Stuart (2016).

In the spirit of Jobs’ innovation in the tech industry, this production promises to push boundaries. Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, the production’s scenic designer, says the products and experiences that Jobs dreamed up defied expectations and provided a sense of wonder.

“Capturing that sense of wonder is very important to us in this production," said Tzykun, who made her Seattle Opera debut with Semele (2015). “In order to provide that for modern audiences, we are harnessing cutting-edge technology, and fusing it with traditional stagecraft in a way that will create a world that has not yet been seen on an operatic stage.”

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Music by Mason Bates
Libretto by Mark Campbell
In English with English captions
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
Performance dates TBA; 2018/19 Season

Premiere: July 22, 2017 at Santa Fe Opera
Seattle Opera Premiere

Commissioned by Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and San Francisco Opera with support from Cal Performances. Co-production with Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, and The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Creative Team:
Director Kevin Newbury
Scenic Design Victoria “Vita” Tzykun
Costume Design Paul Carey*
Lighting Design Japhy Weideman*
Video Design 59 Productions*

* Company Debut

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Listen to or read this downloadable podcast by General Director Aidan Lang. Mozart's beloved Magic Flute returns to Seattle this May (nine performances through May 21). Aidan explains the powerful appeal of this great masterpiece and the difference between good and great productions of The Magic Flute.

Hi, everyone! It’s Aidan Lang here, and I’m going to speak to you about Mozart’s Magic Flute, Die Zauberflöte.

Magic Flute is always in those lists of “the most popular operas,” which are really lists of the operas most performed. Why is that? I think it’s ‘cause it’s got something for everyone. Part of its appeal is it’s a very large cast, which keeps its interest going; it’s going a strong, if somewhat diverse storyline; I mean, it’s a hard storyline to encapsulate! But you are engaged, always, in terms of what’s going to happen next, and that’s a great appeal for people. The variety of its music is also so important. It traverses a number of different styles, from the simple, almost folk-like tunes given to Papageno, which is very much symptomatic of the sort of music which was performed in a Singspiel; and then music of huge sophistication, in the arias, say, of Tamino and Pamina; the vocal fireworks of both of the Queen of the Nights arias; and the beautiful, somber gravitas of the music for the priests and Sarastro. So there’s massive variety in this work, of style, of tone, which is not just to do with the storyline, it’s baked into this particular form called Singspiel. At the end of the day I think its popularity is based on the fact that it’s got so much going for it. It’s got famous musical highlights, and a number of highlights (it’s not just a one-hit wonder at all). As you sit through it you’ll go, “Oh, my goodness me!” and “Oh, it’s that one,” and “Oh, that;” they keep coming. And I think that’s part of its appeal. It has everything right. It’s got extraordinary music, familiarity of many of the numbers, and also an opera which demands spectacle and it demands visual élan. It’s got it all.


What I love about Mozart’s work is, at the end of it all there is forgiveness and humanity and an understanding, not only of human nature, but of human foible.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE MAGIC FLUTE and Early Romanticism

Mozart’s Magic Flute may be a “timeless masterpiece,” an “immortal classic” full of music that will last forever. It’s also very specifically a child of 1791. Everything about this opera—its plot, characters, world, range of musical styles, and themes—makes much more sense when considered in its historical context. Musically, The Magic Flute is hugely significant as the first great Zauberoper, the German tradition of popular musical theater on fantasy subjects that eventually gives us such operas as Wagner’s Ring. In terms of the visual arts, it sits on the fulcrum between eighteenth-century neo-classicism and nineteenth-century Romanticism. Images from productions of this opera in its first few decades illustrate how Romantic art emerged from neo-classicism.

The First Production
Mozart’s pal Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote Flute’s libretto and created the role of Papageno,

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dan Wallace Miller directs The Combat

Director Dan Wallace Miller
Not everyone can call themselves a homegrown Seattle Opera artist. But for Stage Director Dan Wallace Miller, the roots of his artistry go deep in the Wagnerian tradition of Seattle Opera. For Miller, the seed of directing was planted at age 4 by opera-loving parents during his first Ring cycle. Later, it was cultivated by legendary Seattle Opera director/singer Peter Kazaras, who became Miller's mentor and teacher. Ultimately, Miller went on to create his own opera company, Vespertine Opera Theater. He makes his official Seattle Opera directing debut now with The Combat, a production which The Stranger called "a profound experience of theater" created by a "visionary director."

Tell me about your vision for The Combat
It's an extension of my whole body of work thus far, which has been super non-traditional shows. I am attracted to the post-modern edge. I was so happy (Seattle Opera Education & Community Engagement Director) Barbara Lynne Jamison approached me about The Combat—the chance to do what I’ve done independently, but this time with more resources. I love that Seattle Opera is trying to create difficult and pointed dialogues through our art. Opera gets a bad rap for being the antiquated creation of dead white guys. But in The Combat, we’re taking the oldest opera that there is, a work by Monteverdi, and using it in a contemporary and socially-relevant way. This is our stab at an immersive opera.

So, you create opera with an edge.
Don’t forget that when most operas were written, they were absolutely edgy for their time—such as Tosca putting a candle on either side of Scarpia’s body to create a cross after she’s killed him. At the time, this was considered shocking. It’s our job as producers of the art to not only embrace the beauty of the music, but to remain true to the intent of why the piece was created. Sometimes, this was to jolt someone into an uncomfortable conversation or make you think in a new way. 

Thomas Segen (Tancredi), Tess Altiveros (Clorinda) and Eric Neuville (Testo) in Seattle Opera's The Combat. Philip Newton photo

Seattle Opera presented an opera in a similar format to The Combat last November. Tell me about your experience seeing As One—a transgender story told through opera—and how that may have inspired your work here. 
There’s a moment in As One where Hannah after is being assaulted by a man, while simultaneously, Hannah before loudly recites names of murdered transgender people, including how and where they were killed. At the show I went to, a woman was so affected by what she was seeing, she got up out of her chair, sprinted downstairs, and let out a blood curdling scream to relieve what she must have been feeling. She then came back upstairs, sat down, and kept engaging with the piece. It’s very difficult to provoke that kind of response in a giant, grand opera house. With pieces like As One and The Combat, we’re in a direct conversation with the audience. It opens up the possibilities of what kind of reactions we can get from opera, too—we can incite curiosity.

Taylor Raven (Hannah before) and Jorell Williams (Hannah after) in As One. Rozarii Lynch photo

What is an “immersive, theatrical experience?” Without giving too much away, talk about what the viewer is in for when she goes to see The Combat. 
The immersive theatrical experience gained prominence in the states with a production called Sleep No More that took place in an empty apartment building or hotel. You, the audience member, would go from room to room, wandering freely and becoming part of the show. We’re taking this concept and adding an orchestra and a conductor and the live music element you experience when you attend an opera, but attempted to create a process that fundamentally subverts expectations that anyone has about seeing an opera. The show starts in a mysterious, non-traditional way. There’s tricks and turns throughout the night, as we utilize the entire first floor of the Seattle Opera rehearsal studios. 

Tell me more about where The Combat is being performed.
This opera is being performed in the Seattle Opera rehearsal studios in South Lake Union—a place not a lot of people know. I have been attending Seattle Opera performances since I was 4-years-old, and it wasn’t until I started working here as an Assistant Director that I came to really know this building. Essentially, this old, former-warehouse is the nucleus of all the art that we create. Every opera we put on stage had its genesis here; here is where the performance took shape and blossomed. Seattle Opera is in the process of creating its new civic home, where rehearsals and administrative activities will ultimately take place beginning in 2018. Thus, what better way to bid farewell to our old building which has birthed so much of our art than by performing a piece that takes us in new artistic directions before our forthcoming ascension into the Valhalla of the new Seattle Opera Center?

The current Seattle Opera rehearsal studios/administrative building where The Combat takes place. Genevieve Hathaway photo
What can you get at a performance like The Combat that you cannot get at McCaw Hall? 
It will be a completely different experience. Those of us who spend most of our lives and careers in rehearsals rooms know what it’s like to be so close to the music, to the unamplified voices. It’s so different than seeing a show at McCaw Hall. You can almost feel your entire body vibrate. So audiences of The Combat have the rare opportunity to feel and experience opera in a new way.

I’ve grown up at Seattle Opera, which explains my lifelong love of Wagner. I’ve seen the Ring over 30 times, both in a seat and in the standing-only section. I find that standing through the 17 hours of that performance gives you an alertness that makes you more present. You feel like you’re part of the piece. And that’s even more so when the singer is just a foot away from you. This is not a passive receiving of a story—the audience member is an active participant.

What’s it like working with Maestro Stephen Stubbs?
Steve Stubbs is one of the most formidable minds I’ve ever encountered when it comes to early music. His house is filled with antique instruments and museum pieces. And yet, he also has the perfect understanding of how music was performed when it was written, and that lends itself to the adventurous productions I’ve worked with him on at the UW, for example. He is a master of older music, yet remains totally open to theatrical ideas. He’s always looking for ways to collaborate, to accomplish both music and stage action. 

Maestro Stephen Stubbs leads a 5-piece baroque orchestra for The Combat. Philip Newton photo

How do you navigate the themes of Islam and Christianity in this production? 
Faith is the main talking point of The Combat. With that said, we are not trying to realistically depict a Christian crusader and a Muslim Saracen warrior. The work is more of a comment on faith, compassion and love—how these things can be harmonious, and how they can fail when twisted and turned into sectarian violence. 

Tell me about the characters in The Combat.
The entire evening is centered around the narrator “Testo”—which means text. This is something I adore about early music—they love a narrator, and so do I. Some of the most interesting literature is where the narrator is unreliable or flawed in some way. 

In Tasso’s epic poem “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda”—of which The Combat is based—there is a pivotal scene that is profoundly offensive. Once we understand that this is a show presented by a narrator, and one who is unreliable, we can understand more about why this event happens in The Combat. Testo represents all the evil things that one can twist faith into.

We’re creating a conversation about faith and dissecting what it means to be someone who believes in a certain religion. We’re examining the God of Abraham, and the connectivity that lies between monotheism to discover the peace between those three. 

Seattle Opera's The Combat offers a theatrical, immersive experience. Philip Newton photo
What’s one of your most memorable moments working at Seattle Opera.
I have been the phantom of this opera company for years. I’ve been to every single production since 1991. I saw the Ring for the first time when I was 4. I’m a rabid Wagnerian, and that’s thanks to this company. Probably my most memorable experience is when I shadowed director Peter Kazaras in Tristan and Isolde. Peter was originally Loge in the Ring, and the way he threw fire around onstage had me enthralled. I was a breathless little fan of his. I started following Peter around in 2009, and I always wanted to be a conductor, but didn’t have much musical talent. He said, “Have you thought about directing?” and then he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know. That’s how I learned to be a director. 

You’re a millennial. How can we make opera more welcoming and appealing to people your age?
When I ran my company for six years, that was the entire thrust of what I trying to do. Just show up. Get a cheap ticket. Bring a flask. Treat it like going out to any other event. 

The most successful show we did with Vespertine Opera Theater was Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias), about a woman whose breast fly away from her body. She turns into a male general, her husband has 1,041 kids—real Surrealist Ivory Tower stuff. We got such a diverse crowd, the most diverse crowd of people that never heard opera before showed up and absolutely loved it. I think if you tailor the experience to what interests people, they will come. Even the bartender at our opera who didn’t want to be there eventually stopped texting, and discretely started taking pictures on his phone. Afterward, he said, “That was the coolest thing I ever saw here—and the Fleet Foxes came through last week.”

8-year-old Dan rides one of the Valkyrie horses from the Rochaix Ring. 
There's three more opportunities to see The Combat: April 6, 7, & 9, 2017. Tickets & info: