Tuesday, January 17, 2017

34 Random Questions with Angel Blue

Photo by Sonya Garza

What's your favorite thing about Seattle?
I love the people. Everyone I've met here has been so cool!

What’s your favorite non-opera genre to sing? 
I really like jazz, but I'd have to say gospel, because that's what I grew up singing.

What’s a makeup tip you learned from competing in the Miss America Organization
The most important thing I can tell you about makeup are three things: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. 

"My mom sent this photo of me at age 2 as a reminder that I'll always be her baby girl." - Angel Blue

Describe yourself in three words. 
Compassionate, fun, anda lot of people don't know thisshy.

What would be your dream role? 
My dream role is Violetta in La traviata, what I'm doing now!

What’s the coolest thing about your mentor, Plácido Domingo?
He's fun. A lot of people think he might be uptight because he's so famous, but, and I mean this with utmost respect, he's a dude and that's cool!
What advice would you give your younger self? 
Don't be stressed about things coming up in the future, and spend as much time as you can with your dad; (my father sadly passed away quite suddenly more than a decade ago).

Angel Blue as Violetta in Seattle Opera's La traviata. Photos by Philip Newton and Jacob Lucas
What are you doing immediately after this interview? 
I have nothing in my refrigerator, so I'm going to QFC or Safeway; my husband gets in on Friday and he's going to show up and not have anything to eat!

What’s your most humbling moment as an artist. 
So many. I can't pinpoint one, I'm just very grateful for the talent that I've been given. 

Most memorable career moment? 
Probably in 2015 when I started working for the BBC as a presenter

Who’s your favorite Disney princess?
Maybe one day they will make me a Disney princess and I can say 'me!' No, actually, I think my favorite is probably Pocahontas. 

Name one thing you can’t live without. 
My own dressing room!

What’s one thing you like to have in the rehearsal room? 
I absolutely must have water! 

Who in the opera world makes you starstruck? 
Corinne Winters (the other Violetta in Seattle Opera's La traviata) makes me starstruck! I have been following her career for a long time. 

How did you learn how to make wigs? 
I love hair and makeup, so wigs—I actually made this one I'm currently wearing—just came because I'm tired of spending money on them. I started watching YouTube tutorials and also hanging out more with my mom (she does hair and can weave).

Angel Blue takes a selfie with Maestro Domingo and soprano Micaela Oeste.

What’s your favorite ride at Disneyland? 

What do you love about your hometown of LA? 
The weather is so good; if there's ever bad weather, it doesn't stay for too long! You can almost always guarantee the sun will be out at some point. 

What was it like singing with Jewel
It was super cool. I only sang one song with her, but she was really sweet and very encouraging.

What’s Youth Ablaze? 
A program I started with my sister and brother maybe 10 years ago. It's designed to help inner-city children finish high school. 

Who’s your style icon? 
I don't have one because I'm not stylish! If I did have to choose, however, I'd say my sister Heather, she has great style.

Angel and her husband, Adam, on their wedding day. 
What did you wear at your wedding? 
I sang in the opera Mefistofele at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany. And I actually ended up wearing that costume for my wedding. 

What’s the best thing about being married? 
So many things! One of the best things about being married is that I get to spend so much time with my wonderful husband, Adam. Companionship is a wonderful thing about being married...having the person you love feel the same way. 

What’s your most overused phrase? 
That's off the chain! 

If you could live in any era would it be? 
This one. 

Angel and Adam.
What’s something you always travel with? 
My bible. 

What’s the biggest misconception about opera singers? 
That they're arrogant and divas; that they don't want to talk to people, and that they're precious. That's not true. I'm not like that. 

Hey Angel, I have a huge fear of public speaking—do you have any advice for me? 
Yeah, I would say try to memorize whatever it is you have to say and don't worry about it because everyone there is rooting for you.  

What do you think of your character Violetta?
I love her. Right now, she's my best friend. I've been happy to spend a lot of time with her, and I'm happy that she likes spending time with me, too. 
"My dad passed away a little over a decade ago, and I will never forget what he taught me! I grew up in classical music because of my father, who was a gospel singer. He was my greatest inspiration." - Angel Blue
I saw you doing some headstands on Instagram—do you have any other hidden talents? 
No, not really. I probably need to go back to doing headstands again because I miss those days. 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? 
I was dating this guy, and he didn't answer when I was calling and texting him. He always said that he was really busy. So at 7:30pm. I got in my car and drove by his house and honked the horn; he came outside and I was like, "You're not busy!"

Angel's hidden talent: headstands! 
What is beauty to you
The thing that matters most is what's in someone's heart, because whatever it is that's in your heart, that reflects the words that come out of your mouth, the actions you make every day, the way you treat people. 

You have Cuban roots—can you say something to your Spanish-speaking fans? 
 Hola! Que tal? Estoy muy feliz para estar aquí con Ustedes. He apprendido Español en España, pero mi abuelo es de Cuba. (Hi! What's up? I'm very happy to be here with you. I learned Spanish in Spainsh, but my grandfather is from Cuba).

What keeps you grounded? 
My faith, my family, and the fact that all of the gifts I've been given aren't from me.  

Do you have any parting words for us?
Have fun and stay classy.

"Have fun and stay classy," she says!

There's three more chances to see Angel Blue perform as Violetta in La traviata:
Jan. 18, 22, & 27

Tickets & info:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Seattle Opera expands programs, performances in 2017/18

  • Company to offer operas at new venues around town
  • Madame Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Così fan tutte, Beatrice & Benedict, Aida come to McCaw Hall

Opera is for everyone—and so is Seattle Opera’s 2017/18 season! There’s a new bilingual performance for elementary-school students, new performance venues such as Georgetown Steam Plant, a new mainstage collaboration with ACT Theatre and Seattle Symphony leaders, and even an outdoor performance offered free of charge. Regardless of background or socioeconomic status, this season offers ways for a broad audience to be able to experience opera; it’s an open invitation for the Pacific Northwest.

“We want to present opera in a way that reflects our time and place—so naturally, representing the diverse people of our region is important to us,” said General Director Aidan Lang. “Whether it’s Verdi or Mozart on our mainstage, or an opera with Muslim or LGBTQ characters presented in our community—opera speaks to the experience of being human which we share. This is why it’s crucial to reduce historic barriers that have made our art form, at times, inaccessible.”

Soprano Serena Eduljee stars as Cinderella in Cinderella en España. Philip Newton photo
In addition to five mainstage operas featuring the work of beloved composers like Verdi, Mozart, and Puccini, the company hopes to keep building an audience that’s diverse in age, race, and more following the success of As One (November, 2016). This story of a transgender woman performed at Washington Hall helped establish new community partners such as Pride Foundation, and also brought more young people and newcomers through the door compared to the company’s performances at McCaw Hall. (For example, the As One overall audience was 59 percent people under 50, versus only 27 percent people under 50 for a given mainstage performance). The effort to reach new viewers continues in 2017 at venues throughout Seattle, including Georgetown Steam Plant, where a war-torn, interfaith love story called The Combat (Monteverdi) will be performed. An American Dream (by composer Jack Perla and librettist Jessica Murphy Moo) returns following its 2015 premiere, this time in a new Seattle location. Our annual Frost Fest on Feb. 4, 2017 at Cornish Playhouse, introduces opera to young audiences with Cinderella en España, a story in English and Spanish; this 45-minute opera also plays Kirkland Performing Arts Center on March 19, and will tour schools statewide. Finally, in July 2017, Seattleites can bring a picnic if they choose while enjoying Opera Outside, offered free of charge.

Seattle Opera kicks off its mainstage Madame Butterfly (Puccini), Aug. 5-19, 2017. Photo by Neil Mackenzie.
The mainstage season at McCaw Hall kicks off with Puccini’s famous Madame Butterfly, Aug. 5-19, 2017. Stage director Kate Cherry’s “sublime, visually fantastic, must-see” show (stuff.co.nz) stars Lianna Haroutounian and Alexia Voulgaridou who each make company debuts as Cio-Cio-San. The performance also includes Seattle debuts for Alexey Dolgov and Dominick Chenes (Pinkerton); and the return of Weston Hurt (Sharpless), Renée Rapier (Suzuki), and Maestro Carlo Montanaro. This tragic tale of a reckless American naval officer and a trusting geisha he purchased as a temporary bride includes some of Puccini’s most famous music such as the radiant “Flower Duet,” Butterfly’s poignant arias, and a rapturous love song for the ages. 

Nina Yoshida Nelsen (Mama) and Hae Ji Chang (Setsuko) in An American Dream. Philip Newton photo

Inspired by true events, Butterfly is an often painful reminder of racial and cultural injustice found throughout America’s history. Thus, An American Dream, a story depicting the incarceration of Japanese Americans, will provide an essential second perspective for Butterfly audiences a month later in September, 2017. By showing these pieces in tandem, Seattle Opera seeks to emphasize Puccini’s intentional criticism of American attitudes toward Japan; such attitudes would later scar our own Pacific Northwest history during World War II.

Seattle Opera present The Barber of Seville (Rossini), Oct. 14-28, 2017. Image courtesy of Opera Queensland. Steve Henry, Photographer. 
The mainstage season continues with another new-to-Seattle production: The Barber of Seville (Rossini), Oct. 14-28, 2017. Stage Director Lindy Hume returns following smash hit The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory (2016) to delight audiences with colorful sets and costumes inspired by the seductive and playful spirit of southern Spain. This “riotously funny” (The Australian) prequel to The Marriage of Figaro includes the company debut of soprano Sofia Fomina (Rosina). Also featured are Matthew Grills and Andrew Owens (Almaviva); John Moore and Will Liverman (Figaro); Kevin Glavin (Dr. Bartolo); Daniel Sumegi (Basilio); and Margaret Gawrysiak (Berta). Maestro Giacomo Sagripanti returns to conduct.

Così fan tutte (Mozart) returns to Seattle Opera Jan. 13-27, 2018. Rozarii Lynch photo
In the New Year, Così fan tutte (Mozart) returns Jan. 13-27, 2018. Last seen in 2006, Jonathan Miller’s acclaimed modern-dress production may be “the funniest and most dramatically successful show Seattle Opera has ever staged” (The Seattle Times). This account of two buddies who test the faithfulness of their fiancées includes company debuts by Marina Costa-Jackson, Marjukka Tepponen (Fiordiligi); Ben Bliss, Tuomas Katajala (Ferrando); Ginger Costa-Jackson (Dorabella); Michael Adams (Guglielmo); and Maestro Paul Daniel. Returning artists include Hanna Hipp (Dorabella); Craig Verm (Guglielmo); Laura Tatulescu (Despina); and Kevin Burdette (Don Alfonso). 

New to Seattle Opera is Hector Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict—a unique Seattle Opera premiere created through artistic collaborations. Seattle Symphony Orchestra Maestro Ludovic Morlot and ACT Artistic Director John Langs make debuts as conductor and stage director, respectively for this performance, which runs Feb. 24-March 10, 2018. Based on Much Ado About Nothing, this work will kick off a city-wide event, Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare.

The Seattle Opera premiere of  Beatrice and Benedict (Berlioz), runs Feb. 24-March 10, 2018. This unique performance kicks of the city-wide Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare event, and is created through collaborations with Seattle Symphony Orchestra and ACT Artistic Director leaders. Philip Newton photo
"This is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for three different arts organizations to create something fresh and engaging,” said Langs, who, working with Aidan Lang and Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean, will make these English-language performances faithful to Shakespeare. "It’s a beautiful story in an epic setting at a time when the world needs a bittersweet romance and joy."

In the role of Beatrice, Daniela Mack makes her company debut, sharing the role with Hanna Hipp. Alek Shrader and Andrew Owens return to sing Benedict. The performance also includes Laura Tatulescu (Hero), Avery Amereau (Ursule), Kevin Burdette (Somarone), Craig Verm (Claudio) and Daniel Sumegi (Don Pedro).

The mainstage season concludes with Verdi’s magnificent Aida. Acclaimed creative team Francesca Zambello and Michael Yeargan oversee a visually imposing production with hieroglyphic projections by noted graffiti artist RETNA and evocative choreography by in-demand visionary Jessica Lang. This high-stakes love triangle between an Ethiopian princess, a military commander, and the Pharaoh’s formidable daughter includes performances by Leah Crocetto in her company debut as Aida—a role shared with Alexandra LoBianco. Additional company debuts include Milijana Nikolic and Elena Gabouri as Amneris; as well as Brian Jagde and David Pomeroy as Radames. Returning artists include Gordon Hawkins, Alfred Walker (Amonasro); Daniel Sumegi (Ramfis); and Maestro John Fiore.

Seattle Opera concludes its 2017/18 Season with Aida (Verdi).  San Francisco Opera, Aida, 2016 © Cory Weaver
Seattle Opera Ticket Information: Subscriptions on sale now. Five-opera renewal and new subscription ticket prices: $225 to 3,915.* Seattle Opera Ticket Office: 206.389.7676 or 800.426.1619. Online orders: seattleopera.org/subscribe2017. Mainstage performances take place at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. *Prices include a $3-per-ticket facility fee and (in some locations) a preferred seating donation. Young professionals ages 21-39 who join BRAVO! and students under 18 save 50 percent on tickets.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Want to write an opera?

Seattle Opera’s all-new “Write a Libretto!” class gives students the chance to write the words that go with the music

Jessica Murphy Moo
Most Seattle Opera performances feature music and words written by men who lived centuries ago. Luckily for us, Seattle Opera is home to a living, breathing librettist—Jessica Murphy Moo. While Moo works as our Communications Editor (authoring the programs you read before every opera at McCaw Hall), it was her powerful words that helped tell the story of a Japanese American family in An American Dream (2015). Writing libretti has been an exciting new challenge for Moo, whose first medium was not opera, but fiction and nonfiction. Her accomplishments as a writer, editor, and teacher have included being published in national publications such as The Atlantic to teaching at universities including Harvard! After creating An American Dream with composer Jack Perla, Moo has since had the honor of being selected for Tapestry Opera’s Librettist-Composer Laboratory Workshop in Toronto, Canada. While she continues to craft her own stories (and hopefully, more libretti!)—you don’t have to be an experienced writer like her to learn how to write the words of opera. This January, Moo will teach “Introduction to Libretto Writing” through Seattle Opera’s new Opera in the Making program for adults—anyone interested in indulging their passion for creativity, opera, and storytelling are welcome! [Sign up here.] 

Jessica Murphy Moo was a writer of fiction and nonfiction before being asked to write a libretto for a Seattle Opera world premiere -- which later became An American Dream. Morgan Smith (Jim), Hae Ji Chang (Setsuko), and D'Ana Lombard (Eva) in An American Dream. Philip Newton photo

What is a librettist?
The librettist writes the words of an opera. Libretto means “little book,” in Italian, and that’s really what it is—a little book that goes along with the music.

Tell me about your journey to becoming a librettist. 
In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, I work in Seattle Opera’s marketing department as an editor (I’ve also been an editor for many years). Before creating An American Dream, our former education director Sue Elliott came by my desk and said she was looking for a librettist for a new opera she was going to commission. I said I didn’t know any librettists, I’m sorry, and wasn’t sure how I could help her. She then said, no, that she meant me—she wanted to show my work to Jack, the composer, to be considered. After reading some of my writing, he was on board!

People are often surprised to see how short an opera’s libretto is. 
Yes—an hour-long opera is just 20 pages of script—not full-paragraph pages either, it looks like just a list of words and some stage directions. Only 20 pages of words for many, many pages of sheet music. You have few words to work with, and the words don’t have to sound like how we talk.

Jack Perla (Composer) and Jessica Murphy Moo (Librettist) -- creators of An American Dream. Brandon Patoc photo

How do a librettist and composer work together?
Many different ways. One way is that both composer and librettist come to an agreement on a story (regardless, there has to be some sort of initial agreement). The librettist will run with the idea, writing the words that the characters will eventually sing. After that, you hand your work off to the composer who will give all kinds of feedback. Anything from, “Let’s start this part over from scratch,” to “That word might be hard for that singer to sing.” Sometimes the composer might request a certain part be more realistic, or more lyrical.

How has the librettist/composer collaboration changed over the years?
When Seattle Opera was doing Ariadne auf Naxos (2015), I looked into some of the correspondence between Hugo von Hofmannsthal (librettist) and Richard Strauss (composer). It was so interesting to see their correspondence after having worked with a composer myself. Hofmannsthal handed in the libretto to Strauss, and Strauss said, “I don’t get it.” He didn’t think other people would get it either. Hofmannsthal had the confidence to say, “I think people will get it.” This sort of thing went back and forth until they eventually were able to come to an understanding.

In some ways, nothing has changed about the librettist/composer relationship. It’s about two people communicating, not just words, but ideas and imaginations. You don’t know what the end result will be. Collaboration is challenging; it can be hard for two people to get on the same page.

Tell us about the back-and-forth collaboration between yourself and composer Jack Perla when creating An American Dream.
I knew I could use more poetic language with this form of writing, but wasn’t always sure this was appropriate. That’s something Jack helped with. He might look at the story, then say, “This could be a good place for the character to pause, then sing an aria!” Or he might say, “This is a good place for a duet, or for all characters in the ensemble to sing.”

What was a major thing you learned during An American Dream?
Before the opera made it to McCaw Hall, we held an informal workshop performance. This is when I heard singers breathe life into these characters for the first time. I learned how much the music really does tell the story, and how much it supports the emotional moment. That’s why you really don’t need as many words.

During last summer, 2016, you were selected for Tapestry Opera’s 10-day Librettist-Composer workshop in Toronto. Tell me about the other librettists you met in “LIBLAB.”

The other librettists included: a playwright/actor, someone who wrote for TV, as well as translations—mostly French translations—in Canada, and a librettist/short-story writer/musician. There were people coming in with a lot of different backgrounds, some had written a libretto before, some had not. (By the way, we’ve all decided to stay in touch and keep working together!)

Jessica Murphy Moo (center) at LIBLAB in summer, 2016. 

What was a typical day like for you during the intensive?

I’d get a prompt, be paired with a composer, then the two of us would have to come to an agreement on how to move forward. After we decided what we wanted to write, we librettists would spend the night writing. The following day, we’d hand in what we wrote to singers who were there as a resource for us at the workshop. They would read the words, then there’d be a quick workshop of the scene we created. I would make revisions, hand the libretto to the composer, then they would spend the night writing music. The next day, the composer would deliver the music to the singers to learn. Then we’d start all over again with a different librettist/composer pairing.

What was one of your prompts? 
One of the prompts was to pursue an idea that the composer was interested in. I worked with an Iranian composer Afarin Mansouri who was interested in telling the story of a gay Iranian couple from the perspective of a man who left Iran after his partner had been arrested, and likely, executed. (The act of homosexuality is illegal in Iran.) The composer was really interested in the partner who survived and fled, as he would have to leave his whole life and cut family ties—not only to save himself, but to save his family from persecution as well. She was interested in exploring the rituals that we create, when you leave a place, you have the traditions you grew up with. Then you move somewhere new, and must create new rituals. OK—you have 24 hours to write the libretto—go!

What was your process in working with Afarin Mansouri?

This prompt was really challenging, as this was not my background and I didn’t want to offend. We had a number of discussions about what might be the right language—what might this character’s religious beliefs be? I spent the afternoon reading as many testimonials I could find of people who had fled Iran to escape persecution. I wanted to understand why would someone do this, and what would they have to do in order to flee? Part of the challenge of LIBLAB is to make big decisions quickly. You need to be able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

I decided that our main character was going to be writing a letter to his beloved. Most of this would be English, but decided to use the word “beloved” in Farsi.

All evening, the composer and I went back and forth, emailing. I essentially came up with a ritual where our main character was trying to write a letter. After writing each phrase, he would rip the paper and burn it; it was one moment of one person reflecting on his love and moving forward. The composer brought Persian music (including a Persian drum) to this scene, and so much of the story was told through the texture of the music.

What was your key takeaway from LIBLAB?
The first thing is I want to write another libretto. I think I understand the form and how it’s changing, and how I can do a better job next time. The dramaturg that Tapestry Opera hired for the LIBLAB workshop told me to stand up for myself, and to stand up for my ideas. Trust my instincts. The other takeaway is just realizing how much new work is out there, and being excited at how opera is changing and evolving. There’s so much that’s new. We sometimes lose sight of that when we only think about the classics.

D'ana Lombard as Eva in An American Dream. Philip newton photo

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Listen to or read this downloadable podcast by General Director Aidan Lang. La traviata, Verdi’s immortal song of love and death, comes to Seattle this January as we’ve never seen it before, in a compelling, streamlined production that’s also the US debut of famed German director Peter Konwitschny. Created for the Verdi bicentennial in 2013, Konwitschny’s production has fascinated opera lovers in nine other cities en route to Seattle.

Hello everyone, it’s Aidan Lang here, here to speak to you about La traviata and our forthcoming production which opens on the 14th of January.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

As One stories: Mitchell C Hunter

Mitchell C. Hunter, a transman activist, is a Community Participant in As One.

Transman activist Mitchell C Hunter shares his story

Seattle Opera's latest production, As One, centers around a single transgender protagonist whose journey unfolds through two voices: baritone and mezzo-soprano. The company is proud to be partnering with members of the transgender and LGBTQ communities in its presentation of this bold, beautiful work. In fact, two individuals will be sharing their personal stories at the top of each show.

One of these community participants is Mitchell C “Mitch” Hunter. A gay man in his fifties, Mitch came to manhood late in life when he began his transition at 42. He has since taken active leadership roles in the Transgender and LGBQ communities. Serving for almost four years on the Seattle LGBT Commission, he helped create and implement Seattle’s single-use, all-gender restroom law.

Mitch has worked with corporations, small businesses, faith communities, institutions and organizations to further transgender inclusivity and visibility. Featured in the Seattle Police Department’s transgender training video, Mitch helped write the SPD’s model policy on working with the transgender community. As a consultant and trainer, he has presented to and collaborated on programs for the Washington State Department of Corrections, DSHS, Sound Generations, Kitsap County Council for Human Rights, UW Medical Center Transgender Health Course and numerous college/university classes and conferences.

Mitch attributes the solid community support he’s received for the great strides he’s made. Grateful thanks to the members and leadership of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus; GALA Choruses organization; SeattleMen’s and Seattle Women’s Choruses; Out In Front Leadership Institute; his faith community, Seattle Unity; his loving dogs; and most importantly, his partner of 21 years, Amy.

You're a transman activist, leader, and spokesman in the transgender community. What keeps you engaged in this work?
With the recent election results, honestly, I wonder. Now, it's even more important to serve the transgender community; to put a face to the word. Three out of four people say they know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual. Only one in 10 can say they know a transgender person. But with an estimated 1.4 million adults in the US alone, or .3 percent of the population in general, we all know that perception can be different than realitysometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. It is a privilege to be out as a transman, one I don’t take for granted. We, transgender people have legal protections both in Washington State and in Seattle. Currently, there are 26 states trying to legislate away or repeal any protections/basic human rights for trans people. Taking a page from the marriage equality playbook, it is imperative that we tell our stories to reveal we are neighbors, friends, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, business owners, co-workers, fellow employees, church congregants, athletes, and artists. There are so many who can’t or don’t want to be out as transgender for fear of their safety, violence, or death. I am grateful to serve the trans community in whatever way I can. Burnout is a hazard for most of us out in front. We all have to find ways to commit to self-care along with the work we do.

Tell me a bit about the story you share before the downbeat in As One.
I’m actually painting a picture with a series of snapshots: self-selected “firsts.” Transition, for me, is a lifelong process deciding when and whether to come out as a transman. I introduce myself as who I am based on the childhood of an avowed tomboy. I just grew into it (being a boy) rather than out of it. There is still a very thin line between my feeling like an imposter—just inhabiting this man-body verses living fully as a man. The really interesting part for me is how some of these universal themes are echoed in the opera. Self-doubts and questionable aspirations are not unique to transgender people. Some of the "firsts" I share include:
- The story of when I was first fitted for a suit;
- The first time I met with clients in my first professional, grown-up, “daddy” job. (A legit professional job that daddies had when I was growing up.);
- The first time I realize the psychological and sociological consequences of being male—or more specifically the conflict felt in being a feminist male;
- The first time I got to be “just one of the guys” and not a “poster boy” for all trans guys.

You've worked hard for social justice, including gender justice, in your work with the City of Seattle, as well as in your own professional and personal life. What are some accomplishments that you're especially proud of?
The first is when I was one of 3 transmen commissioners in 2012 who made the very first attempts to find a way to get gender-neutral bathrooms in all city buildings. I was part of the process of researching and continuing to shepherd the idea through the system through the years: meeting with City Council members, people at the Mayor’s Office (McGinn first, then Murray), writing draft ordinances with the help of the Office for Civil Rights. As more and more folks joined in and recommendations were presented, it morphed and became the single-use, all-gender restroom signage required for all places of public accommodation in Seattle.

The second was getting to work with a team of 10-15 transgender leaders from the area to help craft the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) policy on working with transgender people. James Ritter, the LGBTQ liaison for SPD, the same man in charge of the SAFE PLACE campaign, had worked with me while I was on the commission. He offered me the opportunity to be a part of working on this policy. It took us several months (which in policy-making is really a short period of time) to come up with something that was meaningful and satisfactory for the trans community as well as impactful for the police department. As soon as the policy was accepted by the DOJ and all the appropriate people up and down the policy line, Jim started to put together a training video with interviews from local transgender people that would accompany the new transgender training modules developed by the education team. I am a part of the training video that has been released publicly for use by any law enforcement organization. The video is already being used by various Department of Correction facilities around the state. The video we worked on preceded by several months the DOJ training released for use throughout the country

In regards to social justice for transgender people, what's one thing that makes you feel hopeful for the future?
Organizations and people are learning the power of banding together to get legislation and public policy written and passed. Many in the transgender community supported marriage equality work as did many communities: unions, Native American/First Nations groups, people of faith, educators, people with disabilities…Now, the transgender community is more politically mature; we have built ties to a number of allied and aligned communities, corporations and businesses. We’ve had the benefit of learning from tested strategies in other states.

We are creating strong, effective organizations to do the work necessary to educate our state about the need for safety, rights, and concerns of transgender people. I’m heartened by the number of allies and aligned, supportive businesses signing onto “Washington Won’t Discriminate.” The work, lobbying, educating and strategy work of Washington S.A.F.E alliance is inspiring. TransForm Washington, a fairly new organization launched earlier this year, collecting and doing the work necessary to tell stories of transgender people—put faces out in the world to show we are youth, young adults, middle-aged people, couples and seniors.

Anything else you’d like to share?
It is challenging that finances play such a huge part in supporting and legislating rights and protections for transgender people. Big money and out-of-state political and issue-oriented organizations have so much money. We are often the most marginalized of communities, especially the transgender people of color. Even with our best efforts, incredible strategy, unique voices, engaging stories, tight collaborations and coalition, at some point, it comes down to our allies standing with us. We must find ways to collect and focus boat-loads of money toward all these campaigns to simply procure the same civil and human rights, rights to healthcare and rights to personal safety and a world free from violence and hatred.

As One remaining performance: Nov. 17, 18, & 19
Tickets are $25 & $40

Friday, November 11, 2016

As One stories: Breanna Anderson

Breanna Anderson. Photo by Lou Daprile

LGBTQ activist Breanna Anderson shares her story 

Seattle Opera's latest production, As One, centers around a single transgender protagonist whose journey unfolds through two voices: baritone and mezzo-soprano. The company is proud to be partnering with members of the transgender and LGBTQ communities in its presentation of this bold, beautiful work. In fact, two individuals will be sharing their personal stories at the top of each show.

One of these community participants is 59-year-old Breanna Anderson who identifies as a transgender, queer woman. Anderson came out in 1990 at the age of 32 after 10 years of marriage and with three young children. By early 1992 she had transitioned to living her authentic identity with loving support of her family and with help from what was then a small-but-active transgender community in Seattle. In her professional life as a software engineer and entrepreneur, she has worked to promote improved corporate diversity policies and greater visibility for transgender employees. She is co-developer of Ingersoll Gender Center's “Seattle Trans Economic Empowerment Project” (STEEP) providing direct support and employment counseling for transgender and gender-diverse people. 

Over the years, Breanna has been in leadership roles of a range of LGBTQ organizations including the Seattle Pride March, LGBTQ Community Center and Ingersoll Gender Center. She speaks regularly on transgender identity and rights at colleges and community organizations. She lives in the Seattle suburbs with her partners Ryan and Maggie. 

You've worked hard for social justice, including gender justice, in your many years as an activist. Is there an accomplishment that you’re especially proud of? 
I’m particularly gratified to have helped Ingersoll Gender Center come through a tough patch around 2004, when it looked like it was going to expire. We weren't sure if changes in community attitudes and identities (not to mention, the Internet) had made the traditional role of education and peer support passé. We made some substantial changes and reorganized, and I’m thrilled at what an amazing resource it has become since then. Ingersoll is now entering its 40th year of service and every single week without fail for those 40 years, we have come together to be a vital community for those coming out or for the many who come here because it’s a relatively safe place. Every week, 50 or so people gather for mutual support. Ingersoll’s professional consult group helps to cultivate and educate healthcare and mental-health professionals across the region; it also provides fast referrals, and collaborative troubleshooting of a wide range of healthcare and insurance-related issues.

Tell me the story (or parts of it) that you will be sharing during As One. 
I call this story “Be Discrete.” When I was 12, my father caught me doing what I call “manifesting” my feminine identity, what some call “cross-dressing.” In the community, we just call it “dressing” en femme. I thought I was going to get the thrashing of my life or public humiliation or both. But instead he just told me to “be discrete” and left me to sweat. As a child, I totally didn’t get the subtext, but I got the message in spades. 

The story is about how we are implicitly and explicitly taught shame and secrecy about being different; that’s a universal message if there ever was one. I think we all have ways that we are suppressed and marginalized and told to hide. Sometimes, what we're told to hide is a part of ourselves that might be really essential to who we are. But to please others or to get along in socity, we have to push it down. Hopefully in time we can break through that shell and let ourselves shine through.

In regards to social justice for transgender people, what's one thing that makes you feel hopeful for the future?
I think that we are winning the battle for hearts and minds with cultural visibility that we could have only dreamed of 10 years ago. Legal protections and policy advances have been amazing in the last few years and healthcare parity is almost there. The idea that our healthcare concerns and needs are respected as legitimate and essential is kind of mind-blowing for folks of my generation.

And of course, the success of education and awareness is allowing young gender-diverse people, children, to be seen. Their expression is recognized as authentic; not dismissed as just a phase or a shameful thing to be hidden, eradicated or "repaired." For a child to be given safety and space to express their authentic identity is amazing and a challenge for parents, educators, and medical professionals. While support for gender-diverse is quickly growing, inevitably this support is also at the forefront of cultural and legal conflict. I think that a lot of us are waiting with baited breath to see how this new generation grows up, what their attitudes will be, and how they will change our culture and how we look at ourselves.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m extremely impressed with the care, attention, and investment that Seattle Opera has put into the production of As One. I was initially wary about another instance of trans stories being presented by people who are not transgender. It’s become a touchy point of late within the transgender community. Opera is a very technically demanding art-form and this is a very demanding piece. I wish we had transgender mezzo-sopranos to bring forward but I don’t think that’s the case right now. The story, written in collaboration with a transgender woman, rings true to me as authentic. The director and performers are really doing their homework to understand what lies beneath, and have that inform the performances. That transgender people are involved before, during, and after the opera to contextualize the piece helps a lot. In the end, I’m happy the story is being told in a new medium and, I trust, to an audience who is ready and interested to hear it and understand this human message. 

As One plays at Washington Hall Nov. 11-19. 
Tickets are $25 & $40 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Chorus Spotlight: Lucy Weber

Lucy Weber, a longtime member of the Seattle Opera Chorus currently performing in Medea with Seattle Shakespeare Company. 
The Seattle Opera Chorus is made up of extraordinarily talented individuals. Under the leadership of Chorus Master John Keene, they can make us laugh as one of many zany characters in Count Ory, or tug at our hearts through the powerful "Va, pensiero" in Nabucco. Today, we talk to one of these accomplished singers. Lucy Weber has performed in mainstage productions such as Mary Stuart and Madame Butterfly, as well as at schools all over Washington State in Our Earth. But Weber, a lover of theater as well as music, doesn't limit her gifts to simply McCaw Hall. Currently, she is performing in Medea with Seattle Shakespeare Company. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a performing artist in Seattle?
I love the richness of talent here; many performers I have met literally go from job to job and stay employed fairly regularly. There was an article about how Seattle theaters try very hard to hire local talent. On the other hand, with so many talented people, it's also a highly competitive place. I feel very fortunate that I am able to perform semi-regularly with the Seattle Opera Chorus. I also love singing for the company's Education & Community Engagement Department; that keeps me pretty busy throughout the year.

How did you get into singing/opera?
I always had a passion for singing, but actually came to opera through theater and musical theater. Acting was a huge passion of mine in junior high and high school. After graduating, I considered making that my main focus, but ended up studying English and Journalism and pursuing theater on the side. When I was 25, I became interested in singing again, which is around the time most opera singers are beginning their careers. I had a voice teacher who felt I could do it, even if I was kind of late in the game. I feel like I am just finding my voice now; The Seattle Opera Chorus has helped me grow and develop.

Ausrine Stundyte (Cio-Cio San), Emily Clubb, and Lucy Weber. Elise Bakketun photo 
Proudest moment as an artist?
I have several, but one was particularly unexpected: I was asked to cover Sarah Larsen when she performed Suzuki in Madama Butterfly (2012). I was so humbled and honored, and it was a great opportunity for me as a singer. She is the most wonderful person; warm, generous, positive. I learned so much from watching her work and approach her role.

Most humbling moment as an artist? 
Being an artist in general is pretty humbling. However, being in Medea and working with these actors has been extremely humbling. The seriously talented women in this show work regularly in theater and musical theater in Seattle. They, as well as director Kelly Kitchens, have been nothing but supportive and welcoming.

Cast members of Seattle Shakespeare's Medea. Lucy Weber, Chelsea LeValley, Kathryn Van Meter, Dedra D. Woods, Maya Burton, Sunam Ellis. Photo by John Ulman
Talk about the single most challenging moment in your career as an artist.
Being both a mom and a performer is challenging. I feel so fortunate to be a working artist with a supportive family. But the reality is, I am often gone for soccer games, birthday parties, trick-or-treating...I've talked to other working mothers in this play and we talk about what it's like to juggle it all. We also ask a lot of our spouses; they take on the main parenting responsibilities when we are in rehearsals and performances. Finding that balance is really important.

What’s the biggest misconception about opera singers?
Singers are asked to do a lot more than sing; we have to be both musicians and actors, and this is actually very physical work. In opera, all our emotions are written for us, but we have to tell the story in an honest way that seems organic and spontaneous. I don't know if people understand how hard singers are working to tell the story that the audience is wanting to see and hear. I'm always in awe of the volume that the human body can create.

What keeps you going? 
Music and theater are so central to who I am. I can't imagine my life without them, but my family is what inspires me to work hard, to get up, and to stay focused.

Serena Eduljee, Lucy Weber, Melissa Plagemann, Cheryse McLeod-Lewis, YeonSoo Kim Lee. Jacob Lucas photo

Thursday, November 3, 2016

As One Teen Night

Final Dress Rehearsal
Thursday, November 10 at Washington Hall.
Philip Newton photo
Calling all teens! You are cordially invited to join us for the final dress rehearsal of As One on Thursday, November 10 at the iconic Washington Hall. This intimate chamber opera As One, is a contemporary exploration of a transgender protagonist’s journey told through two voices. With empathy and humor, we experience Hannah’s youthful challenges in a small town on the West coast, her quest for knowledge and understanding, her discovery of the larger trans community, and her inspiring journey to be true to herself. As One is performed by a baritone and a mezzo-soprano with string quartet.

Teen Night: Thursday, November 10
Doors open at 6:00 PM. Performance begins at 7:00 PM.
$8 per person for full-time students and their chaperones.
Presented by Seattle Opera at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave, Seattle.

Recommended for middle school and up.

Seattle Opera wants to be sure that teens have a chance to see this powerful show. All public performances* of As One are age 21+, so Teen Night is the perfect opportunity for middle, high, and college students. (Teachers and parents: this would also be great for your students or children!).

*Public performances will include a cash bar and will be open to individuals 21+ only.

To sign up: email education@seattleopera.org

OPERA Timeless & Timely

This blog post is based on a lecture Jonathan Dean gave as part of Seattle Opera’s adult education series at Seattle University on October 18, 2016. Next up in the series: on Tuesday, November 8 at 7:00 PM, Aidan Lang hosts a panel discussion with the cast and creative team of As One: composer Laura Kaminsky, co-librettist Mark Campbell, co-librettist Kimberly Reed via Skype, director L. Zane Jones, and conductor John Keene. Mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven and baritone Jorell Williams will also join in the conversation and perform excerpts from As One.

Our opera industry today is built upon a handful of paradoxes. Opera has always been a tug-of-war between sound and sense, between music and word; today, the auditory and visual sides of the opera experience are sometimes struggling partners. (Should we cast for voice or look?)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Making of As One

Seattle Opera presents As One, a transgender story, at Washington Hall. In the role of a single protagonist are two singers: baritone Jorell Williams (Hannah before) and Taylor Raven (Hannah after). 

By Jessica Murphy Moo  

The concept for As One began with composer Laura Kaminsky. She wanted to explore universal questions of identity through a transgender protagonist. How do we become our true selves? What sacrifices must we make to get there? How to portray that internal dialogue—that journey—onstage? Her idea, to use two people to voice the inner thoughts of a single character, percolated for two years before she moved forward.

American Opera Projects pledged their support, and two singers who had previously worked with Kaminsky also signed on. During this time Kaminsky watched the documentary film Prodigal Sons, by transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed. Kaminsky reached out to Reed to see if she would want to collaborate and create an original film for the work. What they still needed, however, was a story. So they brought librettist Mark Campbell on board.

During the creative team’s first meeting, Campbell turned to Reed and asked her if she would share any experiences in her life.

The creative team behind As One: Kimberly Reed (co-librettist), Mark Campbell (co-librettist), and Laura Kaminsky (composer). 
Reed remembered having a paper route. One time, she recalled, she did the route in a blouse she stole from a neighbor’s clothesline.

Campbell believed that story could turn into a song.

Campbell came up with the idea of creating an original story that would spring from some of Reed’s experiences and invited her to co-write the libretto. But many of the experiences of Hannah, the main character in the opera, are not Reed’s firsthand experiences. Campbell and Reed were more interested in abstracting that experience into a personal journey that could be both specific and universal.

Kaminsky wrote music for an intimate string quartet and for the voices of her original cast, baritone and mezzo-soprano. “Those voices don’t have a huge number of notes in common,” she says. “But I wanted there to be unison at critical moments in the story."

The original cast of As One included baritone Kelly Markgraf (Hannah before) and his wife, Sasha Cooke (Hannah after). Cooke most recently sang at Seattle Opera as Hansel in Hansel & Gretel. 
“We wanted to merge male and female voices,” says Campbell. “We didn’t want the boy to do only boy things and girl to do only girl things, but to prove that there is fluidity between genders.”

And they had to navigate around potential misperceptions. Two people onstage did not mean Hannah was two separate people. “The fact is that we all have this gender dialogue going on in us,” says Reed. You’ll hear in the music, for instance, that the story doesn’t start with only Hannah before. Hannah before and Hannah after are always present. “The transfolk I know have to figure out a way to incorporate that past expression of self with who we are now,” Reed says. “We all have to calibrate that. It’s an internal dialogue, whether we’re trans or not. So we are trying to depict that dialogue with two singers. It’s an abstract move. We’re speaking metaphorically."

Director L. Zane Jones in rehearsal with Taylor Raven (Hannah after) and Jorell Williams (Hannah before). Genevieve Hathaway photo
And the abstract, of course, is where music can shine. Consider, for instance, that Kaminsky chose the viola, the middle voice of the string quartet, to be the surrogate for Hannah’s soul. Prior to Seattle, As One has been produced five times, including in Berlin. Next year it will go to Pittsburgh, Denver, and Long Beach, CA, with more productions scheduled after that.

Why aren't the singers in this opera transgender? 
So far, all productions of As One have involved cisgender singers, meaning the singers identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. This casting raises an important question. If this opera is about the experiences of a transgender protagonist, why weren’t transgender singers cast in the work? One reason is availability of highly-trained professional opera singers. “There are not a lot of trans opera singers,” says co-librettist Kimberly Reed. With growing awareness comes a growing body of sound pedagogical practice and a growing number of classically trained transgender singers. But there is still work to be done. Reed hopes, for instance, that As One productions “can lead to that pipeline for training for trans opera singers.” To read a profile of a German transgender baritone (pictured below), Lucia Lucas, click here.

Baritone Lucia Lucas says:“I came out to the opera community at a ball with my wife — she wore a trouser suit and I wore a dress. People didn’t recognize me at first — they recognized my wife, then looked at me and eventually they figured it out. Being able to see their genuine reactions was helpful; I came out the next week. I told the intendant that I liked my job and hoped I could continue to do it, but this was something I had to do for myself; it was something I’d been putting off forever. He said: ‘OK, how does this work?” I replied: “Well, nobody’s ever done it before.'” [ Photo by Alice Neale, Accent magazine ]

About the Venue: Washington Hall 
Washington Hall is a registered city and national landmark, a status it earned for its historic role as the nerve center of Central Seattle’s art, culture, and community. Since 1908, when the Danish Brotherhood opened the doors to Washington Hall, it has been a place where people could live and socialize and perform. It began as a boarding house for new Danish immigrants while doubling as a performance space for a Sephardic troupe and dance hall for Filipino American youth. Washington Hall opened its doors to iconic performers Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald, among many other jazz greats. Jimi Hendrix played here. Martin Luther King spoke here. For many years Washington Hall served as the home for the contemporary performance organization On the Boards. Historic Seattle acquired the building from the black Masonic group Sons of Haiti in 2009. Renovation.
An opera for our community 
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. Our version of this important new opera is meant to be both an experience, and a vehicle for meaningful conversation. The company is proud to partner with LGBTQ, transgender, and social justice organizations (full list below). Representatives from these organizations will be available to the audience in the lobby prior to the show, and will offer resources on how to become allies and activists for transgender rights.

Full list of As One Community Partners 

Tickets & Information:
Nov. 11, 13, 17, 18, & 19, 2016
Washington Hall
153 14th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
Tickets: $25* & $40