Friday, March 24, 2017

THE COMBAT: Exploring Monteverdi with STEPHEN STUBBS

Famed early music maestro Stephen Stubbs (left, photo with Baroque harp and chitarrone by Bill Mohn) discussed the origins of opera, Monteverdi and the music of our new chamber opera pasticcio, The Combat, with me (Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean). Performances of The Combat run April 1-9 at Seattle Opera Studios in South Lake Union—the old warehouse we’re leaving once Seattle Opera At The Center is ready next year.

Maestro Stubbs made his mainstage Seattle Opera debut in the earliest opera we’ve presented to date, Handel’s Giulio Cesare (1724), in which he played chitarrone. That was in 2007, when he had just moved back to his native city after three decades working in all the early music capitols of Europe. Now he’s a credit to Seattle as Artistic Director of Pacific MusicWorks and Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on March 21, 2017, part of our monthly series at Seattle University:

Opera had been around for centuries, before most of the familiar “standard rep” operas were composed. In America, many of the fascinating pieces from the early chapters of opera history are still unfamiliar, although my sense is they’re more mainstream today in Europe.
It’s hard for me to judge, because the world of ‘early music’ is the world I’ve lived in for the last forty years. Seems mainstream to me!

Theater size can be a limiting factor. Most of our big American opera houses were built to showcase those grand nineteenth-century Romantic scores. That’s why we’re excited to present the music of The Combat in a chamber-opera format. Our performances will take place in a big chamber, not an opera house, and it’s really more authentic, because they didn’t have opera houses when this music was written!
That’s right, the centerpiece of The Combat, this “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” of Monteverdi, was written in 1624, in Venice, where they’d build Italy’s first opera houses starting about ten years later. Monteverdi was maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice, and the patron for whom he wrote this piece was a senator there, who later also sponsored his first opera in Venice. The composer was in his 70s, but this creation of a new art form was too exciting an opportunity to pass up, and he got in on the action.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Praise for Katya Kabanova

Corinne Winters as Katya. Philip Newton photo
"A feverishly powerful emotional experience." - The Seattle Times

"Packs a potent visceral punch both visually and emotionally. This production leaves no doubt why Leoš Janácek, who wrote both Kabanova’s music and libretto, is now considered one of the 20th century’s best composers of opera." - Queen Anne News

"Katya Kabanova is a memorable, thrilling production in every way...Well-conceived tragedy makes you think about human nature in deeper ways while enjoying the challenge of great theater. This production achieves those high goals." - Seattle Gay News

"...a lush, compelling three-act opera with an alluring backstory." - The Stranger

"Anyone dismayed by Seattle Opera’s bare-bones La traviata in January might think “Oh, not again” upon seeing the opening scene of the company’s Katya Kabanova, which opened Saturday—a completely empty black box. But be patient; it fills soon enough, not only with a set (including several pretty and effective projected backdrops) but with pathos and a great deal of ear-grabbing music." - Seattle Weekly 

Joshua Kohl (Kudrjas) and Maya Lahyani (Varvara). Philip Newton photo
"The visuals by Genevieve Blanchett and Mark Howett — combining sets, lighting and digital projections — underscore a basic tension between the lush natural beauty of the surroundings and the emotional ugliness of the Kabanov household...It beckons to a freedom that is beyond reach for Katya."  - The Seattle Times

"What makes Katya’s dilemma even more claustrophobic is the setting. Seattle Opera’s production is set in small town America in the 1950s—the most buttoned-down era in our recent history—when cozy country life was still seen as more American than loose life in the big city. The men wear fedoras and double-breasted suits; the women wear flats and pleated skirts, with their hair in tight curls under tight little hats. Kabanicha looks like a school principal ready to rap knuckles with a wooden ruler. Only Varvara, Kabanicha’s bobby-soxer daughter, displays any sense of freedom, wearing jeans and saddle oxfords, reading movie magazines, and sneaking out through the garden gate to see her boyfriend. She provides the single source of comfort and relief for poor browbeaten Katya." - Seattle Gay News

Victoria Livengood (Kabanicha). Philip Newton photo
"Victoria Livengood, in the critical role of Kabanicha, was perfectly cast. Her voice has a slight vibrato coupled with a sharp edge that perfectly encapsulated the dangerous self-absorption of a relentless matriarch." - Seattle Gay News

"Victoria Livengood was a thoroughly chilling Kabanicha, a master of psychological manipulation who used her dusky low notes to embody the cold-as-dry-ice matriarch."- The Seattle Times

"Stage director Patrick Nolan, production and digital designer Genevieve Blanchett, and lighting and digital designer Mark Howett, all in their Seattle Opera debuts, create a cinematic sensibility to match with the film-score feel of Janácek’s dramatic music." - Queen Anne News


Melody Moore (Katya). Philip Newton photo
"With the platinum gleam of her soprano, Melody Moore, Katya in opening night’s cast, makes these moments captivating."  - Seattle Weekly 

"Melody Moore combined her splendid vocal and theatrical gifts to deeply moving effect. She had full control over her powerful soprano, projecting the high-lying part easily across Janáček’s most tempestuous orchestration and applying exquisite shading and shaping. Moore conveyed Katya’s fear of her locked-up emotions with tremulous beauty, turning her final scene into an ecstatic vision of release that kept a refreshing distance from clichés of operatic madness."  - The Seattle Times

Joseph Dennis (Boris) and Melody Moore (Katya). Philip Newton photo
"Joseph Dennis sang with lyrical refinement." - "The Seattle Times

"Seattle Opera’s not only localized Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s 1921 opera, moving it out of 19th-century Russia, but pushed it forward to the conformist ’50s. The plot translates well ... it’s just the kind of concentrated, no-frills storytelling—a relentless trudge to tragedy—later taken up by successful American opera composers like Gian Carlo Menotti, Douglas Moore, and Carlisle Floyd." - Seattle Weekly 

Maya Lahyani (Varvara). Philip Newton photo
"Maya Lahyani made an appealingly free-spirited Varvara. As her boyfriend, Kudrjas, Joshua Kohl suggested a hipster rebel who nevertheless cautions Boris to play by the rules."- The Seattle Times

"Sustaining Moore and the rest of the superb cast was the gorgeously moody score performed with eloquence by conductor Oliver Dohnayi and his orchestra, although they occasionally overwhelmed the singers. The Seattle Opera chorus did a lovely job as always of enhancing the action." - Queen Anne News

"Maryland soprano Corinne Winters was vocally secure and dramatically intense, in the challenging role of Katya. Winters conveyed the soul-searing turmoil of a woman with deeply-held religious belief that extra-marital sexual thoughts are mortal sins, yet who accedes to a liaison with Boris while her husband is away." - Opera Warhorses



"As Tichon, Katya’s abusive husband, Nicky Spence’s strong voice subtly conveyed his vacillation between his overbearing mother’s dictates and his wife’s needs, which spur Tichon to anger and heavy drinking." - Queen Anne News

"Texas tenor Scott Quinn was vocally and dramatically effective as Boris, Katya’s seducer." - Opera Warhorses

"... Janáček’s gorgeous, multi-layered music bypasses the rational mind to dramatize the turmoil—the gathering storm—in Katya’s soul. As the conflict deepens and Katya becomes increasingly desperate, you almost feel like your own anxiety is part of the orchestra’s ominous percussion, its haunting, fragmented melodies, and its oppressive sense of doom." - Seattle Gay News

Corinne Winters (Katya). Jacob Lucas photo





Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A cinematic night at the opera

Seattle Opera's Katya Kabanova - photo by Philip Newton; plus stills from the movies La La Land and All That Heaven Allows. 
By Rebecca Brown 
While everyone else was watching the Oscars on TV, I was sitting on my couch dreamily remembering the most cinematic opera I have ever seen in my life. Seattle Opera’s visually stunning production of Janacek’s 1921 Katya Kabanova is, by turns, as color-drenched as a Douglas Sirk and as black-and-white stark as the graveyard scene David Lean’s David Copperfield. Some of the background settings are as magnificent and lonely as the ones in Shane. Cinema is a perfect analogue for this original production because it’s so much about how we see ourselves and others, about how often we look judgmentally and destroy our very own.

The opening shot - a girl alone on an empty stage, a space constructed for art - morphs into a star dappled sky. I couldn’t help think of the both realistic and fantasy sequence skies in La La Land, beneath which the hopeful artists imagine becoming Hollywood stars or musicians.

A still from the Oscar-award winner La La Land. 
 In Katya, the starry background includes green swirls suggestive of the Northern Lights. You can’t see the Northern lights in LA, but you can from some places in Russia, where “The Storm,” a play from the 1850’s on which the Czech language opera was based, is set. Seattle Opera shifts the action forward a hundred or so years to l950’s America complete with all its miserable conformity, hypocrisy and social pressure.

Melody Moore as Katya. Philip Newton photo
After the solitary Katya dreams beneath the stars, the sections of a white picket fence are assembled across the wide length of the stage in front of her; she’s trapped. When the fence is complete, it’s framed on the left by an apple tree - this place looks as American as apple pie! Old Glory flying near the middle of the fence underscores the squeaky clean patriotism of the place. But the apple tree, of course, is hung with forbidden fruit, and at the far right of the fence are a couple of garbage cans. Not all will stay tidy in paradise.

Victoria Livengood (Kabanicha), Corinne Winters (Katya) and Nicky Spence (Tichon). Jacob Lucas photo
There’s not much original in this story of marital love gone stale, illicit love, the corrupting love of societal convention, etc., in Katya Kabanova, which is like a lot of movies. But part of why we go to these movies and plays and operas is to be reminded that our struggles as humans are common and that they continue despite the age in which we live and the medium in which they are told.

Scott Quinn (Boris) and Corinne Winters (Katya). Philip Newton photo
That this production can both so astutely translate Janacek’s opera to our age and connect it to the movies we watch as recently as now, is a testament to the vitality and invention of this company. Bravo Aidan Lang for commissioning this production. More please!

Rebecca Brown is the author of a dozen books  - fiction and nonfiction – published in the US and abroad. She lives and works in Seattle. See her opera reviews for The Stranger here

Friday, February 10, 2017

AIDAN LANG INTRODUCES KATYA KABANOVA

Listen to or read this downloadable podcast by General Director Aidan Lang. Katya Kabanova, the 1921 masterpiece by Leoš Janáček, comes to Seattle for the first time this February (seven performances through March 11). Aidan explains his enthusiasm for the works of this great Czech composer, the themes of Katya Kabanova, and creative process behind our new production.

Hello, everyone, this is Aidan Lang, speaking to you now about Leoš Janáček’s Katya Kabanova.



I’ve often said that Janáček is a wonderful opera composer for first-time opera-goers, and people look at me as if I’m slightly mad on that. The traditional way of thinking is you take a newcomer to Bohème or to Butterfly.

Now, those two are great masterpieces, and are performed all around the world frequently. But for people who are opera-wary, or haven’t experienced an opera, they are likely to come to the theater more informed by the way they digest entertainment through film, through television. And the great advantage of the works of Janáček is they have the sort of directness and the emotional punch that you see today on long-narrative TV and in cinema. A first-timer will find a far more immediate bond with a work like Katya than they would with a more romantically-weighted work like La bohème.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Praise for La traviata

Corinne Winters (Violetta) and Joshua Dennis (Alfredo). Philip Newton photo
"Thought-provoking, imaginative, striking, and well-sung." - The Seattle Times

"Pure magic...Be prepared to be enthralled." - Heed the Hedonist

"This is a thought provoking Traviata, well worth seeing." - The SunBreak

"This surely must count as one of Seattle Opera’s most fascinating productions in recent seasons. no doubt a striking theatrical experience that does Seattle Opera’s artistic ambitions proud." - Bachtrack

Angel Blue as Violetta. Philip Newton photo
"Without the distractions of lavish costumes and scenery seen in most major productions, it’s easier to feel the piece as timeless, place-less and yes, in the moment." - Oregon Arts Watch

"Judiciously eliminating some chorus scenes as well as a cabaletta or two, this intermissionless performance unsparingly focuses the work on the kaleidoscopically beautiful and brutal relationship between Violetta and Alfredo." - Bachtrack

"This production, directed by Peter Konwitschny, is set in contemporary times. It could easily be the story of a high-class call girl in New York and the people who party with her and her colleagues: wealthy corporate bosses or the scions thereof. The disease Violetta contracts and is dying of is meant to be tuberculosis. Today it could be AIDS or any other nasty condition contracted through sexual congress." - The SunBreak

Angel Blue (Violetta) and Zach Borichevsky (Alfredo). Philip Newton photo
"[Angel Blue was] impressive vocally, her lush soprano displaying an attractive fluttering vibrato and carrying above the orchestra with ease...It was a thrill to hear such a massive voice sailing through the technical demands of the role, from an impassioned 'Amami, Alfredo' to a surprisingly delicate final act." Bachtrack

"An intensely compelling presence, Winters’ Violetta is by turns angry, vulnerable, and gritty...Vocally, her rich soprano best suits the spinto outbursts of Act II, though she ably navigated the Act I coloratura with fearless brilliance and a ringing E flat. Best of all, her nuanced shading and projection of the text eliminated the need for the projected supertitles".  - Bachtrack

"Winters embraced Violetta so thoroughly that we don’t pity her. We are sad that she has to die, that she loses her true love, but she goes out with dignity, backing away triumphantly into those red curtains." - Oregon Arts Watch 

Corinne Winters (Violetta) and Joshua Dennis (Alfredo). Philip newton photo
"It was a brilliant idea to remove the distractions of a set, in order to concentrate on the characters. There are only the stage curtain and succeeding receding curtains on the stage, all in lush red and drawn slowly to the side or back again, as symbols perhaps of the stages the characters pass through, in reality or in their minds." - The SunBreak

"Weston Hurt and Joshua Dennis sing the Germonts, father and son, with rich beauty of tone and suavity; Hurt, especially, gives “Di Provenza il mar,” in which he tries to persuade Alfredo to forget about Violetta, a pulsing warmth at a relaxed, seductively indulgent tempo." - Seattle Weekly

Weston Hurt (Gemont). Philip Newton photo
"Joshua Dennis, in his Seattle Opera debut, was excellent as Alfredo, the love-struck book nerd. His sweet, buttery tenor captures perfectly the earnestness that gradually opens the heart of Violetta, the 'It' girl courtesan (sex worker?) who keeps her emotions off limits from both her clients and the superficial snotty snobs around her." - The Stranger

Corinne Winters (Violetta) and Joshua Dennis (Alfredo). Philip Newton photo
"Weston Hurt as Alfredo’s father was also deeply affecting, his rich baritone providing some of the most beautiful musical moments." - Seattle P.I. 

"As Alfredo, Violetta's one true love, tenor Zach Borichevsky sang beautifully, particularly in the softer passages. Baritone Stephen Powell, as Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, had appropriate gravitas, and his nice, full voice blended perfectly with Blue's and Borichevsky's in the ensemble numbers." - Seattle Gay News

Stephen Powell (Germont). Philip Newton photo
"(Stephen) Powell’s Germont was a more traditional villain, patronizing his children and Violetta with equal superiority. Powell’s powerful baritone certainly makes an impact, especially in concert with Angel Blue’s thrilling soprano in their Act II encounter." - Bachtrack

"Smaller parts were excellently cast, including Eric Neuville’s wittily urbane Gastone whose elegant tenor certainly bodes well for many Alfredos in the future. Maya Lahyani’s plummy mezzo made an impact as a Mean Girls-esque Flora and seemed to connect particularly movingly with Corinne Winters’ Violetta." - Bachtrack

"Conductor Stefano Ranzani led a propulsive reading of the score that matched nicely with the production’s unflinching inevitability." - Bachtrack

Charles Robert Austin (Dr. Grenvil) and Karen Early Evans (Annina). Philip Newton photo
"There wasn't a weak link in the cast or in the always-fine chorus, and the orchestra played magnificently under the direction of Stefano Ranzani. The woodwinds and brass deserve special mention for their gorgeous sound." - Seattle Gay News 

"[Angel Blue gave] a highly committed performance, gaining much from her innate charisma." - Bachtrack

Angel Blue as Violetta. Jacob Lucas photo
 Seattle Opera's La traviata plays through Jan. 28
Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/traviata
#SOtraviata 










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:
seattleopera.org/traviata


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
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

AIDAN LANG INTRODUCES LA TRAVIATA

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
seattleopera.org/asone