Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Join us for TALK-BACKS after the show!

Three great reasons to stay at McCaw Hall after your performance of Don Giovanni:

1. Share your thoughts and feelings! After each performance we’re hosting a lively conversation in the Allen Room (on the Mercer St. side of McCaw Hall) to discuss this most intriguing of operas and that evening’s performance.

2. Meet the people who make it happen! General Director Aidan Lang will be at each Talk-Back, eager to hear from you what you loved (and what you didn’t love so much). And he’ll have a special guest from the production each night. For remaining performances of Don Giovanni, the guests will be:

Wednesday, Oct. 22 / Erik Anstine, Leporello
Saturday, Oct. 25 / Gary Thor Wedow, conductor
Wednesday, Oct. 29 / Cecelia Hall, Zerlina
Friday, Oct. 31 / Alexandra LoBianco, Donna Anna
Saturday, Nov. 1 / Gary Wedow, conductor

3. Avoid the traffic! Who enjoys waiting in their car while the Mercer St. parking lot empties very slowly? Stay with us a few minutes longer—that will give the traffic a chance to clear, and you’ll go home stimulated instead of aggravated.

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Meet Our Singers: ERIN WALL, Donna Anna

Vancouver native Erin Wall makes her Seattle Opera debut this fall as Donna Anna, the unhappy daughter of Don Giovanni’s stone guest. Vancouver opera-lovers saw her recently in this same role, but in a very different production from Seattle’s. The other day Wall told us a little about going to college in Washington, singing Donna Anna, and the perils of long-distance running in Seattle.

Erin Wall sings a passage from Donna Anna's Act Two aria, "Non mi dir"

Welcome to Seattle Opera! We’re excited about your debut. Tell us a little about your background.
Yes, I’m Canadian - I grew up in Vancouver, BC. I did my undergraduate degree at Western, in Bellingham. I wanted to be away from home, but still close enough to drive home on weekends. After that, I went to Rice University in Houston for two years of graduate school, and then I moved to Chicago, where I joined the Young Artists Program at Lyric Opera of Chicago. I lived in Chicago until I married my husband.

And where do you live now?

So you’re back to being Canadian! And let me ask you a question, as a family person—you have a husband, and children—the thing about Don Giovanni, to any of the characters in this opera have what it would take to be a decent wife, husband, mother, father, etc.?
Probably Ottavio does. He’s the only who seems to really want that.

That’s right. He’s very pushy with Anna about getting married.
Right?! He’s all, “Can we get married now? Your father’s dead body is still warm...but let’s go get married.”

Seems to me most of these characters have the maturity of teenagers. Leporello has a line in a recitative somewhere referring to his wife...but it’s hard think of him as being married.
Right! Like, where is she?! And what does she think about the fact that he’s never home, and that he’s constantly running around as Don Giovanni’s wing-man?

In terms of Anna, there are so many different ways to interpret her. The two basic frameworks you get are a) that everything that comes out of her mouth is true, that Don Giovanni did try to rape her, that she wasn’t into it, and that she just needs time to grieve for her father before she can get married with Don Ottavio. There’s a custom that you don’t get married while you’re in mourning, for a year. That’s why she says what she does, at the end. That’s the traditional approach to Donna Anna, and I think it makes sense. But then you also can have the Donna Anna who is lying about what happened with Giovanni, and maybe that lady is not ready to get with Ottavio.

Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ottavio and Erin Wall as Donna Anna
Elise Bakketun, photo

Tell us about the Don Giovanni you recently did in Vancouver.
Traditional, eighteenth-century. Lots of projections, in the production. Kelly Robinson was the director, and he believed what Anna says is the truth, and I had a nice, strong Ottavio, too. It worked fine.

Is the interpretation of the character slightly different in Seattle, then?
Yes , [Stage Director] Chris [Alexander]’s interpretation is that it’s not all so straightforward. You’ll see right from the beginning—this won’t be the same interpretation we did in Vancouver.

Photo by Tara McMullen, styled by Liz Anne Fumiko Parker, hair and makeup by Ivy Lam, dress by Rosemarie Umetsu

On your website we found a photo that shows you as a runner as well as a singer.
Oh, my publicity photo! Yes, most of those photographs come out being quite dull, you know, sitting there like this: [strikes a pose]. So we went outside with the photographer; I like to run, I’ve run in lots of races, and I had piles of running shoes and diva shoes, and we put a running bib over my gown. She wanted to show two sides of my personality.

Are you a sprinter?
No, I am a very slow runner. My favorite distances are the 10K and half-marathon. I haven’t done a full marathon yet. I’ve trained for two, but both times I became pregnant, and my doctors were strongly against marathon running while pregnant! But one of these days I will do one. I just did a half-marathon in Chicago, before coming here.

Are you going to run while you’re in Seattle?
Yes. In fact, I did a half-marathon here, in 2011, ending in disaster. It’s hilly here! It was very cold and wet, and I got hypothermia—I underdressed for the conditions and lived to regret it.

Erin Wall as Donna Anna
Elise Bakketun, photo

Tell us about your character’s journey over the course of the show.
Most of Donna Anna’s journey is Act One. It’s very exciting, from when you come onstage, then her father being killed, then finding out who did that. But from that point onward it’s less dynamic; you get this ambiguous situation at the end, where, Yay! Don Giovanni is dead, but she's still not ready to move on with her life and marry Ottavio.

And do you sing Donna Elvira?
No, I don’t think I can! I’ve tried in the practice room, fooled around with it, but it sits a little too low for me. And as for Zerlina, no, they would never cast anyone with my voice type. There must be some soprano who has sung all three.

If you were in the audience, as opposed to onstage, watching Don Giovanni, with which of the characters would you say: “Oh, that’s me.” Who would you identify with?
None of them. Maybe Leporello. Running around cleaning up other people’s messes—that’s what I do anyway, as a mother!

I love that! Leporello as Don Giovanni’s mother! Even keeping the scrapbook!
That’s right, he likes keeping track of things, statistics—I’m into that—now that’s going to go into print, and I’m going to be embarrassed!

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Meet Our Singers: ALEXANDRA LOBIANCO, Donna Anna

Making her debut with Seattle Opera this fall is American soprano Alexandra LoBianco, who is also making her role debut as Donna Anna—and her first professional Mozart appearance. (Photos of Alexandra LoBianco as Donna Anna and Randall Bills as Don Ottavio by Elise Bakketun.) It’s an exciting time for this up-and-coming young soprano, and she told us a little about this intriguing character of Donna Anna, her career so far, and some recent adventures.

Alexandra LoBianco sings a passage from Anna's aria, "Or sai chi l'onore"

You’re new on our mainstage! Tell us about yourself.
I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m the only musician in my family. I started as a professional clarinetist. But I had also been singing all my life, and finally my high school choral teacher Todd Donovan (who is now a colleague) said, “You know, you have a great voice. Have you thought about opera?”

Was there much opera in your part of Florida?
Yes, there’s Opera Tampa, St. Petersburg Opera, Sarasota...there was a lot of opera, but we tended to go to the symphony or to the theater. My parents would go to opera when we traveled. When I was in middle school, my parents took me to the Met for Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci, and I fell in love with opera. They were very kind, they had gotten front row tickets so I could look into the pit, because I thought I was going to be a clarinetist and I wanted to watch what the conductor and orchestra were doing. But there came this moment in Pagliacci, it was when Nedda lay down on her back to sing her aria, and I thought: “How in the world...?!”

And the stage stole your attention away from the pit!
[Chuckles] That’s it exactly! And then, in high school, theater became my way of being myself. I was the fat kid, the outsider, so theater became my outlet; telling stories. That’s where I found my voice. And then came my first opera job, in the chorus at Opera Carolina, and as I was sitting in the house watching the principals work I found myself muttering, “I have to do this!” ‘Cause I tried to quit singing multiple times. I was going to go into music therapy, I was going to go to culinary school...but at Opera Carolina I fell in love with the visceral connection that has to happen with the sound an opera singer makes. Yes, I knew I could make that sound; but I didn’t understand the power of that sound until then. So I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn’t do any of the Young Artists Programs, don’t have a Master’s in voice. I studied privately, with the same teacher, for 10 years, and only really started my career six years ago.

Now, this is your Seattle Opera mainstage debut! But this is not your first time with Seattle Opera.
I came to Seattle Opera in 2013 and covered Maria Gavrilova as Suor Angelica. It was a phenomenal experience, and to work with Gary Thor Wedow...! They were kind enough, in scheduling, to let me go onstage to sing the final dress rehearsal, and that was just an out-of-this-world experience. I remember finishing and—there’s something extraordinarily humbling about walking out onstage for a bow. When the whole place goes nuts...I started crying, because it was so overwhelming. You get hit by that sound, that wave of energy, and—whoa! It was phenomenal. Also to work with Gary, before coming back to do Don Giovanni. Honestly, I’ve been terrified. Donna Anna is my first Mozart.

Really?! Into the deep end, you go, girl!
Yes: how do I do this?

So what do you normally sing? I see you’ve recently sung Menotti.
The Consul in Santa Barbara, right. We used the same set you had in Seattle, so I came up here to sit in on a few of the rehearsals, to get a sense of the whole show. It was great to watch Carlo [Montanaro, Seattle’s The Consul conductor] and meet Marcy [Stonikas, who sang Magda Sorel in Seattle] and the cast.

What was it like to sing Magda Sorel? There’s another huge, wildly emotional roller-coaster ride...
That was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever done. You’re onstage the entire time. We played Magda slightly differently than Marcy and Vira [Slywotzky] did in Seattle; we really made her into another freedom-fighter, a little stronger, more intense, in your face.

So, speaking of intense, in-your-face women, let’s talk about Donna Anna! Her big Act One aria, “Or sai,” calls for an almost heroic, laser-soprano sound. Are you going to sing Wagner?
I do. And it’s fun!

What do you sing?
Brünnhilde. Just a little Brünnhilde here and there! [laughs] No, we’ve been doing the reduced version of the Ring, by Jonathan Dove, which is perfect for me right now. My first one was Sieglinde, in a fully staged Die Walküre with piano when I was 26 years old. That was my first soprano role, in fact.

Gee, when you’re not in a Young Artists Program, you’re allowed to do all sorts of crazy things!
Well, my teacher said, “Of course you can do it, it’s with piano, you’ll be fine!” But to answer your question about “Or sai,” yes, I think it’s much like Elektra. Vengeance, power. I was just singing Brünnhilde in Siegfried before I came here, and this is much more fierce.

Tell us what “Or sai” is about.
This is her big realization—not only is the man who killed my father someone I know—but it’s my fault that it happened. I made that choice. The pain, the realization that all her choices in her life caused this. I think it turns at this moment into post-traumatic stress disorder.

So even though you’re singing this aria to your fiancé, Don Ottavio, it’s not really about him; it’s about you.
He’s there, because I want him to take vengeance for me. I don’t think I can do it myself, really.

You give him that job, in the aria; but the emotion of the aria is about herself and her father. Poor Ottavio is just caught in the cross-fire.
I think Anna and Ottavio have been connected for a long time. There are political reasons for the marriage; there is friendship. There is love, but I think it’s not a passionate love. We’re taking it to the point where, she cannot touch another man because of what she’s done.

And in the recit before “Or sai,” when you’re telling Ottavio how Giovanni crept into your bedroom and tried to rape you, you say, “At first I thought it was you.”
Yes, that’s a bold-faced lie. She knew it wasn’t him. At least in my opinion.

Has she ever touched Ottavio, do you think?

Anna’s second aria, “Non mi dir,” comes from a much more fragile person.
She’s spiraling into madness. She’s going into the angst, the “What do I do, how do I continue?” Maybe, maybe one day we might be able to make it work. As she sings the aria she’s wondering: “Am I ever going to be ok again? Or am I just making things up, to make him feel better, and to make me feel better?” That’s why there’s all that coloratura at the end. For me, that’s all this struggle between hope, which is the higher notes, and despair, when it all comes cascading down.

Randall Bills (Ottavio) tries to comfort Anna (Alexandra LoBianco), who has fainted upon finding the corpse of her father (Jordan Bisch)

And how is that coloratura for you? Sometimes you people with big, Wagner-sized voices don’t have to worry too much about coloratura...
I like coloratura, I enjoy it. It keeps my voice moving, it keeps it flexible. I’ve covered Norma, I enjoy singing Bach. But spending the time I did, learning to sing with my wonderful mentor, Carol Kirkpatrick...she insisted I learn how to sing coloratura, and it’s always in my voice, there’s always something I’m working on, to try to achieve clear coloratura. It never feels clear on the inside! It always feels like mush, even if it sounds right on the outside.

Which is trickier to sing, “Or sai” or “Non mi dir”?
“Or sai,” because of how it stacks. It steps up and up and up, and there’s no time to breathe. I worked it backwards; figured out how to do the ending, and then backed up and eventually learned how to do the recit.

Yes, that recit, where she tells the story of the attempted rape—that is fierce.
Yes, and you have no time at all between the end of the recit and the beginning of the aria. Whereas, with “Non mi dir” you have time to breathe here and there. And she uses that time to think. Whereas, in “Or sai” there is no time to think. She’s just exploding: “This must happen now!”

Why should people come to see Don Giovanni this fall?
You know, it’s awful to say, but I have not been that big a fan of Mozart’s operas up to now. I love Mozart; love his Clarinet Concerto, symphonies, etc.—the way Chris Alexander is staging this, it’s so beautiful, and it’s such great storytelling. You have really vibrant, three-dimensional characters onstage, real people. Everyone can identify with somebody in this story, at some stage. You’ll be able to find yourself in here. That’s what’s important to me, as an opera singer--to be able to bring the audience into the story. And it will happen here.

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meet Our Singers: ASHRAF SEWAILAM, Leporello

Ashraf Sewailam sings Leporello at tonight’s rehearsal of Don Giovanni. Hailing from Cairo, Egypt, this versatile bass has been singing with Seattle Opera since 2007, in roles such as Colline in La bohème, Pistola in Falstaff, and the Mandarin in Turandot. But he sings all over the world, and has much to say about Don Giovanni and opera in Egypt and the Middle East—and places even further afield.

Ashraf Sewailam and colleagues sing a passage from the Don Giovanni sextet

You’ve worked at New Zealand Opera, the former home of our new General Director, Aidan Lang.
Yes, when I heard that Aidan had been hired to run Seattle Opera, I was thrilled. I was impressed that you found him! He’s really an awesome guy. New Zealand Opera is a wonderful company; it’s welcoming, generous and friendly. Aidan really raised the stakes there, he established a wonderful Young Artists program, and he brought in singers from all over the world. Working there was a great experience. We did the best updated Rigoletto I’ve ever seen. I’m heading back there soon to do Alidoro in La Cenerentola, a co-production with Brisbane, in Australia. And I’m so looking forward to the trip. You can’t have a bad cup of coffee in Wellington! I thought Seattle was the be-all and end-all of coffee until I went to New Zealand.

Now, one of the things Aidan is known for is expanding the scope of New Zealand Opera so that the company performs in multiple cities.
Yes, we did nine performances, first in Wellington, then in Aukland. You know, the Kiwis tend to be a little down on themselves, and I think it’s totally unwarranted. It’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, with wonderful art and artists. Yet they feel they’re in the boonies; there’s a feeling that all the young ‘uns have to go to Europe, to “the real world,” to get experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to travel, to go abroad; but it’s not good to go because you feel that you’re not good enough. You are.

Ashraf Sewailam as the Mandarin in Seattle Opera's Turandot, 2012
Elise Bakketun, photo

Speaking of moving from country to country, we see a lot of bad behavior in the opera Don Giovanni. Do you think this is universal, or is Don Giovanni about a specific culture?
Pondering the dramaturgy of Don know, Spain was occupied by the Arabs for 700 years. So this whole idea that honor resides between the thighs of the female—that’s where it came from. In the Middle East, people can be very Puritanical. And yet they’re obsessed with sex. That’s the duality of Don Giovanni.

Interesting. Technically this takes place in Seville, but you’re saying it could take place in North Africa....
...or in Cairo, my hometown! [chuckles] I would dare place it in Saudi Arabia, or someplace like Emirates, where it’s more open on the surface—more affluent, modern architecture, diverse nationalities, and...a lot goes on. And yet every now and then you hear, “A couple were arrested for kissing on the beach.” But if you check Google statistics, it’s one of the countries where people look for sex the most.

So you find the behavior in Don Giovanni universal, at least in terms of geography. What about in terms of time? Do you find there’s anything dated about this opera?
No, it’s not at all dated. The tug-of-war between Puritanism and libertinism is an ebb and flow, then as now. Compare America of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the sexual revolution and freedom, with the Calvinism which followed in the ‘80s and ‘90s. This opera will never go out of fashion, because that fight will never end.

Ashraf Sewailam (Pistola) and Steven Goldstein (Bardolfo) in Falstaff, 2010
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Tell us about doing Julius Cesar in Egypt at the Egyptian Philharmonic. Do you get to sing in Egypt very often?
Yes, I try to sing at home as much as possible. I feel it’s my duty to contribute what I can. Some friends and I have a nonprofit which offers voice lessons to Egyptian students, and we’ve taken shows on tour, in Egyptian translation. Bassem Youssef, known as ‘the Jon Stewart of Egypt,’ featured videos of our performances, which then went viral. But in terms of Caesar, yes, they hired me a couple of years ago for that opera, so I thought, Oh, I’ll play the bass role, you know, Achilla. But due to budget cuts, the opera house had to scale back the production, and they called me to discuss which arias would be cut—and we went in circles until I realized they were expecting me to sing Caesar!’s a mezzo role! Or a countertenor. And you’re a bass.
Well, yes, but in the Middle East they’re not going to listen to a countertenor, sorry. It’s a cultural thing. So I found a recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and learned to sing Caesar as a bass!

Right, and Norman Treigle did it in the U.S. But really, if there’s a cultural objection to the way Handel wrote his music, why do it at all? Why not hire a composer and write a new opera?
Funny you should ask, because I’ve been going back and forth to Egypt for several years now, including the year of the revolution, doing new operas. Some great works of literature, stories from the ‘60s and ‘70s, set to music by Egyptian composers. Amazing experiences for me. One of these works was on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1988. It was amazing to meet him, and to premiere the opera in Alexandria, which is where his novel takes place.

How many different performing groups do you work with there?
There’s the Cairo Symphony Orchestra; then there’s the Cairo Opera, with Cairo Opera Orchestra, which is the pit orchestra that accompanies ballet and opera; and then a smaller group, the Cairo Philharmonic. The Alexandria Library is another entity which produces concerts and operas. I did a Magic Flute, in Egyptian translation, with them.

Any upcoming plans to go to Egypt?
December and January of this year, yes, I’m going to be giving a solo recital.

You must have a pretty good fan base built up there.
In Cairo and Alexandria, yes.

Ashraf Sewailam sang the voice of Louis, the jazz-loving alligator, in the Arabic dub of Disney's The Princess and the Frog

Do they like Don Giovanni, in Egypt?
We’ve done it, both in Italian and in Arabic, at the Cairo Opera. Culturally it’s a bit foreign. On the other hand, Egypt’s opera audience tends to be a bit more Westernized than the people of mainstream Egypt.

Have you sung elsewhere in the Middle East?
I sang Carmen in Dubai, in the UAE. The resources they have available there are amazing. They didn’t have an opera house at the time, so they turned a ballroom in the Grand Hyatt into a theater. Lights, costumes, sets, orchestra, the whole thing; a bunch of us singers from America were flown in.

You’re a dual citizen, both Egyptian and American.
Yes, I was naturalized earlier this year. I’m based in Boulder, Colorado, where I did my graduate work at the University of Colorado.

Ashraf Sewailam made his Seattle Opera debut as Colline (left) in La bohème, 2007, with Tony Dillon (Benoit), Marcus DeLoach (Schaunard), Scott Piper (Rodolfo), and Michael Todd Simpson (Marcello)
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Let’s talk about Don Giovanni. As a bass, you could probably sing a bunch of the characters in this opera.
Yes, Masetto was one of the first roles I ever sang. I’m not really the right voice for the Commendatore. You need a voice like a cannon for that. Leporello is my favorite. I’ve actually done excerpts of Don Giovanni in Arabic, you can find it on YouTube.

What is important to you about the Don?
Giovanni is not pure evil. That’s the easy way out. You have to make him likeable; he has to have some redeeming quality. Ultimately, though, he is a person of no consequence. He does not change his world; he’s so wrapped up in his own desires, he’s not interested in anybody or anything else. It’s funny, because he may be a libertine, but there is nothing free about him. He is trapped. I find Leporello shows more promise, in terms of the future, because of his work ethic and his intelligence. He is the one who would get educated and become middle class, which is the core of modern society. Masetto, on the other hand, is salt of the earth. He’s genuine; but his IQ isn’t that high. He is all brute force, all absolutes. Because of that, I doubt Masetto will get anywhere in life or change his situation. For me, Leporello is the ideal character.

What motivates Leporello?
His professionalism. He is a professional butler, and he takes his job very seriously. Watch all those British movies and TV shows about the servants—they take a great pride in their craft. At the end of the opera, Leporello says he needs to go find a new, better master. He’s a fantastic professional butler, with just enough conscience to tell Giovanni off every now and then. He’s intelligent and resourceful, but not cultured, not educated. He wants to repeat all the eloquent vocabulary he hears Giovanni use.

It’s important that Leporello is not a buffoon. He’s a real man. He disapproves of Giovanni’s morality, but he’s fascinated by how it works. He wouldn’t do it himself.

Why does Leporello stay with this man who’s so awful to him?
It was a very class-oriented system. You’re born a servant and you remain a servant for the rest of your life. There was no middle class; there was no education, unless you were nobility. So you were stuck with where you were. If you were intelligent and resourceful you made the most of it. Last year, I was at San Diego Opera working with Ferrucio Furlanetto, who is my idol, in terms of Leporello.

Furlanetto, one of the all-time greats Leporellos.
Yes, a tremendous actor and with impeccable vocal technique. And he’s the one who told me: Leporello is a real man. The comedy comes from the situations, not from him. It will be funnier if Leporello plays each situation seriously.

Do you find Leporello funny?
I think he’s witty. He has a sense of humor, and he uses that to deal with the different situations he’s in. I come from Egypt, which is a country where we deal with calamities by making fun of them. Egyptian humor makes fun of everything. They downed Mubarak by making fun of him, ultimately.

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Our Singers: CECELIA HALL, Zerlina

Last time Seattle audiences saw mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall, she was 30 feet in the air. As one of the Rhine Daughters in Wagner’s epic Ring, she underwent several months of intense, physical training to be able to “swim” through the air with the grace of a mermaid. She returns to Seattle for Don Giovanni, to sing the role of Zerlina, a beautiful peasant girl with eyes for the Don (despite that it's her wedding day!). Hall, a Juilliard graduate with an impressive, young career, talks to us about working with her former professor and mentor, Stephen Wadsworth (also, director of Seattle Opera’s Ring), the timeless archetypes in Mozart’s masterpiece, and her approach to acting.

Cecelia Hall sings a passage from Zerlina's aria "Vedrai, carino"

From the mythic, larger-than-life world of Wagner, to Mozart’s timeless classic set in Seville, Spain— your latest Seattle Opera role is a big change from your last one!
Yes! Now, I am on the ground the whole time [laughs]. You can’t get much more different than Wagner and Mozart; musically, they’re two different landscapes. In the Ring, I was very much part of this epic ensemble—putting on that production was a real undertaking. Obviously, Don Giovanni is still an undertaking, but it has fewer characters; there’s a lovely intimacy about this show. You get to see a few relatable, human characters reacting in extreme situations. You also get to see how they grow as individuals.

You’re a mezzo, but Zerlina is sometimes a soprano; do you find this comfortable vocally? Also, is there an advantage to having a mezzo sing the part?

Zerlina—I find her to be a really earthy girl. She’s of a lower class than the other women in the show. She has this simplicity to her. It doesn’t come from a place of ignorance or unintelligence, but rather, from a sort of spontaneity. She’s comfortable in her sexuality and in her own skin. Many sopranos are very successful in the role, but I find that the warmth of a mezzo color can help bring that sensuality to this part.

Cecelia Hall at Don Giovanni rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo

In terms of acting, what have you learned from Stephen Wadsworth? Have you carried any of that into your work with other directors and other productions?
I spent two years in the Artist Diploma Program at Juilliard where I worked with Stephen. The acting for singers in that program is wonderful. I’ve done several shows with Stephen at Seattle Opera, Juilliard, and at The Met. To be in his class and in his shows has transformed the way I think about my craft, as well as the tools I use. What Stephen has taught me helps me every day in my career. You find ways to relate deeply to the character you’re playing, so you can bring all of your life experience to the situations that she finds herself in. This allows for a uniquely honest portrayal; you’re not acting, as in, a stereotypical characterization of a two-dimensional character. Instead, you’re taking your own personhood and allowing a more human response to happen.

Cecelia Hall (right) as Wellgunde in Götterdämmerung, with Renée Tatum (left) as Flosshilde
Elise Bakketun, photo

When we as people go through our days, we’re not thinking: “sadness,” “happiness,” etc. We’re thinking, “What am I going to do about that big party I’m planning?” or “I’m stressed about my relationship with my mom.” And these thoughts translate into emotions. Stephen has a way of teaching stage craft so that we understand how to apply our humanness. So, when Zerlina is thinking, “My husband is so angry at me,” that’s going to inspire anger, anxiety and worry—it comes from a flowing, moving, train of thought.

Why does Zerlina ask Masetto to beat her?
They have a fiery, passionate relationship that can get heated. Have you seen that Häagen-Dazs cream commercial with the husband who comes home? It’s all in Italian. The couple starts out fighting. But then, he’s brought this ice cream home and they quickly become all lovey dovey—but then, before you know it, they’re fighting again! I think this is the norm for Zerlina and Masetto; however, they’ve never had anything threaten their relationship as much as Don Giovanni does. Masetto is hurt, and he shows a side of himself that’s both cruel, and a little cold. That scares Zerlina into thinking she’s going to lose him. I think she knows he would never actually hurt her. So, she says, “Do whatever you want to me. I’m yours. All I want to do is make up.” And it works.

Cecelia Hall and Nicolas Cavallier rehearsing a scene from Don Giovanni
Alan Alabastro, photo

What’s your particular take on Zerlina? 
She is a very outgoing, spontaneous and strong woman. I try to cultivate those reactions to the situations she’s in. So, instead of a subtle weighing of options that might be my own default, when I’m playing Zerlina, I like to approach everything with a straightforwardness. Sometimes the character that I’m playing onstage actually affects my own behavior in real life.

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Meet Our Singers: MARK WALTERS, Don Giovanni

If it weren’t for a single opera camp he attended in Iowa at age 22, American baritone Mark Walters wouldn’t be about to make his Seattle Opera debut as the title role in Don Giovanni. Instead, he’d either be playing the French Horn, or perhaps directing a high school band somewhere in the Midwest. “Although I always sang growing up, I was a much better instrumentalist than vocalist,” he says. Learn more about this rising-star baritone who’s been noted by the press as a “force to be reckoned with.” He performs at McCaw Hall on Oct. 19 and 31.

Mark Walters sings Don Giovanni's "Champagne" aria

That opera camp, Dorian Opera Theater at Luther College, had a profound effect on you! Tell us more about it.
We were really trained in all aspects of opera. In addition to performing, we even built the sets and costumes. We took voice lessons and movement classes. I got a taste for the creative process, the sense of being onstage. I also got to meet other singers who said they were going to be opera singers; opera is much more social than playing an instrument, where you often spend many long hours of practice alone.

You’ve done leading male roles in Verdi operas such as Rigoletto and La Traviata, as well as German baritone roles. What do you hope to do in the future?
I actually started off as a very light baritone: I sang Curly in Oklahoma and Figaro in The Barber of Seville, for example. I plan to do more Verdi operas right now, and hopefully, more German parts in the future depending on how my voice develops. I always carry two or three scores around with me, and I'm constantly studying new repertoire. 

What motivates your character, Don Giovanni?
Lust for life. The singer who originally portrayed the role was 23. With that in mind, I think Giovanni has to have the impulsiveness of youth.

How does The Don justify his behavior?
He says, to be fair to women, he should be able to love them all because it’s cruel to withhold himself—it’s only fair that all women should get to experience him! [laughs].

You’re a baritone. Is Mozart’s Bad Boy a bass or a baritone role?
When this piece was written, the modern baritone didn’t exist. Verdi had a lot to do with pushing the baritone voice much higher. There were two types of basses available to Mozart: higher and lower; there was a darker bass, and a lighter bass—which turned into the modern baritone. Throughout history, The Don has been sung by many voice types.

Mark Walters in rehearsal for the title role in Don Giovanni. Alan Alabastro photo
What is unique about this particular role? In general, do you like being the bad guy or the good guy?
It’s a lot of fun to be the villain. I’m soon going to be doing my first Scarpia in Tosca—he’s a very cultivated villain, for example. Giovanni I don’t think of as a villain in my approach to him. He pursues what he wants, and he has no regrets, even in his dying moments. He doesn’t have the sin of fear or regret. He does leave a lot of collateral damage in his wake, though. Even when you play a villain, you can’t think of them as the bad guy.

You recently sang The Don in Osaka. What was that like?
I was the only non-Japanese singer there, and it was a concert situation—so, not fully staged. The voices were really great; some of them may go on to great careers. On the other hand, many of the people I worked with only spoke Japanese, which makes an international career more difficult. The Japanese language features pure Italian vowels, however, so singing Italian opera is actually pretty easy for them. The big adventure of Japan, of course, is the food and travel experiences

From left: Mark Walter (Don Giovanni), Evan Boyer (Masetto) and Cecelia Hall (Zerlina) in rehearsal for Don Giovanni. Alan  Alabastro photo
What had you heard about Seattle before coming here; what do you think of our fair city?!
I heard Seattle Opera was a great place to work, and that the people and musicians were wonderful. I love to hike, so I’m really looking forward to doing that here!

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Meet Our Singers: ELIZABETH CABALLERO, Donna Elvira

Elizabeth Caballero made her Seattle Opera debut five years ago, singing the spitfire Susanna who wed the Figaro of Nicolas Cavallier in The Marriage of Figaro. Now she returns, again opposite Cavallier, as the Donna Elvira who relentless pursues her wandering ‘husband’ Don Giovanni to the gates of hell itself. Caballero spoke to us the other day about this favorite character of hers, about the challenges of singing Mozart, and about the unique magic of being at a live performance.

Elizabeth Caballero sings a passage from Elvira's aria, "Mi tradi"

Thanks for speaking to our blog, Liz! You and your colleagues in this Don Giovanni cast are very active on social media.
Yes, there’s more people getting into it, more singers tweeting nowadays.

Were you one of the first singers to make social media a major part of your life?
I got on the bandwagon right away. I’d had a website for years, and it’s true that I set up a Facebook fan page before a lot of singers. I wanted a separate private persona away from my public career. We’re out in public, and people want to get to know us, but it’s nice to have your own life, too. That’s where the fan page is helpful. And when tweeting started, I got right on board. And Instagram. What I haven’t done is Tumblr.

Do you like working with a cast like this, where everyone is tweeting to each other?
Yes, it’s fun! We take pictures in rehearsal, and share them, and I think it helps create a buzz before the show. My fans tweet to me or Facebook-message me, and I try to reply to what they say.

How are opera-lovers different on social media than in real life?
Oh, they’re not very different. They’re excited to know you’re in town: “Oh, you’re here! I can’t wait to see you!” Some of them are shy, so I’m usually the one to invite fans to meet me at the backstage door. Many fans on Twitter are students, who are learning about opera or learning to sing your roles, so they have lots of questions. Others may be people who have been following opera for years, and it’s nice to be on their radar.

Elizabeth Caballero as Mimì in La boheme
Elise Bakketun, photo

We last heard you in Seattle as Mimì. What’s the difference between singing Puccini and singing Mozart?
You use the same exact voice; just the style is different. I’m not going to change the color of my sound, I’m not going to change my technique; but Mozart calls for clean lines, whereas in Puccini, in verismo style, you’re allowed to make portamento, that is connecting note to note, or more flexibility in terms of matching the voice to the orchestra. Mozart is much more exposed. I find Mozart to be much more difficult. With Puccini, there’s a big orchestra beneath you, and there are places you might be able to hide a technical flaw in there.

That’s so interesting...when that happens, are you aware of it? Do you know you’re hiding a technical flaw?
I don’t. This is why I love to maintain Mozart in my repertoire, because with Mozart you can’t hide it. It creeps up. “Oh, I’m having trouble singing this line...why?” You have to go into technique and fix it, to figure out why you’re having trouble.

Ted Schmitz as Don Basilio and Elizabeth Caballero as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro
Rozarii Lynch, photo

It’s like hearing a funny noise from your car, and you have to become the technician who fixes it.
And once I fix the problem, in Mozart, suddenly Puccini becomes easier to sing, too. It worries me when I hear young singers say, “Oh, I can’t sing Mozart.” Well, you should be able to sing Mozart! Just sing it with your voice—that’s one of the things it took me a while to figure out. Your voice doesn’t change; the style does. Tucker sang Mozart. Birgit Nilsson sang Mozart. There’s no excuse for a person with a big voice to say, “Sorry, I don’t sing Mozart.” Alexandra LoBianco, one of our Donna Annas here, has a huge voice, a Brünnhilde voice, and she’s singing Mozart and it sounds absolutely stunning.

What do you sing by Verdi?
I like to sing La traviata, and I just sang my first Alice Ford, in Falstaff. I’d like to do Desdemona someday. Luisa Miller I’ve been learning. I would like to learn more of these early Verdi roles, the more bel canto roles.

Lots of great heroines there. Who’s the best female character in Don Giovanni?
I just sang my first Donna Anna. But I’m singing Elvira here in Seattle—that’s one of the roles I’ve done the most, so I know her very well. I’m a little scared to ask why they always cast me as Elvira! Donna Anna is a lot easier to sing. Elvira sits in the middle, and my voice is higher-placed, so for me it’s comfortable to sing Anna, who is always up on top. But dramatically, Anna doesn’t interest me as much, particularly toward the end of the second act.

Dramatically, that’s when Elvira stops being so funny and pathetic, and starts getting awesome.
That’s the thing about Elvira—you do get to be funny, too, whereas with Anna you have to be serious the entire time. I love Anna’s Act One aria, “Or sai,” and the recit...

That’s that fiery quality you have—that’s why everyone is keen to cast you as Elvira! So have you ever known a Don Giovanni or an Elvira?
Oh, of course...I’ve been Elvira a few times, I’m sure! Every man likes to think of himself as a Don Juan. And every woman, every person, really, has played Elvira once or twice...this part of, “Oh, why don’t you love me anymore?” That’s life.

So everyone has been an Elvira, has gotten dumped, abandoned. But the woman in the opera goes one step beyond most of us, no?
The difference with Elvira is that she has God in her life. Don Giovanni found her in a convent. She was a novice, going to become a nun, and you see that in her when she sings “Mi tradi.” She’s still in love with him; but she now feels this sense of responsibility, that she must save his soul.

She likes to save people, to intervene. We saw her try to save Zerlina in the first act...
Exactly. But is she trying to save Zerlina for Zerlina’s sake, or is she just trying to prevent Giovanni from getting with any other woman—does she want to keep him for herself there? She is jealous. But in “Mi tradi” it become Elvira’s responsibility to save Giovanni—now she knows that he’s a murderer. That’s mortal sin.

If you could suddenly become a bass, which male character in this opera would you want to be?
My favorite character is Leporello, without a doubt. I know the opera is called Don Giovanni, but I think it should be called A Day in the Life of Leporello. He goes through so much. And I love, love, love the Catalog Aria!

Playing Elvira as often as you do, you must hear that Catalog Aria a lot—you probably know it as well as most basses!
That’s one of the best things about being Elvira, is you’re a prop for Leporello during his aria.

Is it always the same? Or do you find new reactions as you hear about Giovanni’s conquests for the umpteenth time?
That’s what’s so great about live theater. Every night, every moment is different. Every cast is different, every person is different, on each day they’re different. That’s why you need to come see live performances. Sure, enjoy the HD broadcasts, they’re wonderful—but at a live event, your energy is what is feeding the performers. We need that. We’re all responsible for putting this baby up together.

Elizabeth Caballero as Susanna and Nicolas Cavallier as Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro
Rozarii Lynch, photo

It’s the Cavallier/Caballero show once again at Seattle Opera! What’s it like working with Nicolas again?
Right, Nicolas Cavallier and I sang Figaro and Susanna here in 2009. He was such a wonderful colleague, my first time here in Seattle, my first and only Susanna. I’ve never sung her again—people see me as a Countess. Speight gave me the wonderful opportunity to sing Susanna, and I thank him so much for that. I was nervous, it’s a long role, lots of recitative, it was my Seattle Opera debut, and there was a lot of pressure. When I went online to do my research, I found I’d be working with this French guy, Nicolas Cavallier, who had done it so many times...I thought, Oh, my God, he’s going to be so hard on me, he’s going to expect so much! But he was such a sweetheart—he held my hand the entire time, he was so kind, and the performance was a huge success because we had such lovely, lovely chemistry. So I was very happy when I saw that he was coming back to sing the Don.

Nicolas Cavallier as Figaro and Elizabeth Caballero as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro
Rozarii Lynch, photo

How would you describe Cavallier as Don Giovanni?
I love it. He’s so elegant. It’s been played for so long as this gruff, woman-eating kind of man, just out to get women. And that misses the elegance which the Don needs in order to be able to seduce, both women and men. There’s a reason why Leporello won’t leave. There’s a reason why everyone buys into his lies, his trickery. He has this art of seduction, this grace. And Nicolas is doing that so beautifully. He’s bringing a lot more colors to the role than you normally see nowadays.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Poetry of Opera

Carol Levin, a Seattle-area poet, has been appearing on the Seattle Opera stage, as a volunteer, for most of her adult life. Her new book of poetry, Confident Music Would Fly Us To Paradise, draws inspiration from her many years of experience in opera, and juxtaposes the fantasy life of the stage with sounds and silences of ordinary life. Levin is an artist on multiple fronts: writer, editor, teacher, dancer, actor, dramaturg, and teaches The Breathing Lab, based on the principles of the Alexander Technique. She graciously agreed to let us print one of her poems on our blog, and answered our questions about her remarkable new book.

Lights Out, Curtain Closed, It Begins
Das Rheingold

Although he’s dead deliberately
he manipulates this extra long darkness

to ensure gossip will subside
with a shuffle of coughs, a settling-in.

Under its weight you’re seized
by the magnetic field of Wagner’s silence

forcing you to leave everything
in the lighted world behind.

He makes you forsake harsh car honks
and potholes, he frees you

from gridlock’s green, rapid yellow
and unresponsive red, puts to rest

anxiety flashes, to-do lists,
forgets and failures. You wave to

years flashing on, rush to conclude
all goodbyes. He impels surrender

sets you adrift
on an inhale of the baton.

Drenched in darkness separated
from gravity palpated by Wagner’s

double-bass’ insistent opening E note
lengthening like a lifeline, aerating

into an octave, he offers no inkling
of the world about to be revealed

in music’s mingling colors, until bass-
viols and the audience

are out of breath and the whole earth cracks
as strings strafe flexing the pitch like a rolling red tide.

Confident Music Would Fly Us To Paradise is available now at Seattle Opera’s gift shop and from Amazon.

Carol Levin

Carol, your new book of poetry is inspired by your involvement with Seattle Opera. Have you always been interested in opera?
Even though all through my growing-up years opera music one way or another had been a presence in my house, I myself felt no connection with it. I loved other classical music forms. But in about 1978 my friends—who in my opinion were “opera fanatics”—said, “It is time you learned about opera.” They sat my husband and me down to listen to a recording and meet Ariadne auf Naxos. They tuned our ear as we listened to the recording, stopping to point out themes, to discuss the story as we followed along, reading librettos. Then the four of us went to San Francisco to see it. This was before supertitles. Our friends saw an opera each day that weekend. We thought they were crazy.

But you liked it enough to try again…
Yes, the University of Washington offered a course to cover Seattle Opera’s coming season, and the teacher was fabulous. We studied operas from the Ring, Norma, Carmen, Macbeth, Don Giovanni, La bohème. My husband and I were electrified and bought our first season subscription.

Then you took your interest to another level. You auditioned to be a supernumerary—a silent actor—onstage. You got the performance bug!
In 1982 I saw Seattle Opera was going to present Rigoletto. I had a fuzzy memory that when I was about twelve, my mother had been a super in Rigoletto in Los Angeles. She was very excited and thought of course I would be too. I have a memory of being involved in the production—in a gunny sack being dragged across the stage. I was not the least bit happy about any of it. The experience became the inspiration for my poem “The Prop Bag Needed a Body.”

Great title!
So in 1981, I applied to Seattle Opera, and was cast in the show. There I was, standing on the opera stage in fabulous costumes as the Duke, in the middle of his aria, leaned me into a backbend and kissed me on the neck. I became even crazier and more fanatic about opera than our friends who had introduced us.

Carol Levin standing between Rigoletto (Richard J. Clark) and the Duke (Enrico Di Giuseppe) in 1982
Chris Bennion, photo

Being a Seattle Opera supernumerary has been a family affair for you. Tell us a little about that history, and what opera has meant to your family. You must have some fun family memories.
In Cavalleria rusticana, my husband was the first person to come onstage as the curtain rose, leading a burro. Of course at one performance the burro decided to put on his brakes and not leave the stage as Geo was leading him off. Geo managed to engage his imagination in order to solve the problem. I can’t remember how our son, Ari Steinberg, and his wife, Suzanne DeWitt, joined us as supers, but Ari eventually became the person who cast supers in productions. We were a very jolly team. In The Tales of Hoffman I was one of the women in a bordello, and Ari was cast as a “love slave” standing guard next to me. I still remember how much we laughed about it. There is a poem in my book about Suzanne and me, “Suzanne and I Were Cast.”

Can you bring us behind the scenes a bit? What is it like to be backstage in rehearsal?
The Daughter of The Regiment in 1990 was the first opera Linda Brovsky directed for Seattle. I was scheduled to be at the first all-day rehearsal with the chorus because, cast as a maid, I had a lot of stage business to learn. I watched Brovsky begin to block the chorus’s entrance that would become a ball scene. It was a big chorus—I don’t know how many singers—but within a few minutes Brovsky knew each person’s name and gave each one an individualized character complete with intentions and stage business. I watched as the scene came alive, that very first meeting. An amazing director in complete service of the drama.

That rehearsal explains my favorite aspect about being part of the production of an opera—experiencing how a disparate group of people come together and slowly the stage blocking, the character roles, costumes, the words and music, the cues, come into existence where there was nothing before. At each rehearsal new elements come to life, by repeating and refining and then finally the makeup and wigs, and dressing room excitement, lights, and the orchestra and audience and first night jitters and each person on each side of the stage live in this world created and then the bows and applause. It is a magical fantastical transformation.

Thematically, a recurring topic in Confident Music Would Fly Us to Paradise is a tension between silence and voice. Tell us a little about the origin of that theme, for you.
That theme of tension between silence and voice is inspired by my childhood. As a child living in my grandparents’ home, I felt paralyzing fear when I was spoken to. I was an adult before I realized that, in that house, I had been avoided, only spoken to when it was absolutely necessary. Safety was silence. My mother and I moved in with them when I was somewhere between three and four. I guess they were not happy about their least favorite daughter and her small child arriving. People described me as very shy.

Did shyness have anything to do with your becoming a writer?
This answer is the long way around. The moment I understood I was dyslexic (after I was a young adult) I was freed. I flunked first grade, the result of refusing to go to school, feigning illness out of fear because I could not understand the big alphabet letters gaily written on the walls of the classroom. When I eventually learned to read, I went to live in books. I didn’t need to speak to anyone as I was sponging up language. Safe in the library and used-bookstores. I still love the smell of those places. When I was about eighteen, I got curious about speaking. Somewhere along the way—maybe when I started teaching dance—I discovered I love communicating aloud.

How does a poem begin, for you as a writer?
Usually with what I would call a riff. Some chunk of words I have read or heard, or dreamt, or comes to me (often, when I am brushing my teeth or in the bathtub). I just start playing around writing everything. I visualize it like an artist flailing images wildly onto a surface to catch whatever is floating by; it’s messy. Eventually, I begin to shape it like a sculptor not knowing exactly where it is going. Playing with braiding various topics to see what works. Anything can be the subject of a poem.

Later I go word to word asking each one: Is this what I want to say? Is this the most active way to express it? Is this a cliché? Delete. Is this repetitive? Delete. Thinking about verbs, nouns, pronouns, carefully weeding extra adverbs. Using line-breaks to accentuate and shape what I am expressing, experimenting with how it is visually scored on the page, wondering if it needs more breathing space or if what I am saying works better being very compressed, etc. Sometimes I am having a great good time sometimes, on rare occasions a gift poem just suddenly appears almost fully formed (examples of this are Mark Morris: Paul Hindemith, Kammermusik No. 3). But sometimes composing a certain poem can cause me to be extremely agitated. I can work on poems for decades.

As you’ve been doing poetry readings for this book, which poem has evoked an interesting response from the audience?
The response to the poem “A Cool Hand Settles the Score” has been interesting. The historical context for this poem—about Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites—is the Carmelite Nuns in the French Revolution who were guillotined.

In the last act I was one of the rabble standing onstage, with the tenor Paul Gudas cheering, my back to the audience. The 12 nuns begin singing the most exquisite refrain as the first one mounts the plank and walks up until she’s out of sight. We hear this thump, then they all begin the song again, and it continues with fewer singers until it is just one voice. I started thinking about Poulenc, he had to live this to create it in music. What he must have felt deciding note by note. So many people have responded to that poem; people who are not “opera people” have said that was a favorite. My yoga teacher came to my book-launch reading. At our next class she was talking about that poem as she walked into the studio so animated, telling everyone the story and everybody got excited, curious to see it, people whose eyes usually glaze over at the mention of opera and poetry. I told them where to buy the book. “The Prop Bag Needed a Body,” and “Madama Butterfly’s Mother” have also been getting comments.

Any onstage moments at Seattle Opera you wish you could bottle up and take with you forever?
Boris Godunov, my last opera, had been a favorite of mine before Seattle Opera produced it. I was part of the Coronation Scene. I entered stage left, carrying a banner surrounded by the chorus, and they sang their hearts out and the pealing bells and the bells and the bells. Just thinking about that music—a huge moment—every cell of my body begins to vibrate. Totally transported as Alexander Anisimov sang, an unmatchable bass voice filling the house. I would love to live that again. Every performance, when I was not onstage, I sat on the side watching, the whole four hours completely enveloped in the story, the music. I couldn’t get enough of it.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stylish Seville: Fashion Inspiration for Opening Night of Don Giovanni

Fashion inspiration for what to wear to the Red Carpet Opening Night of Don Giovanni. For more inspiration, visit The Metropolitan Opera's tumblr featuring photos by Rose Callahan: Last Night at the Met. From hoodies and pink hair, to gorgeous top hats, gowns, and even period attire, the colorful diversity of opera patrons is beautifully displayed in this blog.    

Don Giovanni, Mozart's Bad Boy, is soon to ride into McCaw Hall (on a motorcycle, in fact!). 

If you love style; if you love the arts, you don’t want to miss opening night at the opera! On Saturday, October 18th, come dressed to impress with your own take on Nights in Spain. You could do black lace, a sexy leather jacket, red lips or who knows—perhaps even some flamenco ruffles—we're paying homage to Giovanni's Seville setting!  

Check out everyone’s red-carpet style before the show and during intermission, and enjoy the kickoff performance of Seattle Opera’s 2014/15 season. Mozart’s portrait of an unrepentant Casanova, Don Giovanni, has fascinated audiences since its 1787 premiere. To this day it endures as opera’s ultimate cautionary tale about the human cost of unbridled lust. Featuring varied, evocative, and absolutely glorious music from overture to epilogue, a dynamic set of distinctively drawn characters, and a shocking, unforgettable finale, “the Don” stands apart as Mozart’s boldest masterpiece.

We recommend you arrive at McCaw Hall early (doors open at 5 p.m.). Walk the red carpet as our photographer snaps a photo, and don’t forget to post your fabulous style on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using hashtag #MozartsBadBoy. (Share with us @SeattleOpera).

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit

Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, 2007. © Bill Mohn


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A History of Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera

Don Giovanni is an opera of infinite possibilities. It’s what scholars call an ‘open’ work, meaning open to interpretation; unlike, say, La bohème, the creators of Don Giovanni didn’t go about to create an opera with a fixed and focused message. Instead, they asked a lot of questions, which is why we like to present varying interpretations of open works like Don Giovanni, or Hamlet, or Wagner’s Ring. Engaging with these works is a great way to learn about ourselves—what we think, what we feel, what we believe. We’ll never finish ‘climbing the mountain’ with these rich masterpieces of theater. But when we put them on, we make a valiant effort to get up above the treeline and enjoy—not THE definitive view, but A possible view.

This fall, Seattle Opera presents its 8th production of Don Giovanni in 50 years. We’ve had charming Dons, sinister Dons, Dons both young and innocent and those more knowing or mature. We once had a Don who was a vicious murderer, while in other productions he’s been an okay guy with bad luck. And just as this wonderfully complicated central character has varied, so too have all the others; we’ve had milquetoast Ottavios and heroic Ottavios, crazily obsessive Elviras and noble, do-gooder Elviras, clownish, foolish Leporellos and classy, wise Leporellos.

We now have photos from all 8 Seattle Opera Don Giovanni productions posted on our historical mini-site,; here, click the header above each photo to explore those productions in more detail.

1968 Don Giovanni

Gabriel Bacquier as Don Giovanni
Des Gates, photo

The elegant French baritone Gabriel Bacquier was Seattle Opera’s first Don Giovanni. The production, which concluded the company’s fourth full season in Spring 1968, featured the second Seattle Opera appearance of Dame Joan Sutherland (Donna Anna), who had made her debut as Lakmé the year before. Sutherland’s husband, Richard Bonynge, conducted, and her favorite mezzo, Huguette Tourangeau, sang Zerlina.

1979 Don Giovanni

When they come for Don Giovanni at the end of Act One, Sherrill Milnes made a daring escape, swinging across his ballroom from a chandelier.
Chris Bennion, photo

One of America’s leading Verdi baritones in recent decades, Milnes first sang in Seattle in 1966 (Count di Luna). He returned to sing Mozart’s bad boy in a winter 1979 production infamous because an ongoing strike at Seattle Symphony meant there was no orchestra. Instead, Music and Education Director Henry Holt played the piano (and another pianist played the harpsichord; a choirster with a mandolin accompanied Giovanni’s serenade). Glynn Ross, Seattle Opera’s first General Director, recalled the audience reaction:

“I went out to the lobby to meet the audience thinking there would be some who would expect a refund for no orchestra. Instead, I had the surprise of my life as the enthusiastic audience lined up to crunch my hand in congratulations and the ladies smeared my cheeks with kisses. Why? Was it an anti-union audience? Not at all. They had had a whole new experience. The singers, exposed without orchestra, really delivered an ensemble performance and this singing defined the genius of Mozart to the audience in a whole new way. They had heard every nuance, every phrasing, every accent; it was a new experience.”

[Excerpt from Glynn Ross’s memoirs published in 50 Years of Seattle Opera]

1991 Don Giovanni

Gary Smith, photo

Certainly one of the most controversial productions in Seattle Opera history, Speight Jenkins’ first presentation of this masterpiece polarized the public. Some lamented the absence of fantasy and romance in Christopher Alden’s production; others applauded a thrilling piece of theater. The Don was Seattle’s favorite baritone from 1984 to 1994, Dale Duesing, who never left the stage. Sheri Greenawald gave a powerful performance as Donna Anna, and Gabor Andrasy, a regular baddie in Seattle Opera’s Ring in those days, thrilled as her father.

1999 Don Giovanni

Kurt Streit (Don Ottavio) threatens Giovanni, while demons lurk.
Gary Smith, photo

A few years later, Speight Jenkins presented Don Giovanni again—this time, set in a dark fantasy of eighteenth-century Spain. Flying Goya-esque monsters and sudden bursts of flame contributed to the dark atmosphere, as did the vile Don Giovanni of Jason Howard. With this production, Christine Goerke made her Seattle Opera debut as Donna Elvira. Husband-and-wife team of Sally Wolf and Kevin Langan joined the ensemble as Donna Anna and Leporello.

2000 Young Artists Program Don Giovanni

A young Morgan Smith as the Don.
Gary Smith, photo

The Young Artists Program took on Mozart’s ambitious dramedy in its third season. The two Don Giovannis, Morgan Smith and David Adam Moore, have both gone on to great success on the mainstage, as have Mary Elizabeth Williams (the Elvira) and Lawrence Brownlee (the Ottavio). Williams, who returns in January as Tosca, won Artist of the Year for her 2011 performance as Serena in Porgy and Bess. Brownlee, who won Artist of the Year in 2008 for Arturo in I puritani, now sings Don Ottavio in our current production—taking on this important role for the first time in his professional career.

2007 Don Giovanni

Marius Kwiecien (Giovanni) feeds Ailish Tynan (Zerlina) while Kevin Burdette (Masetto) fumes.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

The production we’re giving this fall, conceived by director Chris Alexander with costume designer Marie-Therese Cramer and set designer Robert Dahlstrom, first came to our stage in 2007. You can hear audio clips from that performance, conducted by Andreas Mitisek, on SoundCloud. Polish baritone Marius Kwiecien won Artist of the Year for his powerful Don Giovanni, and the intriguing production made Speight Jenkins’ list of his all-time favorites among the many operas he produced.

2011 Young Artists Program Don Giovanni

Jaqueline Bezek (Zerlina) and Erik Anstine (Leporello)
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Most recently, Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Production gave us a Fellini-esque Don Giovanni set in a 1950s Mediterranean world. Erik Anstine, who sang Leporello, now takes the role to the mainstage in the current production. In that YAP production, he (with Jacqueline Bezek as Zerlina) sang the oft-ommitted duet, “Per queste tue manine,” in which Zerlina, like Turandot, threatens to avenge the entire feminine gender by attacking Leporello. (He manages to escape; it’s an odd and amusing scene, but usually it’s cut because Mozart added it as an afterthought, the music isn’t particularly distinguished, and Don Giovanni is already a full-length opera!)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mozart's Bad Boy Headed to McCaw Hall

The motorcycle that Nicolas Cavallier/Mark Walters will ride as the title character in Don Giovanni which plays at Seattle Opera Oct. 18 - Nov. 1. Motorcycle provided by Moto International Seattle.  
This fall, one of the most popular operas of all time is heading to Seattle. Here's a hint: The hashtag we're using to talk about the show is #MozartsBadBoy! Yes, that's right. Don Giovanni's the name; sweet sin is his favorite game!

With glorious music, Don Giovanni tells a cautionary tale of an insatiable skirt-chaser who must pay the price for his misdeeds. Seattle Opera's production was praised when first presented in 2007. The Everett Herald wrote: “Seattle’s production pulses with scenic delights and compelling staging that never drags. It’s a big story to tell: Don Juan seduces and worse, even murders, without remorse....In this production, it’s a great ride.”

Aidan Lang, our new General Director in more than three decades, said people have been coming back to this work since its 1787 premiere. Why? The genius of Mozart’s compelling characters, for one:

“Mozart gives us a tug-of-war between thought and feeling, right brain and left brain. Logic tells us we should condemn the character of the Don outright. But then our emotions kick in. We cannot help but be charmed, or even seduced by him. We reluctantly admire his unflinching adherence to his worldview, which celebrates free will even in the face of death.”

Stage director (and three-time Seattle Opera Artist of the Year award winner) Chris Alexander also thinks there's more to the Don than simply being bad. Alexander is excited to show the character as dynamic, as monstrously charming (or a charming monster). Joining Alexander on Giovanni's artistic team is the one-and-only Gary Thor Wedow, known for his "authoritative musical leadership” and “vibrant conducting” according to The Seattle Times. Alexander's most recent work at McCaw Hall includes The Tales of Hoffmann (2014). Recently, Wedow has led compelling performances of The Magic Flute (2011) and Orpheus and Eurydice (2012).  

Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, 2007. Rozarii Lynch photo

In the title role, the production stars French bass, Nicolas Cavallier, who thrilled Seattle audiences in the May 2014 production of The Tales of Hoffmann with performances that were “urbane,” “smooth,” and “richly sung,” according to Opera News. Indeed, The Seattle Times called his portrayal of Hoffmann’s Villains, a “quadruple-threat”; he sang strongly and dominated each with a “particular brand of menace.”

Nicolas Cavallier played The Villians in the 2014 production, The Tales of Hoffmann. Elise Bakketun photo

Lawrence Brownlee returns to Seattle to sing Don Ottavio for the first time in his professional career. The Seattle Times said the Seattle Opera Young Artist graduate was “at the international top of his form” when he sang Tonio in Daughter of the Regiment a year ago, in October 2013. The newspaper added: “[Brownlee] sings his highflying arias with an ease, purity and polish that could hardly be bettered."

Lawrence Brownlee (right) pictured with Sarah Coburn in Daughter of the Regiment (2013).
Elise Bakketun photo 
Cuban soprano Elizabeth Caballero returns to McCaw Hall for the role of Donna Elvira following her performance as Mimì in La bohéme in February 2013. “As Mimì, Elizabeth Caballero was far and away the best singer in the cast, her voice swelling gracefully over every note, light but powerful, precise but full,” wrote City Arts Magazine. Soprano Christine Brandes will sing Donna Elvira in the alternate cast. Previous Seattle appearances for Brandes include Pamina in The Magic Flute and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.

Elizabeth Caballero as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, 2009. Rozarii Lynch, photo.
Making her Seattle Opera debut is Canadian soprano Erin Wall as Donna Anna—whose portrayal of this part has been called “exceptional” by the Vancouver Observer. Also making debuts in Seattle are several American artists: baritone Mark Walters (alternate cast Don Giovanni), soprano Alexandra LoBianco (alternate cast Donna Anna), tenor Randall Bills (alternate cast Don Ottavio) and Evan Boyer (Masetto).

Don Giovanni also features Cecelia Hall as Zerlina and Jordan Bisch as the Commendatore. Erik Anstine returns as Leporello, a role he sang to praise from The Seattle Times in 2011 as a Seattle Opera Young Artist. Ashraf Sewailam returns as Don Giovanni’s manservant in the alternate cast.

Marie-Therese Cramer’s chic costume designs incorporate both 18th century and modern-day fashions, and sets by Robert Dahlstrom were lauded as “the most persuasive and imaginative of his career” by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2007.

Don Giovanni in 2007. Rozarii Lynch, photo.

Production Sponsor: Maryanne Tagney and David Jones

The 2014/15 Season in honor of Speight Jenkins

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

7 performances: Oct. 18, 19 (matinee), 22, 25, 29, 31 and Nov. 1
Approximate Running Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m., matinee at 2:00 p.m.

For more information, go to

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