Thursday, August 10, 2017

Praise for Madame Butterfly

Alexey Dogov (Pinkerton) and Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San). Philip Newton photo
"A magical production filled with eye candy and, most importantly, stunning vocal performances.” – LA Opus

"Every so often a performance – and a performer – have the capacity to completely transport us to a different dimension, emotionally, psychologically and physically. That is the case with Seattle Opera’s new (to Seattle) production of Madame Butterfly." - Seattle P.I.

Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San). Philip Newton photo
"The brilliant Lianna Haroutounian, who commanded the stage all evening with an all-out, full-voiced, big-hearted performance that brought out the bravos (and the handkerchiefs).” – The Seattle Times

“The sets are gorgeous—Kabuki meets Miyazaki. The music is deservedly beloved—soaring melodies, rich and complex orchestrations, and gongs!” – The Stranger
Jonathan Silvia (Imperial Commissioner). Philip Newton photo
"The changes it has inspired, audiences may experience this Madame Butterfly in ways never envisioned by its creators.” – The Seattle Times

"So much more than an aural and visual delight." - UW Daily 
Photos above and below: Yasko Sato (Cio-Cio-San) and Dominick Chenes (Pinkerton). Philip Newton photos
"Weston Hurt was an empathetic and noble Sharpless; Renée Rapier a dignified, compelling Suzuki; and Rodell Rosel a wily and adept Goro. In a bit of “luxury casting,” Daniel Sumegi proved an unusually powerful Bonze; Ryan Bede was the hapless Yamadori, and Sarah Mattox gave unexpected and lovely depth to the small but pivotal role of Kate Pinkerton."


"Sato is a lyrical singer and an affecting actress; she can convey vivid emotion in a single gesture or expression, and watching her hopes slowly decline in Cio-Cio-San’s long vigil was heartbreaking.” – The Seattle Times

“Puccini's opera itself gets something of a dusting-off in this production.” - Bachtrack

Philip Newton photo
"The production was one of the most attractive this reviewer has seen, and this was due in large part to the inventiveness of an Australian triumvirate” – "LA Opus

“The design is both simple and beautiful. Set designer Christina Smith created a house cleverly defined by movable screens, imaginatively lighted by Matt Scott with glowing lanterns that illuminated the Act I love duet.” – The Seattle Times

Renée Rapier (Suzuki), Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San) and Scarlett Del Rosario (Trouble). Philip Newton photo

"Prepare to weep for Madame Butterfly.” – Equality 365

"This production is rich with unforgettable moments. I am haunted by the heart-rending vision of Cio-Cio San standing outside her home like a statue, waiting hopefully all night for Pinkerton until all of the lanterns are extinguished and darkness is supplanted by day — and still no Pinkerton is in sight." - Queen Anne News 

Philip Newton photo

Madame Butterfly plays now until Aug. 19 at McCaw Hall.
Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/butterfly


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

'Embrace what makes you unique' - Weston Hurt lives by example


Baritone Weston Hurt is a frequent singer at Seattle Opera, including in roles such as Nabucco, Germont, Talbot and most recently, Sharpless. 

By Lauren Brigolin 

Behind the blue door of Practice Room #1 at Seattle Opera, it might have been easy to miss the soft plunk of piano keys without listening carefully. But what the soundproof walls couldn’t contain after the modest hum of the piano were the rich tones of an accomplished baritone—Weston Hurt

​In addition to appearing as Sharpless in Madame Butterfly this August with Seattle Opera, Hurt just finished teaching a master class at the newly-created Seattle Opera Academy—a three-week voice and performance training program for young adults in Bellingham, Wash. This combination of teaching and performing is his dream. Being a role model to young singers, encouraging them to embrace who they are, is a job he takes seriously.

“What I wish I would have known as a young person is, you are your own product and that your uniqueness is everything,” he says.

As a singer born without a right hand, Hurt’s road to singing in great opera houses across the United States was no walk in the park. And the challenges he faced often had nothing to do with his skill as an artist. ​ 

Weston Hurt, center, as Sharpless with Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San) and Renée Rapier (Suzuki). Philip Newton photo
When Hurt was only 6-months old, his parents put him into a program so that he could learn to live with a prosthesis. At age 4, he decided he didn’t want to use the artificial body part anymore. He tried to wear one again at 11 and came to the same conclusion—it simply wasn’t comfortable. In the years that followed, the myoelectric prosthesis arrived. The battery-operated limb allowed the hand to open and close through electrical tension generated every time a person’s muscle contracts. Hurt decided to try one. Of course, this was 1991 and the battery lasted all of about eight minutes.

"And then I was like, 'Forget this.' I’m not going down this path. I am who I am,” says the baritone, who fell in love with opera during his freshman year of college after landing the title role in The Marriage of Figaro at Southwestern University.

Hazel Del Rosario (Sorrow) and Weston Hurt (Sharpless) in Madame Butterfly. Philip Newton photo

After completing his music education and successfully making his way through a number of prestigious young artist training programs, Hurt embarked on a myriad of house auditions. Each time he sang for a company, he’d wear a suit and pin or sew the sleeve of the right arm up. While consistently told he sounded fantastic, he was frequently overlooked.

It wasn’t until he sang at the New York International Opera Auditions that he was finally offered a season-long contract with a company who made their conditions clear. In order to perform, Hurt had to have a prosthesis. ​This company wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

Soon after acquiring a cosmetic prosthesis, he began auditioning and “Boom! I started getting gigs and gigs and gigs."

Weston Hurt teaching a master class at the Seattle Opera Academy. Photos by Rachel Bayne 

During a production of Madame Butterfly earlier in his career, the stage director suggested he perform Sharpless without the artificial limb. This presented the opportunity for Hurt to dive into a character study: His Sharpless became truly human—a man who carries deep emotional wounds after surviving a war; someone who understands loss. After his performance, a confusing review came out in a national opera publication. It said that his voice was amazing even though he only had one hand.

The review had a ripple effect.

​"I had to wear my prosthesis for everything. I felt like I had to fit some mold that administrative people, artistic people, or the audience wanted me to be. I got trapped."

Weston Hurt and his daughter. 
In the last few years, Hurt has done away with his prosthesis unless the character or the director’s vision truly calls for it. He began asking himself, if it makes sense for the character to have one hand, why wouldn’t he portray that? Hurt has created backstories for opera characters who have lost their hand in wars, battles, and developed stories for them in a way only he can. When he wore a prosthesis in the beginning it wasn’t for the character, it was so he could fit that mold. 

“I had lost my own uniqueness and my own individuality,” Hurt says.

Being a singer with one hand has led to spectacular theatrical possibilities. He’ll never forget the audible gasps he received each night during one production where he actually got to remove his prosthesis onstage.

Hurt backstage during Madame Butterfly at Seattle Opera. Genevieve Hathaway photo 
Director of Artistic Administration and Planning Aren Der Hacopian says Hurt having one hand is a non-issue as far as casting is concerned. Echoing the artist’s feeling, Der Hacopian says, “Who’s to say these characters have two hands in the first place?” Instead, Der Hacopian says that Seattle Opera embraces Hurt as a person with one hand because it’s part of the incredible package of personality, experience, artistry, and human being that makes Hurt who he is. 


Seattle audiences can now enjoy Hurt in the role of Sharpless, the American consul and friend to the lead tenor, for Madame Butterfly performances on Aug. 9, 12, 13, 16, 18, & 19, 2017. Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/butterfly



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Our Kate Pinkerton tells a story of Japanese American injustice

Sarah Mattox. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A JAPANESE AMERICAN STORY 
Mattox had a clear mission: obtain a copy of that journal.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 8 Reasons to attend Summer Fest

By Lauren Brigolin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Monday, June 19, 2017

AIDAN LANG INTRODUCES MADAME BUTTERFLY

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Melanie Ross takes her final bow at Seattle Opera


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gratefully and faithfully yours,

Melanie Ross

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







Friday, June 9, 2017

Asian American partners inspire new understanding of Madame Butterfly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Praise for The Magic Flute


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda Opuszynski (Papageno), John Moore (Papageno) and their baby chicks. Philip Newton photo
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Company Debut

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

AIDAN LANG INTRODUCES THE MAGIC FLUTE

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

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

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

MOZART

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