Monday, June 13, 2016

Spotted at Seattle Opera: Top 4 Fashion Styles

Although many people enjoy dressing up when they go to operas, there’s no dress code at Seattle Opera. Here you’ll see people wearing everything from ball gowns and tuxes to shorts and Birkenstocks. Here are just a few of our favorite outfits spotted in the audience:

#1: Classic silhouette, bold patterns

© Philip Newton

Monday, June 6, 2016

Seattle Opera's very own music librarian

Emily Cabaniss. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway
Seattle Opera's Music Librarian Emily Cabaniss ensures that everyone who's part of creating an opera is well stocked with information. That way, we can all spend more time creating art, and less time trying to look up some obscure Russian libretto, for example!

What do you love most about your job?
I really enjoy the work that I do with our video archive. I’ve started an initiative to digitize our analog video that goes back to the founding of the company. Preserving that video and making it usable has been rewarding. Plus, it digitizes in real-time, which means at my desk I just have videos of old operas running during the day.

How does your work directly translate to what we see on the stage?
I provide scores and libretti to our production team before we get started. The lighting cues, entrances, etc. are all noted in the scores, and we do some planning based on our collection of audio CDs that I manage. Everyone has what they need to make this happen as far as three years in advance because of me.

What challenges do arts organizations face today, and how are you helping in your line of work? 
I think arts organizations are very prolific and numerous now, which is good because of this huge variety! But in other ways, the breadth of art available to us makes it harder to dig into our own artistic foundations. By preserving our work here and helping our staff access it, I like to think that I’m helping to keep us from reinventing the wheel, artistically. I am part of the equity team here at the Seattle Opera, too. Librarians are gatekeepers, in a way, but their job is to keep the gate open, so I see myself in that role as well.

Why does opera matter?
Opera is a great artistic home for the weird. Assassins and robot girlfriends and scheming manservants show up in opera and, because it’s so loud and grand, you’re just like, 'OK.' Opera teaches us how to say yes to what we’re seeing and be less cynical about the media we consume.

Why are you passionate about being a librarian? 
It’s my earnest belief that the cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy is an educated population. The library is a place where whatever your age, background, or current education, you can always learn. I think the most interesting thing about humans is that we never stop being curious. The library is free! The library will help you satisfy whatever curiosity you may have! And the public library is a place where no matter who you are, when you go there, you’re treated the same as everyone else, which matters a lot to me.

How did you get into this line of work?
I was born with a little gray bun and glasses on a chain and the nurse said to my mother, I’m so sorry, she’s a librarian.

Just kidding! Actually I started out shelving books at my local public library as a teenager, and when I went to college got my undergraduate degree with the intention of becoming a librarian. Right after my Bachelor’s degree, which was in art history, I went to the University of Washington and got my Master’s in Information and Library Science. This is my first job out of library school. I was working in the box office when I got hired!

What’s the most fun thing about going to the opera?
The music! I’ve loved seeing beautiful, well-known excerpts in their original context. When I was a teenager I would come to Seattle Opera all dressed up, with opera glasses, and use them to watch the orchestra.

Are people surprised to learn that the opera has a librarian?
Yes, both librarians and other opera companies are surprised at what I do here. I definitely have what’s known in the library field as a 'cool librarian' job.

What’s been the most memorable experience of your time here?
I actually can’t think of anything really interesting. Because so much of our archive is digital, I spend a lot of time banging my head against the wall messing around with video codecs. Sometimes I’ll spend days on a strange tech issue, then suddenly I figure it out. Those moments really make my week.

Anything else that’s neat that you have to say?
The first opera I saw as a kid was I Pagliacci and I pronounced it PAAG-li-akee and nobody said anything for days, probably because they didn’t want to embarrass me, but then I started working here and felt intense retroactive embarrassment so they did not succeed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Top 10 most recognizable opera pieces used in film

You probably know more opera music than you think you do. If you like to watch TV or go to the movies, you’ve undoubtedly heard music from operas used in ways the original composers could never have even imagined. We’ve raided the Seattle Opera archives to put together a playlist featuring some of opera’s greatest hits—tunes you may already know because you’ve heard them in the cinema.

#1: From Apocalypse Now: Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre)

Francis Ford Coppola used the “Ride of the Valkyries,” famous music from the second opera of the Ring cycle, not for Wagner’s Norse goddesses of death but for American helicopters dealing out death from above in Vietnam in Apocalypse Now. It made for a brilliant, chilling moment—opera music used not just for emotional effect but as part of a film’s story.

Sung by Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jessica Klein, Suzanne Hendrix, Luretta Bybee, Tamara Mancini, Sarah Heltzel, Renée Tatum, and Cecelia Hall, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Asher Fisch.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Top 4 most memorable costumes

Opera transports the audience to worlds far away from the everyday, and costumes play a big role in creating that on-stage magic. Here are just a few of our favorite outfits from recent productions:

#1: Tosca’s performance gown from Tosca

© Elise Bakketun

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Praise for The Flying Dutchman

Rebecca Nash (Senta). Philip Newton photo
"(Stage Director) [Christopher] Alden returns to Seattle after a long hiatus. He was last invited here for a Don Giovanni in 1991 that reportedly generated a heated audience backlash. Kudos to general director Aidan Lang for inviting him back: Dutchman, which closes Lang's second season at the helm, signals a serious commitment to opera and is the finest production the company has staged to date under his watch."- Bachtrack 

"['The Flying Dutchman'] clocks in at under two and a half hours (without intermission)... the impassioned singers, the clever staging and the imaginative sets are so consistently engaging that Seattle Opera’s performance just speeds by." - The Seattle Times

Members of the Seattle Opera Chorus in The Flying Dutchman. Philip Newton photo
"On Saturday night in Seattle, in a revival of this Canadian Opera Company 1996 production, what happened on stage can only be described as stunning ... I was left gobsmacked unable to write-so moved I was by this show. It has taken me 24 hours to recover." - National Opera Journal

"Director Christopher Alden makes full use of the ingenious Allen Moyer set, with elements that quickly switch locales from shipboard to shore without any major breaks in the action. Anne Militello’s inventive lighting designs underscore and clarify the story line with jaw-dropping effects." - The Seattle Times

Seattle Opera presents The Flying Dutchman. Philip Newton photo 
"Seattle Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman opens with one of the most arresting curtain-raisings I’ve seen from the company: the cast filling Allen Moyer’s set, a cavernous box-within-a-box that is tilted 10 degrees or so off level. It’s an immediate cue that this isn’t going to be a traditionalist staging..." - Seattle Weekly 

"The Seattle Opera Chorus sang with gripping vitality, even while executing some [vigorous choreography]." - The Queen Anne News

"Wagner intended the opera to be presented without breaks between acts and the Seattle Opera in this production honors his 'through-composed' vision to great effect. (And for those who were a little scared of being subjected to 2.5 hours of uninterrupted opera the program likened it to the length of time we all have sat through a movie)." - The Seattle Times

Nikolai Schukoff (Erik). Philip Newton photo
"This cast boasts two excellent tenors with fresh, flexible, lovely voices: David Danholt as Erik, Senta’s betrothed, rightly peeved when she decides to wed the Dutchman, and Colin Ainsworth as the ship’s Steersman. Danholt was a winner of the Seattle Opera’s 2014 Wagner Competition, Ainsworth is making his company debut; I hope they both return soon and often." - Seattle Weekly

"In Saturday’s opening-night cast, the great strength and experience of the principal singers brought an unmistakable authority to their performances." - The Seattle Times

"The Dutchman was played on this night by Greer Grimsley. Grimsley has a swarthy dark voice that while powerful, is also versatile. It is easy for these Wagnerian singers to belt their way (at their peril) through these roles, but Grimsley always finds the color and the essence of the character." - National Opera Journal

Greer Grimsley as The Dutchman. Philip Newton photo
"In his Seattle Opera debut, Nikolai Schukoff as Erik, the huntsman in love with Senta, was as much the star of the evening as Grimsley and Nash. With his warmly expressive tenor, Schukoff was heart-rending in Act 3 reminding Senta in vain about her previous vow to him of love and fidelity." - The Queen Anne News

"In Saturday’s opening-night cast, the great strength and experience of the principal singers brought an unmistakable authority to their performances. The Dutchman, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, is a familiar figure here (most impressively as Wotan in Seattle Opera’s “Ring”); he probes every nuance of the title role as a captain doomed to sail the seas in a ghost ship until he is redeemed by true love. With Grimsley’s commanding stage presence and resonant voice, this is a role that suits him admirably, and one he has frequently sung. The experience shows." - The Seattle Times

"Allen Moyer's unit set was an austere rectangular box dominated on one side by a massive steering wheel and a metal spiral staircase on which the Dutchman's 'ascension' played out in the denouement. The exaggerated tilt of the box recalled the Expressionist atmosphere of films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. In the opening scene this served handily as a 'realistic' representation of Daland's storm-tossed vessel." - Bachtrack

Members of the Seattle Opera Chorus in The Flying Dutchman. Philip Newton photo

"His Senta, Australian soprano Rebecca Nash, is making her Seattle debut — and what an interesting debut it is. Nash is a passionate singing actor with a voice of considerable heft and power." - The Seattle Times

"The Steersman, Colin Ainsworth, [was] the most lyric voice on the stage. Vocal beauty is still important in Wagner, and Ainsworth brought loads of it." - National Opera Journal

"Nikolai Schukoff, as her unsuccessful and hapless suitor Erik, is an ardent singer who becomes a tragicomic figure in this staging, with exaggerated attitudes of suffering that draw some audience laughter. (Alden has him attempting suicide in several positions with a rifle whose barrel is too long for the task.) You’d think that chuckles might be inappropriate in this ultraserious opera, but they humanize the characters and give more poignant depth to the denouement." - The Seattle Times 

Wendy Bryn Harmer (Senta) and Alfred Walker (The Dutchman). Philip Newton photo
"... Wagner was well aware of the dangerous potential art possesses when the goal is no longer escapist entertainment. So is director Christopher Alden, whose production (originally created for Canadian Opera Company two decades ago) mirrors the young composer's sense of thrilling new horizons beyond routine and convention. With a cast of powerhouse singers, this Dutchman sustains an arc of high-voltage tension, refusing to loosen its grip until the final blackout." - 

"As Senta’s father, the sea captain Daland, Daniel Sumegi creates a memorable portrayal with his mighty voice and his deft acting. Colin Ainsworth is a lyrical Steersman and a highly effective actor; Luretta Bybee does fine work in the shorter role of Mary." - The Seattle Times

Colin Ainswroth (Steersman). Philip Newton photo
"Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who made his Seattle debut with the company’s 2014 International Wagner Competition, coaxed vivid and exciting performances from an orchestra that knows this composer inside and out." - The Seattle Times

"Sunday’s alternate cast created a remarkably different show. In the title role, Alfred Walker was a strong actor with a warm tone that didn’t quite have the heroic presence that Wagner requires. Wendy Bryn Harmer was a standout Senta with a big, radiant voice; David Danholt (one of the winners of Seattle Opera’s 2014 International Wagner Competition) sang with artful clarity as the ill-fated Erik." - The Seattle Times

Rebecca Nash (Senta), Daniel Sumegi (Daland), Luretta Bybee (Mary). Philip Newton photo
Remaining performances of Seattle Opera's The Flying Dutchman: May 11, 14, 18, 20, & 21. Tickets & info: #SODutchman 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Meet Our Singers: DAVID DANHOLT, Erik

We’re excited to welcome Danish tenor David Danholt to Seattle Opera. Danholt officially makes his debut today, in the role of Erik, Senta’s jealous ex-boyfriend. But Seattle’s hardcore Wagnerites will remember Danholt from his prize-winning appearance at our 2014 International Wagner Competition, a great festival of song intended to identify and encourage the Wagner singers of the future. This affable young man discussed singing Mozart and Wagner with me, as well as his remarkable experiences starring in The Passenger, a Soviet-era opera dealing with the Holocaust which is impressing opera audiences all around the world.

David Danholt's prize-winning performance at Seattle Opera's 2014 International Wagner Competition, conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing

Welcome (officially!) to Seattle Opera! And best wishes for a debut as successful as your earlier Seattle Opera experience.
Yes, the 2014 International Wagner Competition was really wild. I came here as the alternate; I was not supposed to be in the competition, the idea was they’d call me in if one of the others had to cancel. But a half hour after my rehearsal with Maestro Lang-Lessing and Speight, I got a phone call: they’d changed the plan, there wouldn’t be eight competitors, there would be nine.

Were you conscious of making a strong impression in that rehearsal?
No! I remember Speight saying to Sebastian, “Maestro, I want to talk to you. Goodbye, David!” But I didn’t expect to compete, let alone win. There’s a photo and you can see, I look like someone who just fell down from the moon.

Helena Dix and David Danholt at Seattle Opera's 2014 International Wagner Competition
Alan Alabastro, photo

To be frank, I’m not a competitive person at all. I don’t really like competing this way about music; the competition is always with ourselves—self-discipline, striving to do your best. But I’ve gotten so much good out of this experience. For me it was a confirmation that I’m going down the right path; that I’m a singing actor, a story-teller, instead of a bravura singer who’s great at throwing out high notes!

But young tenors are typically asked to do lighter, more lyric roles: Mozart and Rossini before Wagner.
Yes, and I love singing Mozart, I’ve done Tamino, Don Ottavio, Idomeneo, and I want to keep doing them. But Rossini? I actually turned down a job offer to sing Count Almaviva, in The Barber of Seville. It didn’t really fit my temperment or technique. Honestly, I tend to get bored when I listen to Rossini. But not Wagner or Strauss or Mozart!

What about modern music? In the last two years you’ve been starring in this fascinating work, The Passenger, which has been given now in Poland, England, Germany, Austria, and at several theaters around the US.
Yes, The Passenger was written in the Soviet Union in the mid ‘60s by Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg. He was Jewish, he fled Poland during World War II; but he fled the other way, to Russia, where he became a protégé of Shostakovich. This opera is based on a play written by a Catholic Polish woman, Zofia Posmysz, who was in Auschwitz. Because as you know the Nazis put not only Jews in the concentration camps, but also Catholics, gay people, Communists, gypsies, all sorts of people whom der Führer didn’t like. It’s a very, very profound and important piece. I think it needs to be shown again and again.

I’ve been on this journey with The Passenger all the way, from its first staged performance, in 2010 in Bregenz, where I sang one of the minor roles, and covered Walter, one of the main roles. And then I sang Walter in Detroit and Miami.

Did European audiences respond differently than American audiences?
One thing every performance had in common at the end: silence. Normally you get applause after an opera. This didn’t happen with The Passenger. The performances of course attracted big Jewish audiences; at every performance there were people who had been in concentration camps, or their children and grandchildren. And everything was very realistic. The costumes, for instance, were copies of what was actually worn. The uniforms of the SS officers, the clothing for the prisoners. We had talkbacks after the Miami performances, and I remember a fragile old lady taking the microphone and saying, “I was in Auschwitz from the age of 16 to 19. I came out of it. Everything you’ve seen tonight, it really happened. It was just like that.” Well.

Video from Lyric Opera of Chicago Promoting The Passenger

Is that opera difficult to sing?
Weinberg is not typical 1960s; it’s very melodic, it’s quite easy to learn. The tessitura, the range, of my role, Walter, is close to the lyric roles of Wagner. The difficult part is what you have to say. My character is this West German diplomat with a shady past. The idea is, I was caught up in the madness of the Third Reich but got away; the opera happens many years later, as I’m going to Brazil. But I say these horrifying things: my character believes in the ‘master’ race, all that stuff.

David Danholt as Walter and Davida Karanas as Marta in The Passenger at Florida Grand Opera

Who is your favorite composer?
At the moment I have a thing for Beethoven and Brahms. I’m about to sing Florestan in Fidelio, in the original version, where the tessitura is a bit lower, a bit more human. But I wouldn’t mind doing the final version. It’s one of my favorite operas. And Beethoven’s musical language really speaks to me. I love doing Missa Solemnis, the 9th symphony, his songs. Beethoven is not known to be merciful to his singers, but I like singing his music.

Do you find a connnection between the way Beethoven writes for the voice and early Wagner?
Yes, very much. I’ve actually sung a lot of early Wagner. In Leipzig and Bayreuth I sang the tenor roles in Die Feen (Arindal) and Das Liebesverbot (Claudio), two operas Wagner wrote before The Flying Dutchman. There’s a reason Wagner later abandoned those early works. They’re not great. They go on forever, and you have to cut a lot. In Das Liebesverbot, he was attempting to write a pastiche of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, but he was very young and didn’t quite know what he was doing.

Now, let’s talk about Erik. This is not the first time you’ve sung The Flying Dutchman.
I did it in Milwaukee, at Florentine Opera. I really like singing Erik. He’s a beast. It sits a bit higher in the voice than a lot of other Wagner tenor roles. It’s not too long; it’s about the same size as Parsifal, who only sings for about a half hour.

It seems to me that Erik’s music has a connection to the lied, to Romantic German art song.
Exactly. His cavatina could have been written by Bellini or Schubert; it resembles Beethoven, and early Schumann, and bel canto Italian opera. That’s good for a singer like me. My voice isn’t a great big shining-steel heldentenor sound. Erik has to sound youthful. He’s what the Germans call jugendlicher heldentenor—young hero-tenor, not a dramatic tenor, but rather a full lyric tenor.

Now, there’s some latitude in interpreting the character of Erik. The last time we did The Flying Dutchman in Seattle, we had a very literal by-the-book production, and he was just a regular guy, with his huntsman’s plaid flannel—looked like your typical Seattle ‘lumbersexual.’ But this production really pushes him to the extreme.
It’s very clear in Wagner’s score: Erik has a strong personality. He’s this guy from the woods, a guy who could tear down the building if he wants to. He’s not a sweet little Don Ottavio. I’ve seen several productions where he’s that guy, and I don’t buy it.

You mean, an interpretation of The Flying Dutchman where Senta dumps Erik because the Dutchman is dark, brooding, and mysterious, whereas Erik is easy and boring. You’re right, that’s inconsistent with the libretto, where Erik is constantly threatening suicide or murder—“Senta, you’re killing me!”
He’s outspoken, highly charged, all the time. In this production, [stage director] Chris [Alden] pushes Erik’s sanity, or insanity, to the extreme.

David Danholt as Erik at Seattle Opera
Philip Newton, photo

I know one of the big influences on Chris Alden, with this Dutchman, has been early 20th century German expressionism. You must have studied The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu and silent films like that, to get the acting style so spot-on.
No, I can’t take credit for that. I hadn’t actually seen those films until last week! But I have been rehearsing with Chris Alden, and he really does take us down that path. It’s almost like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Erik really should be drugged, put in an asylum. And here he is, running around with a gun! I like such characters, people who are pushed to the limit.

Now here in Seattle we’ve recently done a lot of by-the-book Wagner; productions where, if it says, “A bunch of mermaids swim in,” then in our production the mermaids swim on in. But this production demands a bit more imagination. How would this Dutchman production go over in Europe?
This wouldn’t shock the Germans at all; I think they’d find it quite ordinary. I don’t think this production is out of bounds. It’s very faithful to the story, and Chris is a wonderfully musical director. I have worked with stage directors who are extremely unmusical, and it ends up being a struggle, because they don’t understand where to go with the story. I don’t like it when stage directors put themselves above the composer or librettist.

I was struck by how Chris knows the music and text of this opera by heart. Every time I peeked into rehearsal, he was singing along.
Yes, and his brother, David, is just the same. We did Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria in Copenhagen, and he knew the score better than the conductor. He even understood how to embellish, Monteverdi-style! This is not a conventional Flying Dutchman; but if you can look beyond that, you’ll like it. It’s dark, and a bit traumatizing.

On a different topic, many great Danish Wagnerians have sung here in Seattle. Your countryman Stephen Milling won our Artist of the Year award, some years ago, and has sung here many times. Is it easy to become an opera singer in Denmark these days?
Scandinavia has always sourced great Wagnerians: Kirsten Flagstad, Ingrid Bjoner, Birgit Nilsson, Nina Stemme. Melchior, who’s an idol of mine, was Danish. But you don’t see a lot of Italianate singers coming from our region. And I fear that in the future, you won’t see the same level of quality Wagnerians coming from my part of the world. We don’t have the teachers. The skills needed for Wagner are very different from those for Italian music. You need stamina. You have to be able to sing, in the middle range, for a very long time. We have to recognize that Wagner is not only loud. His scores are very precise about dynamics. Yes, he has a big orchestra; but sometimes he makes them play very softly. All the great old Wagner singers sang it with nuance, sang the dynamics. We have to get back to that.

What new roles will you be learning in the next season?
In the fall I’m going to Arizona for my first Prince in Dvořák’s Rusalka. Another youthful heldentenor role.

Yes, that’s a role Ben Heppner sang here in Seattle, early on in his career. But Czech is such a tricky language to sing!
There’s a Czech woman who works at our opera theater in Copenhagen. She lives just two blocks away from me, and I have the sense that I’ll be moving in with her for language lessons. When I do operas I like to be as flawless as possible with my language. I don’t want anyone to tell me “it sounds like you’re a foreigner.” And sometimes it’s difficult not to sound like a foreigner!

I gave up trying to learn even how to pronounce your mother tongue, Danish. That language is hard!
Yes, Danish is actually considered a throat condition, not a language!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Comes Ashore

Rebecca Nash as Senta. Philip Newton photo
Jessica Murphy Moo
Perhaps a title like Senta wouldn’t have worked as well as The Flying Dutchman. Not nearly as much name—or myth—recognition, not nearly as much intrigue. And Senta and the Flying Dutchman sounds like a circus act. But the truth is that this opera is as much about Senta as it is about the man she loves.

Both are outsiders—the Dutchman in the form of a refugee who wants to find a way in; Senta in the form of a rebellious young woman who wants out. But neither entrance nor exit is given lightly in this small community. Easier to stick with the status quo; better to stand by, better to conform.

This idea—that the individual could be seen as a threat to a closed, communal society—was the starting point for stage director Christopher Alden and set and costume designer Allen Moyer when they first conceived of this production for Canadian Opera Company in 1996. And the production’s success and long life may have everything to do with their interest in this timeless theme. (In the past twenty years the production has been presented in Toronto three times and at many other companies across the US and abroad.)

Once they had their central focus, Alden and Moyer looked for examples of closed societies and periods in history characterized by these tensions. What surfaced? The 1920s, that period after World War I, when German expressionism—in art and in early German cinema—emerged, just before Nazi Germany would censor it as “degenerate.”
Seattle Opera's Sentas: Wendy Bryn Harmer (left) sings May 8, 14 & 20 and Rebecca Nash makes her company debut May 7, 11, 18 & 21. 

You’ll see this artistic influence—which Alden admits was a personal influence—everywhere in this production. Senta’s bob (notice she’s the only one who’s got one) is the 1920s hairstyle of the emancipated woman. The Dutchman’s portrait that so captivates Senta is an actual block print engraving, “Man on a Plain” by Erich Heckel (influenced by Edvard Munch). And the exaggerated makeup with charcoaled eyes is a nod to early German film (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) pictured below.

The set works in an expressionistic way as well. You will see the space transform from a ship interior to a meeting hall, one that looks not unlike a closed box, imparting all the claustrophobia we might imagine of life in such a space. The floor tilts—suggesting a ship’s movement at sea and, when on land, Moyer says it was a way for him to say they lived in a world that had some cracks in its foundation; “it’s crushing a little under its own weight.”

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
And of course Wagner’s music informed the design and concept as well. “Every idea comes from the music,” says Moyer. “It’s as if it’s the manifesto; it’s your brief. You want the set to look like the music sounds."

With Wagner the scale of that sound is not small. So Moyer didn’t want to diminish that scale by putting a smaller-than-life boat onstage (a ship on a theater stage will always need to be smaller in dimension than the real thing). He wanted something suggestive—here we go again, something expressionistic—that would provoke the audience’s imagination to match the music’s larger-than-life scale.

“Wagner’s pieces reach into areas of the human experience that go to some dark, extraordinarily intense places,” says Alden. “That’s why people become so obsessed with Wagner operas. Very few [operas] go to such extreme places.”

The Canadian Opera Company's The Flying Dutchman. Gary Beechey photo
Alden is interested in taking audiences to that dark territory, beneath the surface level narrative to a place that invokes the subconscious.

“Senta is fixated on the way to escape this world,” Alden says. “She lives in the real world but so much in the fantasy world; these two worlds collide as she goes deeper and deeper into her fantasy.” And as these two worlds—the real and the unreal—collide, Alden says there is a “crack”: “And out of this crack come these demon forces that invade reality.” Take, for example, the Dutchman’s entrance in scene two, as if he’s coming from another world, or the moment when the Dutchman’s undead crew puts a serious damper on the sailors’ party in scene three.

What are these otherworldy forces supposed to be? Well, Alden and Moyer would rather leave the question open-ended. This piece is not meant to direct you to easy tie-the-end-of-the-knot interpretations. Instead, the idea is to provoke your inquiry. What happens—both to the individual and the society—when the outsider comes ashore?

The question persists for Alden, who says he’d like to do a Dutchman that focuses on the plight of modern refugees all over the world as they try to escape their impossible circumstances. The analogy certainly fits. What happens when the outsider comes to our shore? If it is a question that makes us squirm, makes us wonder how exactly we are implicated, perhaps the art is doing its job.

Dutchman director Christopher Alden in rehearsal. Jacob Lucas photo

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Seattle Opera salutes the life and work of Lincoln Clark, who passed away at the age of 90 at his Edmonds home last week. Between 1975 and 1984, Clark directed almost everything Seattle Opera put onstage, from frothy comedies like La Cenerentola and rarities like Le roi de Lahore to our groundbreaking first production of Wagner’s RING.

Lincoln Clark with Chorus Master Hans Wolf at a reception for the 1982 production of Die Fledermaus, in which Clark directed such Hollywood luminaries as Werner Klemperer (“Colonel Clink”), Paul Sorvino, John Reardon, and Buddy Hackett. Seattle Opera, photo
Clark’s multifaceted early career prepared him well for his job as Seattle Opera’s resident stage director. After studies at UCLA and with Lotte Lehmann at the Music Academy of the West, he won a Fulbright fellowship to the Bavarian State Music Academy in Munich, which led to a three-year contract as a leading tenor with the Hannover State Opera. Guest engagements followed in the opera companies of Hamburg, Braunschweig, Karlsruhe, and Munich, as well as roles in music films and television.

In 1974, he received a National Opera Institute grant to study directing under George London, Italo Tajo, and Georges Hirsch at Seattle Opera. He made his debut in the 1975/76 season directing Der Rosenkavalier. Of that production, Opera News noted: “Clark in particular deserves warm praise for interweaving the drama of the principals with the lively but discreetly understated activities of Hofmannsthal’s rich cameo characters.”

Patricia Wells (Masha) and Lincoln Clark (Dr. Dorn) in The Seagull (West Coast Premiere), 1976 . Photo by Des Gates
During his first season with the company, Clark also sang the tenor role of Dr. Dorn in the 1976 production of The Seagull, by Thomas Pasatieri. After George London built Seattle’s RING 1 from 1972 to 1975, Clark restaged it each subsequent summer, 1976 to 1983.
Shirley Lee Harned (Pauline), Patricia Wells (Masha), John Reardon (Boris), Lincoln Clark (Dr. Dorn), Leon Lishner (Shamrayeff), and Dolores Strazicich (Irina Arkidina) in The Seagull (West Coast Premiere), 1976. Photo by Des Gates
Clark continued to direct and to teach until recently. The Seattle Times has more details of his career; in accordance with his wishes, no funeral or public memorial is scheduled.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Lexicon of Wagnerian Gibberish

Wagner considered himself first a writer and poet, and secondarily a composer. So far as he was concerned, he only wrote music because his words made a stronger impression when sung. Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote all his librettos himself. Thanks to the curiously dual nature of his genius, his words and music, united, are much stronger than either by itself. When pontificating about his art (a favorite pastime), he loved to speak of a ‘marriage’ between words and music, sense and sound, with the masculine word planting a seed in feminine music, who then brings to bear glorious fruit.

Curiously, despite Wagner’s own bias towards words and ideas, some of the liveliest moments in his operas come when his characters stop singing words and start singing nonsense instead. In The Flying Dutchman, for example, the maritime setting and sea-shanty-soaked score calls for lots of “Yo Heave Ho” sailor/pirate jabber.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Seattle Opera’s General Director Aidan Lang introduces the opera which first made him a Wagnerite as a small child. Listen to or read this downloadable podcast to learn more about this beloved opera and the grippingly dramatic (and intermissionless!) production which is coming to Seattle.

Welcome, everyone. I’m Aidan Lang, the General Director, speaking to you today on The Flying Dutchman, Der fliegende Holländer.

We started the 15/16 season with Verdi’s young piece, Nabucco, and we’re finishing it, bookending it if you like, with Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Both pieces were works which really provided the breakthrough for their composers. In the case of Wagner and The Flying Dutchman it marked the first work in which we see opera as being something beyond just storytelling. It’s very interesting to look at The Flying Dutchman from the audience’s point of view: what is your role in the overall evening? This is quite a challenging piece, precisely because it works at many layers beyond simply that of its narrative. The audience has a part to play in the way the piece is interpreted, and that probably means that everybody who sees this production will get something very different out of it, depending on how each individual wants to engage with the work. The audience’s response to a Wagner work has to be more than just working at a narrative level, because he imbued his works with numerous ideas which he expected you, as an audience member, to connect with in some way.