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, seattleopera50.com; 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!)

Share on Facebook

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 seattleopera.org.

Share on Facebook

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Now Available on iTunes: Seattle Opera's 2013 Ring!

It's here! Enjoy the Mastered for iTunes digital download of Seattle Opera’s complete recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Our stunning 2013 production, called “Better than ever” by Opera News and “the company’s strongest performance yet of the epic” by Seattle Weekly was recorded with the latest state-of-the-art microphones and lovingly mastered in high definition sound.

CLICK HERE to link to the iTunes store.

Available exclusively from iTunes: the first Ring to come with an iTunes LP, a deluxe download package, complete with full libretti of all four operas in original German with English translations; photos and videos of Seattle Opera’s 2013 production, much lauded for its “Technicolor© brilliance and sylvan detail”; articles by Speight Jenkins and historical information; detailed production credits; and more. Also available as a 14-cd set from Seattle Opera's shop and at record stores worldwide.

Share on Facebook

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What’s on the Program:

UPDATE 8/4: This blog post has been edited to include the selections which will be performed by David Danholt.

Seattle Opera’s International Wagner Competition on Thursday, aka “Wagner Idol,” pits eight up-and-coming Wagner singers against each other for significant prizes. This year, in addition to the prizes awarded by our five expert judges, we’ll be giving cash prizes to the orchestra‘s and the audience’s favorites, too. We hope to see you there! If past International Wagner Competitions are anything to go by, it’s going to be an amazing evening. For those who can’t attend, there will be a broadcast of the competition on Classic KING FM 98.1 (and www.king.org) on Saturday, August 16 at 8 pm.

To be eligible for the competition, singers must not yet be 40—and they can’t yet have sung major Wagner roles. (Several of this year’s contestants have sung small parts in Wagner operas.) Because the contestants will be in evening dress, singing on our beautiful Ariadne auf Naxos set designed by Robert Dahlstrom, you’ll have to use your imagination a bit to complete the illusion of character and location for each great moment from a Wagner opera. (We will project supertitles, so you’ll understand every word they sing—so crucial when you’re listening to Wagner.) Here, to stoke the fire of your imagination, are photos from historical Seattle Opera productions, with descriptions of the pieces you’ll hear on August 7.


“Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser (Marcy Stonikas)
Marcy Stonikas, whose Magda Sorel brought down the house in our recent production of The Consul, will open the evening with the beautiful greeting to the hall of song from Wagner’s second opera—full name, Tannhäuser or the Battle of the Singers at Wartburg Castle. It’s the perfect way to open our International Wagner Competition, since this aria sets up the Battle of the Singers from Act Two of Wagner’s great opera.

When Seattle Opera presented Tannhäuser in 1985, Karen Bureau as Elisabeth greeted the old Seattle Opera House with this music.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Winterstürme wichen den Wonnemond” from Die Walküre (Kevin Ray)
Newcomer Kevin Ray then sings Siegmund’s “Spring Song” from the first act of Die Walküre, one of the loveliest passages in Wagner’s Ring. Siegmund gently woos the beautiful Sieglinde, trapped in a loveless marriage, as he sings about Brother Spring rescuing Sister Love from the icy grip of cruel Winter.

In 1987, Barry Busse sang this music to one of Seattle Opera’s greatest Sieglindes, the one and only Leonie Rysanek.
Ron Scherl, photo

Isolde’s Narrative and Curse from Tristan und Isolde (Tamara Mancini)
Next up is Tamara Mancini, who made her Seattle Opera debut in last summer’s Ring as Ortlinde, one of Brünnhilde’s noisy sister Valkyries. She’ll sing the mighty narrative and curse from Act One of Tristan und Isolde—the scene in which Isolde fills her servant Brangäne in on what has gone before: how Tristan killed her fiancé, tricked her into healing his wound, fell in love with her, and despite himself is now handing her over in marriage to his old uncle. Consumed with passion for Tristan and furious that he isn’t marrying her himself, Isolde concludes with a chilling curse dooming both her and her beloved Tristan to death.

When Seattle Opera last presented this amazing masterpiece, Annalena Persson as Isolde raged in a vivid red dress.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater” from Die Walküre (Ric Furman)
Ric Furman first appeared on the Seattle Opera mainstage in 2012, singing the Sunday matinee performance of Fidelio. His great success in that difficult role earned him an appearance last summer as Froh in the Ring. The American tenor competes this summer first with Siegmund’s heroic aria of frustration and passion, in which the doomed wanderer remembers how his father promised him a sword in his moment of dire need. That moment now has come—and where is Wälse’s sword? Listen in this aria for the famous ‘wolf howl,’ when Siegmund twice calls the name, “Wälse,” and Wagner’s score encourages the tenor to hold the note as long as he can.

Seattle Opera’s first Siegmund, back in 1973, was the great Jess Thomas.
Des Gates, photo

“Der Männer Sippe” from Die Walküre (Helena Dix)
Next, we welcome Australian soprano Helena Dix to Seattle. Best-known for her recent Wexford Festival triumph in the rediscovery of Cristina, Queen of Sweden by Foroni, Helena will sing Sieglinde’s “Der Männer Sippe,” also from Act One of Die Walküre. (Lots of great arias in that act!) In this piece the miserable Sieglinde, forced into marriage against her will, tells the story of how a one-eyed stranger interrupted her wedding—only to thrust a sword into a tree and leave it there. The strongest of men have tugged at the hilt, but no one has been able to move the sword. Sieglinde hopes that the wounded, weaponless, handsome stranger who has sought rest and comfort at her hearth may be the one to free the sword—and will free her along with it.

In 1991, Ellen Shade sang Sieglinde’s aria to the Siegmund of Warren Ellsworth.
Gary Smith, photo

“Nur eine Waffe taugt” from Parsifal (David Danholt)
Up-and-coming Danish tenor David Danholt joins us next for the conclusion of Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, an enigmatic quest for transcendence through art, sex, and religion. The Holy Grail—which in Wagner’s version of the story is both the spear that pierced Jesus’ side while he was on the cross, and also the cup which caught his blood—has been split apart; the powers of darkness have seized control of the spear, and used it to wound the king, who can no longer endure the agony of presiding over the ritual of the cup, which gives life to the world. In these final moments of the opera, Parsifal, an innocent fool made wise by compassion, reunites the spear with the cup and a miracle ensues: the spear itself starts to bleed with the life-giving force of the grail. Using the spear, he heals the wound that torments the stricken Grail king, Amfortas, relieves him of his duties, and takes over the kingdom.

At the 2003 opening of McCaw Hall, Chris Ventris sang Parsifal; together he and Kundry (Linda Watson) reunited cup and spear, to the delight of Gurnemanz (Stephen Milling).
Chris Bennion, photo

“Geliebeter, komm” from Tannhäuser (Suzanne Hendrix)
Next, Suzanne Hendrix, who made her Seattle Opera debut as Waltraute in last summer’s Die Walküre, will sing one of Wagner’s most sultry sirens—Venus, the goddess of love, from Tannhäuser. (If you know the famous Bugs & Elmer cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc,” you’ll recognize Venus’s seductive music, which you also hear in the glorious overture to Tannhäuser.) As the opera begins, the human minstrel Tannhäuser is getting sick of living just for sensual pleasure in the underground grottoes of the Venusberg, populated by an orgiastic ballet full of fauns and nymphs and other cavorting deities. He wants to leave gracefully—but Venus doesn’t make it easy for him.

The great Marvellee Cariaga sang Venus, to Edward Sooter’s Tannhäuser, when Seattle Opera presented this opera in 1985.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Amfortas! Die Wunde” from Parsifal (Issachah Savage)
American tenor Issachah Savage, who will be at the Met next season, comes next, with the crucial scene at the center of Parsifal’s journey in Wagner’s final opera. Kissed by the seductive eternal temptress Kundry, Parsifal experiences not erotic arousal, but compassion—for the first time he feels the unspeakable pain of Amfortas, the wounded Grail King, whose suffering Parsifal completely failed to understand, earlier in the opera. In this pivotal scene, an innocent fool is made wise through compassion.

Chris Ventris sang Parsifal's spiritual awakening (to Linda Watson’s Kundry) when Seattle Opera presented Parsifal in 2003.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Abendlich strahlt” from Das Rheingold (Roman Ialcic)
Concluding the first half of the program, German bass-baritone Roman Ialcic will sing Wotan’s lovely “Abendlich strahlt,” from the finale to Das Rheingold. As the rays of the setting sun illumine the gods’ beautiful new home, the king of the gods reflects on the terrible cost of that castle—and takes comfort in a new idea when he names the place ‘Valhalla.’

In the 1970s, Seattle Opera’s first Ring relied heavily on the use of projections for scenic effects, such as the rainbow bridge leading to Valhalla. Rudolf Holtenau sang Wotan in 1978.
Chris Bennion, photo


“Gerechter Gott! So ist’s entschieden schon” from Rienzi (Tamara Mancini)
And now for something totally new! We begin the second half with an aria from a Wagner opera we’ve never produced in Seattle: Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes, the early work which Wagner considered the final step of his education. Rienzi is an interesting opera, but we’re unlikely to produce it anytime soon because of its vast scope and scale. (If we’re going to spend that much money producing an opera, we’d rather present a great masterpiece, not an apprentice work.) Tamara Mancini will sing the grand bel canto scena for Adriano, a young man from a noble family of medieval Rome, torn between his allegiance to his patrician father and his enthusiasm for the plebian demogogue Rienzi, who wants to break the stranglehold the wealthy families have on Rome and return the city to the 99%. (Complicating matters even further, Adriano’s sister Irene is Rienzi’s beloved.) The aria follows the standard bel canto pattern of slow cavatina followed by lively cabaletta, as Adriano works his way from despair to one last wild hope.

Since Seattle Opera has never produced Rienzi, here’s a photo from a recent Bayreuth production starring German mezzo Daniela Sindram as Adriano. Sindram sang Cherubino in Seattle’s 2009 Le nozze di Figaro and returned as Dulcinée in Don Quichotte in 2011. To really sell a mezzo soprano in a “trousers role” (as a young man), your Hair and Make-up department need to give her some sexy stubble!

Bayreuth Festival, photo

“In fernem Land” from Lohengrin (Ric Furman)
Ric Furman then returns to sing the revelation of Lohengrin’s identity, from the final scene of that opera. All opera long this mysterious knight in shining armor has been refusing to tell his rescued-damsel-in-distress who he is. But since she doesn’t trust him, ultimately he has to explain himself, which he does in this glorious, heart-rending scene.

Ten years ago, when Seattle Opera last presented Lohengrin, Albert Bonnema as the Swan Knight told Marie Plette as Elsa who he was.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

Senta’s Ballad from Der fliegende Holländer (Marcy Stonikas)
We’ll hear next from Marcy Stonikas, who returns with the Ballad of the Flying Dutchman. “Yo-ho-hey! Behold, the ship that races past; blood-red her sails and black her mast!” Ever since childhood, Senta—a dreamy, romantic-minded girl growing up in a small fishing village—has been obsessed with the old legend of this doomed ancient mariner, and with the portrait hanging above her fireplace. As she tells the Dutchman’s tale, you can hear her willing herself to become a character in the story.

At Seattle Opera’s last Der fliegende Holländer, in 2007, Jane Eaglen sang this music beneath a portrait of Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Mein lieber Schwan” from Lohengrin (Issachah Savage) 
Issachah Savage returns with the final farewell of Lohengrin, now revealed to be one of the knights of the holy grail. In this passage he addresses the swan who brought him to Elsa’s land—finally revealed to be Elsa’s brother, the young Duke Gottfried, whom Elsa was suspected of having murdered. Lohengrin gives the boy a sword, a ring, and a horn, promises he will help if need arises in the future, and sadly returns to the lofty realm from whence he came.

Albert Bonnema shared the stage with an amazing animatronic swan at Seattle Opera’s 2004 Lohengrin.
Rozarii Lynch, photo

“Weiche, Wotan” from Das Rheingold (Suzanne Hendrix)
Next, we’ll hear Suzanne Hendrix sing Erda’s famous warning, the deus ex machina scene that climaxes the prelude to the Ring, when the mysterious, all-knowing earth goddess rises from the ground, terrifies Wotan with the news that the gods are doomed, and warns him that the end will come at once unless he shuns the cursed ring.

Many great Erdas have sung this thrillingly potent music at Seattle Opera over the years. One of the most memorable, in 2005, was Polish mezzo Ewa Podleś, whose voice The Seattle Times described as a natural phenomenon akin to Mt. Rainier. Her Wotan was Greer Grimsley, then making his role debut as the Father God.
Bill Mohn, photo

Prize Song from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (David Danholt)
David Danholt takes the stage again to sing Walther’s famous Prize Song from Die Meistersinger—particularly appropriate, given that the character uses this song to win a singing contest in Wagner’s beloved comedy. This densely rhymed, lyrically gorgeous and harmonically intriguing song recounts the poet’s waking dream, in which Eve in the Garden of Eden becomes the Muse atop Parnassus en route to becoming the woman the poet adores—and whom his triumph in the song contest will make his bride.

Ben Heppner sang Walther’s Prize Song at Seattle Opera in 1989; Hans Sachs (Roger Roloff, left) and Pogner (Gabor Andrasy, right) smiled as Eva (Helen Donath) crowned Walther with the laurel wreath of victory.
Ron Scherl, photo

Hagen’s Watch from Götterdämmerung (Roman Ialcic) 
Roman Ialcic, who covered bass Daniel Sumegi as Hagen at Seattle Opera last summer, then returns to sing Hagen’s brooding Watch Song from the first act of Götterdämmerung. Trusted by the gullible King Gunther to guard his throne, this deceitful, envious counselor lets on that he really hates Gunther, and Siegfried, and anyone who would stand between him and what he considers his rightful inheritance—the Nibelung’s ring.

In 1977, one year before he first appeared at Bayreuth, the great American bass-baritone Simon Estes sang Hagen in Seattle.
Chris Bennion, photo

“Siegmund heiß’ ich” from Die Walküre (Kevin Ray) 
Now we hear the conclusion of the beloved first act of Die WalküreKevin Ray performs the scene in which Siegmund names himself, wrests the sword free of the tree where his father left it for him, and claims his sister as his bride: “Let our Wälsung blood flourish!”

In 2005, the heroism of Richard Berkeley-Steele as Siegmund excited Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde.
Chris Bennion, photo

Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (Helena Dix) 
Our 2014 International Wagner Competition will conclude with Helena Dix performing the final scene from Wagner’s great song of love and death, the “Liebestod” or transfiguration of Isolde, who joins her beloved Tristan in a better place on the other side of death. She sings of a mysterious river of music flowing from him, sweeping her away, and Wagner’s music illustrates her experience in no uncertain terms.

In 1998, Jane Eaglen won Seattle Opera’s Artist of the Year Award for her mesmerizing performance as Isolde, paired with the Tristan of Ben Heppner.
Gary Smith, photo

Program subject to change. The International Wagner Competition will be conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing in his Seattle Opera debut.

Many thanks to the lead sponsor of the International Wagner Competition, Nesholm Family Foundation; to our honorary co-chairs and first prize sponsor, Charles and Lisa Simonyi; and to the sponsors of the Orchestra Choice Prize, Betty and Jack Schafer, and the Audience Choice Prize, Wagner and More. Listen carefully for our beautiful new Wagner tubas, made in Vienna for Seattle Opera by Andreas Jungwirth, sponsored by Jeff and Martha Sherman, and dedicated—like our 2014/15 season—to Speight Jenkins.

Share on Facebook

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Our 2013 Ring, Now on CD!

Wagner-lovers of the world, rejoice!

We’re giddy with excitement to announce Seattle Opera’s first-ever live audio recording: our fantastic Der Ring des Nibelungen from last summer.

Everyone seems to agree that our 2013 Ring was one for the history books.

General Director Speight Jenkins (who steps down this August after three decades at his post) felt the production was some of the company's best work. “By every measure: voices, orchestra, drama, audience excitement, I truly feel that the 2013 production was the best Ring I produced in my 31 years with the company," he said.

The press agreed.

Opera News said the 2013 production was “better than ever,” and according to Seattle Weekly it was “the company’s strongest performance yet of the epic." The Seattle Times wrote: “Powerful singing, compelling drama, and a surging, urgent orchestra lifted this Ring into the realm of legend: This is a production people will be talking about for a long time to come.”

Speight is thrilled that the recording will, in a way, preserve this memorable show. He explained that the state-of-the-art technology used in recording the 2013 production does justice to what audiences heard in McCaw Hall.

“Traditional microphones can compress or distort the huge voices required in Wagner operas," he said. "We were blessed to use a remarkable, specially-calibrated custom microphone made available by Meyer Sound, one that captures dramatic voices as the theater audience hears them.”

The 14-CD box set of this live recording includes a 54-page booklet featuring full-color production photos, essays, and artist biographies, as well as four separate libretti of the four operas in the original German with Stewart Spencer’s English translation.

The entire package is available for pre-sale exclusively at seattleopera.org/RingCD starting June 25, and retails for $150. If you want to support Seattle Opera, please pre-order! Your Ring CD set will be shipped in August. The commercial release, including for iTunes, is set for September 9. The iTunes release will be mastered for iTunes and offered as an interactive LP with bonus visuals and content.

Conducted by the great Asher Fisch, the recording stars Greer Grimsley, Alwyn Mellor, Stefan Vinke, Stephanie Blythe, Stuart Skelton, Margaret Jane Wray, Richard Paul Fink, Daniel Sumegi, Andrea Silvestrelli, Dennis Petersen, and many others, and features the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera Chorus.

Backstage at last summer's Ring: Rick Fisher, Asher Fisch, Speight Jenkins, Matthew Sutton, and Evans Mirageas
Alan Alabastro, photo

Evans Mirageas, Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera, produced the recording. Mirageas said that being asked to assist Speight Jenkins, the technical team, and all the artists associated with Seattle Opera in this project was a dream come true.

"From my fervid teenage Wagnerian obsessive days of listening to the (then still new) Solti Ring on London/Decca, I have loved this Mount Everest of opera," said Mirageas. "While I never met the legendary Decca producer John Culshaw whose masterwork was the Solti recording, I was his successor at Decca as the head of artists and repertoire but one. I inherited from his protégé Ray Minshull the small brass dragon that was Culshaw’s talisman throughout the Ring recording years. I kept it nearby in this past year or recording and post-production. It has been a privilege and a joy to be a happy Nibelung in this enterprise.”

Evans Mirageas and Fafnerino
Evans Mirageas, photo

This Ring recording was made possible with the cooperation of Seattle Opera’s collective bargaining unions: American Guild of Musical Artists AFL-CIO; IATSE Local 15, 488 and 887; and the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization, a chapter of the International Guild of Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Musicians. Seattle Opera would like to thank executive producers David J. and Linda A. Cornfield for their belief in this project. Recorded live at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, August 2013, by Matthew Sutton & Rick Fisher; edited, mixed and mastered at RFI Mastering by Matthew Sutton and Rick Fisher. The 2013 Ring was made possible by the Valhalla Sponsor, Nesholm Family Foundation / John F. and Laurel Nesholm; the Festival Sponsor, Lufthansa; with additional support by the Carol Franc Buck Foundation.

Share on Facebook

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

50 Years of Seattle Opera – Now Available Online!

This year, Seattle Opera turned 50. While you might think that makes us over-the-hill, we’re still just a kid among the world’s great opera companies.

Our half-a-century has certainly been a wild ride. We started--back in the days of the Seattle World’s Fair and the creation of Seattle Center--as a gleam in the eye of the ambitious Seattleites who saw that their city could become a major world metropolis. Our first General Director, Glynn Ross, used crazy PR stunts and outrageous marketing tactics (including, but not limited to, skywriting, grocery store billboards, and bumper stickers with slogans such as “Get A-head with Salome”) to grab people's attention and get them in the door; he then majorly delivered the goods, with world superstars such as Joan Sutherland, Franco Corelli, and Beverly Sills singing here regularly when Seattle Opera was only a few years old. The ambitious Ross then began presenting new American operas, vigorous education and outreach programs, and genre-bending works such as the world premiere of The Who’s Tommy (in 1971, at the Moore Theatre) or Mantra, a combination of kinetic sculpture, dance, classical music, and a psychedelic light show, which toured the state in 1969 thanks to Washington’s Cultural Enrichment Program.

Glynn Ross

Nowadays, for many people worldwide, Seattle Opera means Wagner’s Ring. (For instance, when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, the New York Times included a mention of our Ring in its profile of the city.) Of course, we present all kinds of works on the McCaw Hall stage; but at the heart of what we do is this epic masterpiece, which we first presented in 1975 thanks to Glynn Ross’s ambition and infectious optimism. At the time, it was a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story: a small opera company, barely ten years old and geographically about as far from the opera centers of the world as you can get, took on the biggest challenge in all of opera—and did it justice?! Ross believed that if he built it, they would come; and so they did. They came from all over the world. For every summer. For a decade.

Glynn Ross publicizing Seattle Opera's first Ring
Dale Wittner, photo

Glynn Ross and Seattle Opera parted ways in 1983, and the new General Director, Speight Jenkins, was asked by the board to refresh both the company and its Ring. Jenkins made a number of changes. Instead of offering operas sung in English, as Ross had done (in addition to the original languages), Jenkins was an early adopter of supertitles. A firm believer in opera as theater, Jenkins brought exciting new directors and the latest European trends in staging to Seattle--for example, he discarded Ross’s old “storybook” Ring for a new, visually stunning Brechtian production, set in a world of nineteenth-century theatrical imagination. Instead of doing the Ring every summer, he moved to presenting it every fourth summer, opening up room for other vast productions (such as 1989’s Meistersinger or 1990’s War and Peace). His innovations re-invigorated the company, and, thanks to his high artistic standards, opera lovers around the world began associating Seattle Opera with the utmost in quality.

Speight Jenkins

All this history and much more--premieres of operas such as Of Mice and Men, Black Widow, and Amelia; our productions of all Wagner’s major operas; our fantastic Young Artists Program, launched in 1998 by Education Director Perry Lorenzo; and the people who made it all happen--is extensively chronicled at our special 50th Anniversary mini-site, www.seattleopera50.com. This site is our historical archive. It hosts thousands of photos, audio and video clips, fun stories from behind the scenes, and every program (cover and cast page) since day 1. It’s a resource, not just for remembering and learning about Seattle Opera, but for the art form in general. We hope you, our beloved audience, will comment and share your own memories on these digital pages. Without an audience, we would cease to exist: YOU ARE Seattle Opera.

In addition to this ever-expanding site, you’ll soon have another way to view our company’s history through photos, text and programs. A beautiful coffee-table book, 50 Years of Seattle Opera, written by Melinda Bargreen is in the works. Stay tuned! And thank you for being a part of Seattle Opera’s story.

Share on Facebook

Friday, May 16, 2014

Meet our singers: ALFRED WALKER—The Villians

With a magnificent, agile bass-baritone, plus a commanding stage presence, Alfred Walker is totally unforgettable as the four nemeses in The Tales of Hoffmann. According to The Seattle Times, his performance includes singing of "showstopping quality." Dressed in blue with slick shades, he initially draws audience members in as the haughty Councilor Lindorf before taking them on a ride through the insane world of the unhinged Coppélius. As Dr. Miracle, he oozes malevolent mystery, and as the smooth-talking Dapertutto, he enslaves Giulietta with seductive prowess. We spoke with this New Orleans native, (who now calls the woods of New York’s Hudson Valley home) about his return to Seattle six years following his debut here as Orest in Elektra (2008).

What’s the challenge about playing the bad guys in The Tales of Hoffmann?
They all have to be bad, interesting, and connected by a common thread—the challenge is to find that.

Can you describe that process?
It’s both mental and physical. The villains are all crazy and off-kilter, but in different ways. You have to find how to make each character come to life physically—each character needs to walk differently and sound different, too.

Do you have a favorite among them?
Dr. Miracle. His part is the closest to what my voice does naturally in terms of range and style. But I love all of them.

Alfred Walker (Dr. Miracle), Arthur Woodley (Crespel) and Russell Thomas (Hoffmann) in The Tales of Hoffmann. 
Elise Bakketun photo
Was this part originally written for four different people to sing?
That’s a really good point. Traditionally, it was four different people; the parts are so different vocally, with a huge range and different quality required from part to part. I think the most difficult one, oddly, is also the shortest one: Dapertutto—you need a lyric baritone (I’m a bass baritone). There’s some very high singing there. For Coppélius, you have to be sure not to sing in too serious of a tone (he’s a very weird character). Lindorf is very elegant, but very arrogant. I like to think of myself as a nice guy, but you have to get used to the idea that people will see you onstage playing this character and think, “Oh my gosh, what an awful man!”

With your voice-type, do you often get cast as the villain?It depends. Villains are often lower voices, but you have to have a quality in your voice that makes you intimidating, and not every deep voice type can do that. Some lower voices are beautiful; others have more range and a variety of colors. Usually, I either play the villain or someone really strange.

Keith Jameson (Andres), Alfred Walker (Lindorf) and Leah Partridge (Stella) in The Tales of Hoffmann. 
Elise Bakketun photo

Have you come to terms with that?
Yeah, that’s how it goes.

What’s different about this production?

For one thing, the costumes are fantastic. The first day I got fitted I said, ‘Wow!’ I also love Chris Alexander’s direction, as well as all the stage magic and tricks.

Do you have to do any of those tricks?

They’re all kind of done for me. I just wave my hand, and they happen, which makes me look pretty powerful.

Alfred Walker, (Coppelius) in The Tales of Hoffmann. Elise Bakketun photo
Do you have to be over-the-top or, is there more subtlety in your approach?
Both! While these characters are over-the-top what makes them interesting is that they can change unexpectedly. You don’t know what to expect. One minute they’re calm, the next minute, they’re angry and shouting.

How do you juggle the demands of your career with family and relationships?
It’s so hard. We have pets and a lot of friends; I also have a big family in New Orleans. In the morning, I usually dedicate my time to phone calls, checking in with family and friends. Being on the West Coast, it’s easy. When I’m in Europe, it’s harder. Skype is also extremely helpful. I need to maintain these relationships; they’re part of the reason I’m doing this.

What’s your performance regime?
I think it’s important not to do anything to tip off your body that something big is coming up. I know some people who don’t eat a certain item on performance day, or they don’t talk at all. That just makes me too nervous! I need my regular routine.

What do you enjoy most about coming to Seattle?
The coffee! Also, I love the people in Seattle. You guys are different…you’re West Coast people, but different from California (and that’s a good thing!). I love how you embrace your weather here and find beauty in it. When I see people walking around without umbrellas, I put mine away, too. I want to fit in. I have my raincoat and that’s enough. I love that.

So, what’s The Tales of Hoffmann about? Everyone seems to have a slightly different answer.
I think it’s about the villains! They are Hoffmann’s demons, his shadow side. In each story, he intends to do something, but I destroy it. All of us have a shadow side, and we fight to keep it at bay, that’s part of what makes us human. Also, that’s what drives this particular opera.

Alfred Walker (Dr. Miracle) and Leah Partridge (Antonia) in The Tales of Hoffmann. 
Elise Bakketun photo
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
When the prologue starts and the chorus comes out and starts singing before Hoffmann comes in. I love that music so much. It makes me happy.

How did you start singing?
Our college had a chorus, and a good friend of mine was interested in auditioning. You see, there were quite a few cute girls in the chorus (every time I tell this story, I’m kind of embarrassed!). I auditioned for the choirmaster, and I think I only got in because they needed lower voices. The choirmaster asked, “What voice type are you?” and I said, “A tenor!” (laughs) That’s how little I knew about music. He said, “You don’t sound like a tenor.” We started vocalizing and I started screaming. I think I sang a low C, and he said, “You’re definitely not a tenor, you belong in the bass section.” From then on, I started voice lessons with Phil Frohnmayer, a Professor of Voice at Loyola University. He said, “You don’t know how to sing at all, but I think you have a world-class voice.” When I finished with my psychology degree, I decided that I was going to pursue opera. My family thought I was nuts. Phil actually took me through years of studying. I did the Young Artists Program at The Met, but he’s been my only teacher and a real father to me.

Alfred Walker (Lindorf) in The Tales of Hoffmann..
Elise Bakketun photo 

Share on Facebook

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Meet Our Singers: RUSSELL THOMAS, Hoffmann

Following his first Tales of Hoffmann performance on Sunday, Russell Thomas received a huge ovation for what the Seattle Times described as his ‘mighty tenor.’ The opera lovers of Seattle have been following Thomas since he was a Young Artist here, in 2002/03, and enjoyed his mainstage debut as Foresto in Verdi’s Attila in 2012. He spoke to us recently about the challenges of singing Hoffmann, about his passion for new American music, and about the life of an opera singer.

Russell Thomas sings Hoffmann’s Tale of Kleinzach

Have you sung this role before?
Once, in Toronto in the spring of 2012.

What was it like to learn Hoffmann for first time?
The role itself is not that difficult to learn; for me, the challenge is French diction. This was my third French role, after Gounod’s and Berlioz’s Faust, and I learned it in Canada, where French is pronounced differently from what I was taught in college. With French diction, you get a lot of different opinions. Italian and German are pretty straightforward in comparison. Long ago I learned that whoever is coaching you that day—they’re right!

What makes Hoffmann different from other roles you sing?
It’s long—probably the longest role I ever will sing. I think it’s one of the longest roles in the tenor repertory. So stamina is a great challenge—pacing it so you make sure you can get through the night without feeling tired.

Russell Thomas as Hoffmann and Leah Partridge as Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann
Elise Bakketun, photo

What do you think this opera is about?
I think this opera is a man telling the story of his relationship with a person who has multiple sides to her personality. Sometimes she can be emotionless and cold like a doll, sometimes she can be fragile, and sometimes she can be sexy and whorish. Hoffmann is just like any of us that has ever had a relationship. Everyone has multiple sides to their personalities. I know I do. I’m not the same all the time and especially in relationships we can all be a little crazy. That’s why it’s such a relatable story. Sure, the libretto is complicated, but it’s the story of every man or woman who has experienced a tumultuous relationship.

And the other characters?
The Muse is Hoffmann’s conscience, and it depends on the production, but you could have it that nobody sees the Muse and Nicklausse but Hoffmann. And then you have the Devil. It’s a bit like the kind of cartoon where you have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

Russell Thomas as Foresto in Attila at Seattle Opera, 2012
Elise Bakketun, photo

Last time you were in Seattle, we heard you sing early Verdi: Attila. And you’ve done some French Verdi: Don Carlos in Berlin. Are you more a French or an Italian tenor?
I like singing in Italian and I love the music of Verdi. I relate more to that style of music, but I’m going to be singing a lot of French repertory, especially in Canada.

What’s the difference between the French and Italian styles?
French Grand Opera requires clean lines. Think about it in terms of fashion: it’s straight lines, and you can see where the beginnings and the ends are. In Italian, the lines are a bit more blurred; you have more flexibility to adjust for your own vocal strengths.

I saw that you’ve worked with John Adams. How did that come about?
I worked with Peter Sellers on a Mozart project for about a year, touring all over the world, and Peter was doing a new opera by John Adams for a festival in Vienna and introduced me to John. John liked me and wrote a character in his opera A Flowering Tree for me. It was a huge success, and we did that opera everywhere. Then John wrote another role for me in another opera, The Gospel According to the Other Mary. I’m a big fan of new music, American music, and I think it’s incumbent on me as an American singer to promote that repertory.

Russell Thomas (Hoffmann) enters Luther’s Bar in the Prologue of The Tales of Hoffmann
Elise Bakketun, photo

It can be difficult to get American audiences to embrace new works the way they do the classics.
I think it’s a question of education. In this country, we grow up with this mentality that anything from Europe is better. I think we need to spend more time, energy and money educating our audiences and letting them know that there’s great American music. It’s not going to sound like Mozart. Art grows and changes over the years, in classical exactly the same as in pop, and someone needs to teach people that.

Tell us a little about the life of an opera singer.
It can be rewarding and exciting, but also a very lonely life, living out of a suitcase and in different places all the time. I know it seems very glamorous to be onstage, and even backstage, but really it’s a very boring life! Often you can’t go out for fear of getting sick, and there’s always so much to learn. I’m working on a role in Rusalka, it’s my first time ever singing Czech, and I’m trying to stay sane by breaking up my day with House of Cards and stuff like that. Your average singer may have 15 or 16 different jobs in a season, and if you’re lucky some of them will be music you’ve sung before, which is easier.

Top to bottom: Alfred Walker (Dapertutto), Leah Partridge (Giulietta), Russell Thomas (Hoffmann) and Keith Jameson (Pitichinaccio) in The Tales of Hoffmann
Elise Bakketun, photo

How did you become an opera singer?
I was a very odd kid. I’ve been in love with opera since I was 8. I heard it on the radio and I was absolutely fascinated by it, and I remember thinking, “I want to do that.” Luckily I was blessed with the ability to sing. When I was 8 I’d sing in church, and at school, and for family functions, and then I got into children’s chorus and got more involved in classical music and there it is.

Tell us a little about your family.
I’m orignally from Miami, but I currently live in Atlanta. I don’t get to see my family in Miami as often as I would like. I’m planning on adopting this year, which is a big deal. My schedule is booked well into 2018, but luckily the right situation came about: I have some free time when the baby is due. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time, and I think you have to just jump in and take the risk.

Share on Facebook