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

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


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.


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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE MAGIC FLUTE and Early Romanticism

Mozart’s Magic Flute may be a “timeless masterpiece,” an “immortal classic” full of music that will last forever. It’s also very specifically a child of 1791. Everything about this opera—its plot, characters, world, range of musical styles, and themes—makes much more sense when considered in its historical context. Musically, The Magic Flute is hugely significant as the first great Zauberoper, the German tradition of popular musical theater on fantasy subjects that eventually gives us such operas as Wagner’s Ring. In terms of the visual arts, it sits on the fulcrum between eighteenth-century neo-classicism and nineteenth-century Romanticism. Images from productions of this opera in its first few decades illustrate how Romantic art emerged from neo-classicism.

The First Production
Mozart’s pal Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote Flute’s libretto and created the role of Papageno,

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dan Wallace Miller directs The Combat

Director Dan Wallace Miller
Not everyone can call themselves a homegrown Seattle Opera artist. But for Stage Director Dan Wallace Miller, the roots of his artistry go deep in the Wagnerian tradition of Seattle Opera. For Miller, the seed of directing was planted at age 4 by opera-loving parents during his first Ring cycle. Later, it was cultivated by legendary Seattle Opera director/singer Peter Kazaras, who became Miller's mentor and teacher. Ultimately, Miller went on to create his own opera company, Vespertine Opera Theater. He makes his official Seattle Opera directing debut now with The Combat, a production which The Stranger called "a profound experience of theater" created by a "visionary director."

Tell me about your vision for The Combat
It's an extension of my whole body of work thus far, which has been super non-traditional shows. I am attracted to the post-modern edge. I was so happy (Seattle Opera Education & Community Engagement Director) Barbara Lynne Jamison approached me about The Combat—the chance to do what I’ve done independently, but this time with more resources. I love that Seattle Opera is trying to create difficult and pointed dialogues through our art. Opera gets a bad rap for being the antiquated creation of dead white guys. But in The Combat, we’re taking the oldest opera that there is, a work by Monteverdi, and using it in a contemporary and socially-relevant way. This is our stab at an immersive opera.

So, you create opera with an edge.
Don’t forget that when most operas were written, they were absolutely edgy for their time—such as Tosca putting a candle on either side of Scarpia’s body to create a cross after she’s killed him. At the time, this was considered shocking. It’s our job as producers of the art to not only embrace the beauty of the music, but to remain true to the intent of why the piece was created. Sometimes, this was to jolt someone into an uncomfortable conversation or make you think in a new way. 

Thomas Segen (Tancredi), Tess Altiveros (Clorinda) and Eric Neuville (Testo) in Seattle Opera's The Combat. Philip Newton photo

Seattle Opera presented an opera in a similar format to The Combat last November. Tell me about your experience seeing As One—a transgender story told through opera—and how that may have inspired your work here. 
There’s a moment in As One where Hannah after is being assaulted by a man, while simultaneously, Hannah before loudly recites names of murdered transgender people, including how and where they were killed. At the show I went to, a woman was so affected by what she was seeing, she got up out of her chair, sprinted downstairs, and let out a blood curdling scream to relieve what she must have been feeling. She then came back upstairs, sat down, and kept engaging with the piece. It’s very difficult to provoke that kind of response in a giant, grand opera house. With pieces like As One and The Combat, we’re in a direct conversation with the audience. It opens up the possibilities of what kind of reactions we can get from opera, too—we can incite curiosity.

Taylor Raven (Hannah before) and Jorell Williams (Hannah after) in As One. Rozarii Lynch photo

What is an “immersive, theatrical experience?” Without giving too much away, talk about what the viewer is in for when she goes to see The Combat. 
The immersive theatrical experience gained prominence in the states with a production called Sleep No More that took place in an empty apartment building or hotel. You, the audience member, would go from room to room, wandering freely and becoming part of the show. We’re taking this concept and adding an orchestra and a conductor and the live music element you experience when you attend an opera, but attempted to create a process that fundamentally subverts expectations that anyone has about seeing an opera. The show starts in a mysterious, non-traditional way. There’s tricks and turns throughout the night, as we utilize the entire first floor of the Seattle Opera rehearsal studios. 

Tell me more about where The Combat is being performed.
This opera is being performed in the Seattle Opera rehearsal studios in South Lake Union—a place not a lot of people know. I have been attending Seattle Opera performances since I was 4-years-old, and it wasn’t until I started working here as an Assistant Director that I came to really know this building. Essentially, this old, former-warehouse is the nucleus of all the art that we create. Every opera we put on stage had its genesis here; here is where the performance took shape and blossomed. Seattle Opera is in the process of creating its new civic home, where rehearsals and administrative activities will ultimately take place beginning in 2018. Thus, what better way to bid farewell to our old building which has birthed so much of our art than by performing a piece that takes us in new artistic directions before our forthcoming ascension into the Valhalla of the new Seattle Opera Center?

The current Seattle Opera rehearsal studios/administrative building where The Combat takes place. Genevieve Hathaway photo
What can you get at a performance like The Combat that you cannot get at McCaw Hall? 
It will be a completely different experience. Those of us who spend most of our lives and careers in rehearsals rooms know what it’s like to be so close to the music, to the unamplified voices. It’s so different than seeing a show at McCaw Hall. You can almost feel your entire body vibrate. So audiences of The Combat have the rare opportunity to feel and experience opera in a new way.

I’ve grown up at Seattle Opera, which explains my lifelong love of Wagner. I’ve seen the Ring over 30 times, both in a seat and in the standing-only section. I find that standing through the 17 hours of that performance gives you an alertness that makes you more present. You feel like you’re part of the piece. And that’s even more so when the singer is just a foot away from you. This is not a passive receiving of a story—the audience member is an active participant.

What’s it like working with Maestro Stephen Stubbs?
Steve Stubbs is one of the most formidable minds I’ve ever encountered when it comes to early music. His house is filled with antique instruments and museum pieces. And yet, he also has the perfect understanding of how music was performed when it was written, and that lends itself to the adventurous productions I’ve worked with him on at the UW, for example. He is a master of older music, yet remains totally open to theatrical ideas. He’s always looking for ways to collaborate, to accomplish both music and stage action. 

Maestro Stephen Stubbs leads a 5-piece baroque orchestra for The Combat. Philip Newton photo

How do you navigate the themes of Islam and Christianity in this production? 
Faith is the main talking point of The Combat. With that said, we are not trying to realistically depict a Christian crusader and a Muslim Saracen warrior. The work is more of a comment on faith, compassion and love—how these things can be harmonious, and how they can fail when twisted and turned into sectarian violence. 

Tell me about the characters in The Combat.
The entire evening is centered around the narrator “Testo”—which means text. This is something I adore about early music—they love a narrator, and so do I. Some of the most interesting literature is where the narrator is unreliable or flawed in some way. 

In Tasso’s epic poem “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda”—of which The Combat is based—there is a pivotal scene that is profoundly offensive. Once we understand that this is a show presented by a narrator, and one who is unreliable, we can understand more about why this event happens in The Combat. Testo represents all the evil things that one can twist faith into.

We’re creating a conversation about faith and dissecting what it means to be someone who believes in a certain religion. We’re examining the God of Abraham, and the connectivity that lies between monotheism to discover the peace between those three. 

Seattle Opera's The Combat offers a theatrical, immersive experience. Philip Newton photo
What’s one of your most memorable moments working at Seattle Opera.
I have been the phantom of this opera company for years. I’ve been to every single production since 1991. I saw the Ring for the first time when I was 4. I’m a rabid Wagnerian, and that’s thanks to this company. Probably my most memorable experience is when I shadowed director Peter Kazaras in Tristan and Isolde. Peter was originally Loge in the Ring, and the way he threw fire around onstage had me enthralled. I was a breathless little fan of his. I started following Peter around in 2009, and I always wanted to be a conductor, but didn’t have much musical talent. He said, “Have you thought about directing?” and then he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know. That’s how I learned to be a director. 

You’re a millennial. How can we make opera more welcoming and appealing to people your age?
When I ran my company for six years, that was the entire thrust of what I trying to do. Just show up. Get a cheap ticket. Bring a flask. Treat it like going out to any other event. 

The most successful show we did with Vespertine Opera Theater was Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias), about a woman whose breast fly away from her body. She turns into a male general, her husband has 1,041 kids—real Surrealist Ivory Tower stuff. We got such a diverse crowd, the most diverse crowd of people that never heard opera before showed up and absolutely loved it. I think if you tailor the experience to what interests people, they will come. Even the bartender at our opera who didn’t want to be there eventually stopped texting, and discretely started taking pictures on his phone. Afterward, he said, “That was the coolest thing I ever saw here—and the Fleet Foxes came through last week.”

8-year-old Dan rides one of the Valkyrie horses from the Rochaix Ring. 
There's three more opportunities to see The Combat: April 6, 7, & 9, 2017. Tickets & info: 

Friday, March 24, 2017

THE COMBAT: Exploring Monteverdi with STEPHEN STUBBS

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Praise for Katya Kabanova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corinne Winters (Katya). Jacob Lucas photo

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A cinematic night at the opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Praise for La traviata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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