Wednesday, December 22, 2010

StaffChat with Seneca Garber

Our Winter Issue of Seattle Opera Magazine, published last week, featured (in addition to lots of information about The Barber of Seville and Don Quixote) an interview with Seattle Opera's Education Associate, Seneca Garber. If you have attended any of Seattle Opera’s previews in area libraries and museums, or the pre-show talks at the hall, you have likely learned a thing or two from the dashing young bow-tied Garber, who got hooked on opera as a student himself, and has been here ever since.

You are now the Education Associate, but you’ve worn many hats. What is the trajectory of your time at Seattle Opera?
I was initially a student in our programs in 1997. My high school attended Il trovatore. At that point I didn’t know that I loved opera, but I enjoyed the performance and thought the music was fun and kept going to the shows. Then I interned in 2001, when we did the Ring of the Nibelung, and worked with Perry Lorenzo on his talks. After finishing college, I began working in the ticket office during Mourning Becomes Electra, and later became programs coordinator for Education, handling the scheduling and some of the budgeting. About four years ago, I started doing some of the previews and working with the high school program.

So you hold all the secrets.
Kind of.
You know how to get a young person interested...
It’s different for every kid depending on what they’re drawn to. I grew up in a family with parents who were rock ‘n’ rollers, so to be rebellious the only thing I could think of was to listen to opera.

Rebellion is one thing--but then actually...falling in love with another. Can you pinpoint when that happened?
Wagner was really imperative to my development and love of opera. At Tristan back in ’98, I fell in love with the stage imagery and the singing. It was one of those magical productions where the power of what opera can be just clicked.

What’s a typical week for you during performances?
I give a couple of talks at libraries or I might go to a school to talk to students directly. I’m always preparing for those talks. When we did Tosca, for instance, I knew a bit about Puccini, but I had to research to learn more about Rome and the period when that opera is set. You feel like you’re in a college class because you’re always reading some literature and history, finding those connections between opera and other artworks, visual arts, and ways to tie them together.

I know you’re reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Have you finished?
Not yet. First up is a biography of Rossini by Stendhal.

Public speaking is one of the most common fears. Not for you?
I know a lot of people have it. My first pre-show talk was Bohème, and I was also a waiter onstage in the performance. I was so stressed about not dropping a plate that the speaking part was secondary.

What’s fun about bringing kids to the dress rehearsals?
The kids are completely honest, and it’s fun when you see an opera like Tosca, and Scarpia comes out for a final bow and they boo the performer because he did such a good job of being a bad guy. Directors pay attention to the way the kids respond. If they laugh at a moment that’s supposed to be serious, the director might make a change. They’re an educated audience. When we see the partnerships that we create with the schools and the time that we spend in the class pay off at the hall, that, to me, is when we know that we’ve done the job right. We want to give the students an educational experience that goes beyond sitting and enjoying the show--the idea is that they learn how what they’re doing in school applies beyond today. We want them to realize: There is a job out there for me. If I follow along this path, whether it’s the opera or not, there are ways to use my skills, languages, etc. That’s one of the reasons that I got as involved as I did and have stayed...I realized that there was something that I could do to be involved with the arts in a way that I wouldn’t have guessed, being fairly unartistic myself...Nobody wants to hear me sing.

Oh, come on.
I’ve done it at a few lectures, a few melodies, and people have come up afterward and said great talk, just don’t sing. So I try not to scare them too much.

To meet some of the other fascinating people who work for Seattle Opera, click here.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Yea Seneca! It's amazing how those Wagner internships can lead to jobs. Thanks for all your mentoring!