I came to Pacific Lutheran University in the fall of 2006 with ambition and passion, and a very minimal understanding of music and opera. At PLU I sang in the University Chorale under Dr. Steven Zophi for two years, in the Choir of the West under Dr. Richard Nance for three years and in PLU Opera productions of Die Fledermaus and Semele. I also understudied Mayor Upfold in Albert Herring. Singing in the Harmonie Festival in Lindenholzhausen, German, was one of the biggest highlights of my PLU experience, along with being featured as a soloist for a music video and appearing at the Tacoma Dome in May 2011 with Okneca Hamptonie and Chris Anderson.
As an international student one of the biggest challenges was immersion and assimilation into an American environment. It was a new experience for me in that at St. Maur I never had to go out of my way to make friends because I went to a K-12 private school and I grew up with my classmates.
Prior to graduation I applied for an internship at Seattle Opera and was asked to come in for an interview with the Production Stage Manager, Yasmine Kiss. At the interview Yasmine told me that she was interested in having me for Madama Butterfly, and about the Simulcast on May 5th to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Seattle Center. I understood that the stakes were higher. I explained to her that I was interested in experiencing the professional world of opera and that I am a singer who has an interest in performing. Two names stuck out from the rest of the cast, Patricia Racette and Stefano Secco. I had seen Patricia sing the same role three years ago on the Metropolitan Opera HD Broadcast and later learned that this is her signature role but I was not aware of what I was getting myself into until a couple of weeks before the start of my internship.
My internship started at the end of March where for a week and a half, I was working on artist packets and getting acclimated to the environment of the administrative office by going to pre-production meetings with different departments of the company. I met with Peter Kazaras, tenor, Stage Director, and Artistic Director of the Young Artist Program at Seattle Opera. During pre-production I had a chance to talk to Sue Elliot, the Director of Education, about my PLU experience and how Seattle Opera can be involved with PLU. At the beginning of April I met with all the principal artists including Patricia Racette, Ausrine Stundyte, Stefano Secco, Nathaniel Peake, Brett Polegato, Doug Jones, Michael Devlin, Jonathan Silvia, and three of Seattle Opera’s talented Young Artists - Sarah Larsen, David Krohn and Joseph Lattanzi. I was also introduced to Maestro Julian Kovatchev and the two coaches, David McDade and Allen Perriello. Everyday it seemed like a dream working with these people. I was being spoiled listening to the voices of the cast across the room and hanging out with the singers during breaks.
In the first orchestra dress rehearsal one word came into my mind: Gesamtkunstwerk, a term used by Richard Wagner, which means poetry, scenic design, staging, action and music, all working collaboratively to create art, and that the words related to the situation or events while the orchestra conveyed the inner drama. This was especially evident in Cio-Cio-San's grand entrance with her relatives, right before her wedding. I began to tear up in that moment because one knows that the real beginning of the tragedy is in this particular moment. To my ears it sounded like she knew that her marriage to Pinkerton was not her choice but political. My admiration kept growing as I saw the love duet during the orchestra dress rehearsal between Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton at the end of Act 1. There is nothing more serene, romantic, bold, powerful and transparent than this scene. I particularly enjoy the chemistry between the characters as the two draw closer to each other on stage. Cio-cio-San has been abandoned by her family and friends for marrying an American Naval Lieutenant and converting to Christianity, and is left with nothing but Pinkerton who comforts her with his arms around her. It is also the only time the audience sees Cio-Cio-San as a fifteen year old girl, frightened by the consequences of her decision. The last ten minutes of the opera was cruel and painful to watch as Pinkerton cowardly betrays Cio-Cio-San, followed by the appearance of Pinkerton’s new wife, Kate, and Cio-Cio-San loses custody over her only beloved child, Trouble. Cio-Cio-San is emotionally torn apart by betrayal and devastation, and makes a decision to kill herself with honor.
It was my pleasure to help Peter with the Japanese elements of the opera--something which was not in the internship description. It first started off with costume pieces and hair styles for the men, then specific staging such as the bows, sitting, and the wedding ceremony. For example, in the wedding scene Cio-Cio-San's relatives sit after she says "e tutti giu” and they bow to Pinkerton. I pointed out to Peter when the women sit, they should keep their knees together and have the left hand between the thumb and index finger on the right hand, creating a triangle. Another example: the wedding in Butterfly is a traditional Shinto wedding. The bride and groom take three sips from the sake cup, a ritual called “san-san-kudo”. The number three is a lucky number and in the context of a wedding signifies the unification of heaven, earth and humanity. Throughout rehearsals I got to work on stage in the rehearsal studio with the singers learning how quickly one had to comprehend the blocking. I appreciate how Peter trusted my information and comments in this production. For the first time I understood the pressure a stage director takes when signing his contract. I had to be attentive to what was going on because Peter would throw me questions while he discussing the scene with the singers. All I could think about for a while was providing accurate information. Peter once referred to me as his Resident Japanese Consultant, which was nice, and later the General Director, Speight Jenkins, thanked me for my participation and referred to me as the Japanese expert.
In hindsight this experience enabled me to see an opera company working to preserve this old performing art which dates back to the Italian Renaissance. I hope that one day I will return to Seattle Opera as a singer, because Seattle Opera is home.