Friday, January 14, 2022

Key'mon W. Murrah on Hope, Heroism, and what a Countertenor can be

Key'mon Murrah as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice. Credit: Philip Newton
Keymon W. Murrah, a countertenor heralded for his wide range and “hot coal core of tone” by Schmopera.com, is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. In 2021, he was heard on the stage of The Houston Grand Opera as the 1st Place Winner of the 33rd Annual Concert of Arias, as the Grand Prize winner of the Premiere Opera Foundation + NYIOP International Vocal Competition, and Finalist and Encouragement award winner of Operalia. He makes his Seattle Opera debut as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice and stays on for an Artist Recital on February 4.

Key’mon recently sat down with Seattle Opera over Zoom for a conversation that covered his journey to becoming an opera singer, the challenges of making a career as a countertenor, his interpretation of Orpheus, and his upcoming recital.

A Conversation with Carey Wong

Set Designer for Orpheus and Eurydice

In a conversation over Zoom, Orpheus and Eurydice’s set designer, Carey Wong, sat down with Seattle Opera to discuss how he got started in opera, his vision for the Orpheus sets, and what excites him about the future of theater.

Carey Wong has worked for over 45 years as a stage designer and arts administrator in the United States, Canada, and abroad. He has designed sets and/or costumes for over 300 productions of operas, plays, musicals, and ballets, as well as art installations and themed environments. Currently a freelance designer and theater consultant based in Gig Harbor, Washington, he began his career as General Production Manger and Resident Designer of Portland Opera for eight seasons. This was followed by two seasons as Artistic Administrator and Resident Designer at Opera Memphis. While at Portland Opera, Mr. Wong designed sets and costumes for 12 new productions including the American premiere of Ernst Krenek’s Life of Orestes (in an English translation by the composer commissioned for the premiere), the world premiere of Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, and a rare staging of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz. Three of his Portland productions were shared by Seattle Opera.

Best New Opera Winner Blue Leads Slate of Exciting Events in February–March 2022

Eight opera-themed events offer a range of experiences for new audiences and seasoned operagoers alike

Seattle Opera continues its 2021/22 season with a dynamic lineup of opera events, including community conversations, artist recitals, laser shows, and a timely and award-winning opera.

Friday, January 7, 2022

A CONVERSATION WITH JEANINE TESORI

The Composer of Blue

In this Seattle Opera interview, Tesori recounts the legacy of her grandfather, her approach to composing, and collaborating with Blue librettist Tazewell Thompson.

JEANINE TESORI is a composer of musical theater, opera, television and film. She won the Tony Award for Best Score (with bookwriter & lyricist, Lisa Kron) for the musical Fun Home. Her other musicals include Caroline, or Change (with Tony Kushner), Shrek the Musical (with David Lindsay-Abaire), Thoroughly Modern Millie (with Dick Scanlan), Violet (with Brian Crawley), Kimberly Akimbo (with Lindsay-Abaire) and Soft Power (with David Henry Hwang) which was her second work after Fun Home to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Along with Missy Mazzoli, she is one of the first women to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Her operas include A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck (Tony Kushner, libretto), Blue (Tazewell Thompson, libretto) which received the MCANA Award for Best New Opera, and the upcoming Grounded (George Brant, libretto) at the Met. In addition to her work as a composer, Tesori is the Founding Artistic Director of New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series, Supervising Vocal Producer of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, and lecturer in music at Yale University.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Watch Now: A Lesson on Love, Loss, and Letting Go

An Opera Talk with the creative team of Orpheus and Eurydice

In a recent Opera Talk at Tagney Jones Hall, dramaturg Jonathan Dean sat down with stage director Chía Patiño, choreographer Donald Byrd, and conductor Stephen Stubbs to discuss the creative vision behind our new production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. The conversation addressed how the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice reflects music’s power to express love and sorrow, and explored how the opera can help us grapple with the pain of letting go.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Director's Note for Orpheus and Eurydice

BY CHÍA PATIÑO, STAGE DIRECTOR

Learn more about Stage Director Chía Patiño's concept for Orpheus and Eurydice, her doubts about Orpheus's heroism, and what this story has to teach us about love, loss, and letting go.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Conductor Stephen Stubbs Discusses Gluck And Orpheus

Orpheus and Eurydice conductor Stephen Stubbs sat down with Seattle Opera to discuss the longevity of the Orpheus myth, the storys malleable ending, and what sets Christoph Willibald Gluck's version apart.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Conversation with Tazewell Thompson

The Librettist And Director of Blue

In a conversation over Zoom, Seattle Opera writer Glenn Hare and Tazewell Thompson talk about the characters he created in Blue, Tazewell’s childhood, and how he came to love opera—especially operas about nuns.

Tazewell Thompson is the 2020 Music Critics Association of North America award recipient for Best New Opera in North America for Blue. The New York Times and Washington Post both noted the opera as a Best in Classical Music 2019. He has over 150 directing credits, including 30 world and American premieres, in opera houses and theaters in the US, France, Spain, Italy, Africa, Japan, and Canada. He earned an EMMY Award nomination for Best Direction and Best Classical Production for Porgy and Bess Live from Lincoln Center. At Seattle Opera Thompson serves as a coach/mentor in the Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab for up-and-coming Washington State librettists and composers. He was also a panelist on the 2018 community forum, Breaking Glass: Hyperlinking Opera & Issues, a national collaboration with Glimmerglass Festival. Blue is his Seattle Opera directorial debut.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Why Blue matters to the artists

Tazewell Thompson, Briana Hunter, and Kenneth Kellogg. 
A story of love, loss, church, and sisterhood, the opera Blue depicts a young African American couple celebrating the joy of family with the birth of their son. Later they lean on close-knit community in the wake of their son’s death at the hands of a police officer. Some of the artists involved with Seattle Opera's 2022 production share more about why this award-winning piece is more than an operait's deeply personal. Hear from Tazewell Thompson (librettist and winner of five NAACP Awards, plus two Emmy nominations), Kenneth Kellogg (The Father) and Briana Hunter (The Mother). 

Testimonials were collected from a variety of different media interviews and film segments related to Blue

"I'm hoping that when they see Blue, every member of the audience will hold their precious ones in their lives." 
Tazewell Thompson (Washington National Opera video)

"Black love, community, and relationships are the real heart and soul of this opera. It opens you up in a way that are, hopefully, life changing. When we first performed it, people came up to me afterwards in tears, thanking me. I believe Blue is a life-changing experience."  
— Kenneth Kellogg (Seattle Opera blog)

Blue was an amazing outlet just for grieving. Being in that room with so many amazing Black artists, and being able to process the collective trauma that we’ve inherited and that we still experience in the current environment, it became a respite. And singing the role of the Mother — I mean, I get to wail. So every night, it was real for a new reason.” 
— Briana Hunter (Washington Post)

"At the time I got asked to do this production, it was at the height of many police shootings. Yes that happens. But (Blue) is more than that. It's not an attack on police. It's not an attack on the system. It's about how a Black family deals. It's about the love and support of a community. Having to build themselves up. Having to deal with pain. Having to continue after tragedy. It's really a story of love and endurance. It's very personal. Blue has been more than opera for me. It's become a sense of purpose. And a mission. To tell a story from a Black experience that hasn't been told before and needs to be told. this is too important of a piece to miss."  

Briana Hunter (The Mother) and Kenneth Kellogg (The Father) in Blue. Credit: Karli Cadel / The Glimmerglass Festival

"These are conversations and grievances and emotions I’m used to having, it’s a very strange feeling to actually be heard. In the breakdown scene, the mother says 'uselessly I water this plant of hope / for we are not one of God’s favorites / please God see me, hear me.' The pain is usually experienced in a void. Now that the world has heard the cries of a black man begging for his mother in his final moments. I feel people not being able to look away. This line, 'see me, hear me' has even more significance, it belies the undercurrent of the moment. We are dying. We are losing our sons and daughters. Please pay attention. Please stand with us. Please make sure justice is done." 
— Briana Hunter (OperaWire)

"I want the audience to see that the family in this opera is really no different from their own in that they work for the best and want the best for themselves and their community. The Mother runs a restaurant with love and pride for her ancestral cuisine and its ability to connect people. The Father is a police officer because we want to ensure a safe environment for his community. The son is a college-bound teenager full of ambition to change the world. What makes them different are the fights they must take on based on the color of their skin, on a daily basis, which prevents them from living full lives."  
— Kenneth Kellogg (OperaWire)

"Blue has been referred to as a 'protest opera' and 'the opera about police violence.' I suppose both are true. But I did not set out with that goal. I wrote it from an obsessive need and sense of responsibility to tell an intimate story behind the numbing numbers of boys and men who are killed. Unfortunately, the themes in Blue have no expiration date. I add my voice to those of the characters singing in the opera, and to those of the real families suffering great losses. Our eyes will never be free of tears." 
— Tazewell Thompson (The New York Times

Blue is the 2020 winner of Best New Opera from the Music Critics Association of North America created by librettist Tazewell Thompson (five NAACP Awards, plus two Emmy nominations) and composer Jeanine Tesori (Tony-winner known for Fun Home). Seattle Opera's Blue runs Feb. 26 & 27 and March 2, 5, 9, 11, & 12, 2022 at McCaw Hall. Tickets & info at seattleopera.org/blue

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Creating & Running LA BOHÈME Costumes with MARY SEASLY

Before last week’s final dress rehearsal of La bohème I was able to check in with longtime Seattle Opera staff member Mary Seasly (left, photo by Philip Newton), who works these performances as Mimì’s Wardrobe Attendant. But long ago, Mary also worked on the team that created these now-iconic La bohème costumes. She told me a little about her work both then and now, and a little about the legendary designer Martin Pakledinaz.
Mary Seasly outside Mimì's dressing room
Philip Newton, photo

Mary, what’s the difference between working on the Costume crew and the Wardrobe crew?
Different skill set in many cases. The Costume crew is a group of artisans that have skills in building, fitting, altering costumes; tailoring, dress-making and all things in between: millinery work [hats]; and there’s often some footwear that needs to be modified or built, depending on the production.

And Wardrobe?
We are engineers. We make the costumes work for the production. That sometimes involves specific rigging, if there’s a quick-change...as we go forward in the rehearsal process you often find out those little specific things.

So it’s Applied Costuming; getting the costumes on this particular group of people, for this staging of the show.
Right. And in addition to getting the costumes on and off we support the performers in their performance: getting them dressed on time, making sure they’re comfortable, making sure they have water or whatever they need for their vocal production. (Sometimes that’s little candies or mints or something like that.)

It’s an intimate collaboration: you’re in the dressing rooms with them, sort of their ground crew.
That’s true. We are there for them, for whatever comes up.

You’re working Wardrobe now; but you also worked at the Costume Shop when these amazing La bohème costumes were first created.
Thirty years ago! Summer of 1991, I was a cog in the wheel of building these exquisite costumes. It was a huge crew, with many artisans from different theaters in Seattle.

What was it like to work in the Costume Shop in those days? They were over in the building that’s now the Armory, in those days the “Food Circus...”
They called it the “Center House.” We had a lot of space up there on the Fourth Floor. It was an old 1920s-30s building without air conditioning, so the windows would be wide open in the summertime, and we’d hear all the sounds of everybody enjoying the Fun Forest at Seattle Center.

In the story of La bohème Mimì is a seamstress...sounds like where she would go to work.
Exactly. She might have been building her own little pink hat. It was a great group, well-managed by some longtime employees of Seattle Opera. We were split between dress-makers and tailors, producing the women’s garments and the men’s garments.

Brandie Sutton in Musetta's Act 2 Costume
Philip Newton, photo

Musetta’s big yellow dress is iconic for this production of Bohème; but the guys look very smart, too.
Glad to hear that, we worked diligently. It was a hot summer and we were working with all those wools and velvets. Martin’s designs were superbly specific to the era. There was not a detail that was missed. The men’s coats, vests, and trousers all have fully-functioning pockets. Sometimes in costumes something appears functional but it’s not. But Martin required the real thing.

The choice was made to set the opera in the 1890s, around the time of composition. Which is not actually when the book takes place...the book is fifty years earlier.
Right, but it works beautifully.

Martin Pakledinaz designed costumes for a lot of great Seattle Opera productions over the years: Orpheus and Eurydice, Lohengrin, Iphigeníe en Tauride and the Ring cycle.
He was a joy to work with. Not always easy! But just impeccable designs. And thirty years later, we’re presenting them again, and they still stand.

Is it rare, for costumes to have that longevity?
This production has been used frequently by Seattle Opera, and rented out to other companies. There’s been a lot of maintenance, cheers to the Seattle Opera Wardrobe and Costume Shops for that. And it’s just as gorgeous as I remember it.

Do you have a favorite garment in the show?
I’m very fond of Rodolfo’s coats...but that little pink hat!

La cuffietta, the bonnet Rodolfo buys for Mimì!
There’s such a tenderness to what it represents. I think it’s a lovely little piece.

Elizabeth Caballero as Mimì and Francesco Demuro as Rodolfo remember when he bought her that pink bonnet in Seattle Opera's 2013 La bohème
Elise Bakketun, photo

It’s so distinct, it sticks out, you can’t miss it. And you get why someone would become fixated on it.
Why she would have it on her deathbed.

Is there anything unusual about your specific Wardrobe duties for this Bohème?
All of us in Wardrobe, our performers and everybody here in the theater, we’re all helping each other in this age of COVID.

The singers go out onstage unmasked; but is everybody masked, backstage?
We have a whole protocol of when the singers put their mask on, how they take it off, where they put it when they take it off...we use little Tupperware containers, clearly labeled with each singer’s name. The performer is responsible for handling their own mask, of course. Before they step onstage, it goes into the lidded container, and that’s reversed when they exit the stage and come back to their dressing room.

You guys have thought everything through!
We try.