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.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

In Conversation with Chía Patiño

The Stage Director of Orpheus & Eurydice

Born in Ecuador, Chía Patiño was the Artistic and Executive Director of the National Theatre in Ecuador for 10 years before joining the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas-Austin in 2019 as the Stage Director for the Butler Opera Center. Her path has been eclectic: she began as a pianist, continued as a composer, and began a parallel path as a stage director in 1998. She has staged zarzuela, musical theater, theater, and opera for numerous companies in the United States, Arab Emirates, Egypt, Guatemala, Colombia and Ecuador. Productions she has directed include: Tosca, Traviata, Transformations, Rusalka, Dido and Aeneas, Carmen, Sweeney Todd, Luis Fernanda, West Side Story, Les Miserables, La Flauta Mágica de Los Andes, Faust and Don Giovanni. In 2009, she was the music director of the mariachi opera commissioned and produced by Houston Grand Opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. This is Patiño Seattle Opera debut.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Seattle Opera Continues Commitment to New Music and Today’s Stories

Commission of A Thousand Splendid Suns in 2022/23.
Co-production X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X for 2023/24.

Seattle Opera continues its commitment to bringing contemporary stories to Seattle audiences with two new operas for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons. In February 2023, Seattle Opera presents the world premiere of its latest commission—A Thousand Splendid Suns based on author Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 award-winning novel of the same name. The following season Seattle Opera, in partnership with Michigan Opera Theater, Opera Omaha, and The Metropolitan Opera, produces a brand-new staging of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X by Pulitzer Prize award-winning composer Anthony Davis.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Creative Team: Khaled Hosseini, Sheila Silver, Stephen Kitsakos, Roya Sadat, Viswa Subbaraman

Set against Afghanistan’s volatile history, A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the breathtaking story of two Afghan women. Award winning composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kitsakos adapted Hosseini’s New York Times best-seller for the opera stage. Internationally praised Afghan film producer and director Roya Sadat directs this world-premiere production. American conductor Viswa Subbaraman (Flight) leads the orchestra.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Opera Center is now LEED-certified

Sean Airhart photo

Seattle Opera is thrilled to announce that its civic home, The Opera Center, is now LEED Silver certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and an international symbol of excellence. LEED-certified buildings are helping to make the world more sustainable.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Donate to our Plymouth Housing supply drive

Seattle Opera's Courtney Clark and Alex Minami collecting supplies for Plymouth Housing. 
Throughout the past year, Seattle Opera has partnered with Plymouth Housing with our Community Serenades program. Now, Plymouth is opening a new residence facility at 2nd and Mercer next month. To welcome our new neighbors, Seattle Opera is hosting a supply drive to collect pantry staples for the residents moving in.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Loving Wagner, Hating Wagner...and the Middle Path

Listen now
wherever you get your podcaststo Seattle Opera's episode "Loving Wagner, Hating Wagner...and the Middle Path." 

Seattle Opera Scholar-in-Residence Naomi André and Dramaturg Jonathan Dean discuss the most controversial of all opera composers, Richard Wagner, whose Die Walküre the company will present, in concert (and abridged) at Fisher Pavilion on August 28. Wagner’s astonishing masterpieces continue to challenge and delight audiences, although his legacy is tainted because of his obnoxious attitudes and how his work was appropriated by the Third Reich. André and Dean discuss approaching Wagner, not from an ‘either/or’ mentality, but from a “both...and” way of thinking.

A few excerpts of their conversation below:

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Seattle Opera is requiring audiences to be vaccinated beginning Sept. 1


Mask up and grab your vaccination card—or negative COVID-19 test—before attending a Seattle Opera performance. The organization announced today that beginning on Sept. 1, audience members will be required to be vaccinated for all indoor performances and public events in the 2021/22 season.

The policy was implemented based on the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases, as well as feedback from patrons. Seattle Opera joins the Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT - A Contemporary Theatre, Seattle Rep, Village Theatre, and others in the new vaccination requirement.

“Health and safety remain our top priorities, and we’re excited to offer beautiful music and storytelling in McCaw Hall once again,” said General Director Christina Scheppelmann. “We’re committed to making people’s return to live performance as safe and enjoyable as possible.”

Monday, August 16, 2021

Dan Wallace Miller shares Ring memories

Before and after at Seattle Opera: Dan Wallace Miller atop a prop horse from our 1995 Die Walküre and now, about to direct our Welcome Back concert of the same opera in 2021. 

Our upcoming concert of Die Walküre will be directed by an artist raised on the Wagnerian tradition at Seattle Opera. In this blog post, stage director Dan Wallace Miller shares more about his love for all-things Ring. Fresh off his acclaimed presentation of Seattle Opera's streaming Tosca ('21), Miller returns to direct a concert version of the Ring cycle's most popular opera.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Hip-hop and Opera


Michael Wansley, pianist David McDade, and other members of the Seattle Opera Porgy and Bess chorus perform the hook from Macklemore's song "Thrift Shop" in 2018.

In honor of Hip-hop Celebration Day on August 11, we're exploring a few of our favorite opera/hip-hop intersections. From a new take on The Barber of Seville set in a Black barber shop, to Beyoncé's provocative performances, to previous Seattle Opera's collaborations with graffiti artists, and more—enjoy a few moments where these genres have blended to create something new.