Thursday, July 18, 2019

Seattle Opera appoints Professor Naomi André as Scholar in Residence

Dr. Naomi André
Musicologist, writer, and opera-lover Naomi André has been appointed Seattle Opera’s inaugural Scholar in Residence. She is the author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement, which The New York Times describes as “A necessary exploration of how race has shaped the opera landscape in the United States and South Africa.” Additionally, André works as a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching Women’s Studies, Afroamerican/African Studies, and more.

“Professor André’s research and commentary places this art form in the middle of some of today’s most challenging social issues, like racial equity and gender representation,” said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera Director of Programs and Partnerships. “We are honored to formalize our relationship with her. Naomi’s deep knowledge of the art form and social perspective will help us broaden our storytelling and create an inclusive space for diverse communities at the opera.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

Seattle Opera's Rigoletto confronts misogyny

Rigoletto, Opera Queensland, 2014 © Stephanie Do Rozario

Feminist director Lindy Hume offers no mercy for powerful men who abuse women and confronts newsmakers of today with her interpretation of Verdi's classic.  

For years, Lindy Hume, stage director of Seattle Opera’s August production of Rigoletto, has been frustrated by the way opera celebrates misogyny through its “bad boy” characters. In beloved works such as Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Tosca, sopranos must rehearse how to fall, how to be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life.

“In 2019, if opera aspires to be a future-focused art form, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society,” Hume says. “This history of telling stories about women being raped, murdered, and abused in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A conversation with stage director Lindy Hume

Seattle Opera sits down with stage director Lindy Hume to learn more abut her interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto coming to McCaw Hall this August. Hume's production begins on Election Night at the Presidential Palace and the Duke of Mantua is holding court. Contrasting the bawdy ostentation of the privileged and powerful with the gritty squalor of Rigoletto’s working class struggles, Hume pulls no punches drawing comparisons to newsmakers of today.

Why did you update Rigoletto
"The problem with NOT updating Rigoletto is that a Renaissance-era codpiece-cloak-and-hose setting in a fictional court of Mantua lets the licentious Duke of Mantua off the hook for his appalling treatment of women. Verdi turned a famous philanderer into a rock-star by giving him some of the best music to the most misogynistic lines ever written (Act 1 it’s 'this girl or that girl, they’re all the same to me …' and in Act 3 'women are unreliable …'). These are two of the most-jaunty, charming, popular tunes in the entire operatic repertoire, with a bravado that’s guaranteed to win the audience over. Even contemporary audiences in a post #metoo world, who can’t help but gasp at his shameless audacity and brazenness, adore those arias – which is what makes them so brilliant!

I created this production for New Zealand Opera in 2012. I found inspiration for the spirit of this bad boy Duke of Mantua in Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, who at that time was breezing through his 'bunga bunga sex trial with his signature blend of political incorrectness, immaculate tailoring and dazzling—if cosmetically enhanced—smile. Where better to set the debauched action of Rigoletto than the colorful, charismatic, spectacularly excessive 'Berlusconi Court?' Even now that Silvio has retreated from public life his reputation is the stuff of legend."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A fond farewell to Aidan Lang

Aidan Lang photo by Philip Newton
Members of the Seattle Opera staff share funny stories, fond memories, and words of gratitude for a man who's been a truly awesome boss, friend, mentor, listener, fearless leader, and innovative thinker. Tomorrow, June 21, is Lang's last day at Seattle Opera before departing to become the next leader of Welsh National Opera. ( "Some of you know that Welsh National Opera holds a special place in my heart. It is where my career in opera began. I consider WNO to be my artistic home—the only company for which I would even consider departing the Pacific Northwest."). During Aidan's six years here, Seattle Opera increased its audiences, particularly, young people, created a new civic home for opera at Seattle Center, introduced new chamber opera productions in locations around the city, and spurred complex conversations surrounding race, justice, and representation. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

KING FM and Seattle Opera under one roof

KING FM announcers, Lisa Bergman host of Explore Music, and Mike Brooks, host of Musical Chairs, pose in front of their future work space — The Opera Center, Seattle Opera's civic home. Both opera company and classical music radio station will remain separate organizations while sharing the same building. Shane Welch photo

KING FM 98.1 leases 4,000-square-feet in Seattle Opera’s new civic home 

In a time when many arts organizations are struggling to stay afloat, two companies dedicated to classical music have found a way not only to survive, but to thrive. Beginning in early 2020, Seattle Opera and KING FM 98.1 will be housed under one roof: the opera’s civic home on the Seattle Center campus. While the Opera Center was completed in December 2018, the second-floor office has remained intentionally vacant. Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang said the company was looking for an organization to rent the space who shared a similar vision and mission. With a long history of working together, (such as broadcasts of McCaw Hall performances), KING FM was the ideal match, Lang said. This fall, a new radio broadcast facility will be constructed on the opera’s second floor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

How Rigoletto’s ‘La Donna e Mobile’ Has Dominated Pop Culture

Doritos used "La donna è mobile” in a Super Bowl commercial with a grandma and a baby in a slingshot.
By David Salazar, article originally from OperaWire

It is arguably the most misogynistic piece in all of opera, its text essentially calls women “fickle” and “small-minded.” And yet everyone revels in its sumptuous melody that has become opera’s most iconic number.

When Verdi first composed "La donna è mobile” for his Rigoletto, which premiered on March 11, 1851, he hid it for tenor Raffaele Mirate because he knew that if he did, the tenor would be humming it out in the open, ruining the surprise before the opera’s premiere. It isn’t hard to see why. With its bright tune and dynamic rhythmic figures, the melody just puts a smile on your face. Pleasure is quite the apt word for this aria.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Praise for Carmen

Seattle Opera presents Carmen. Sunny Martini photo
"All in all, it’s Seattle Opera’s most thoroughly successful show since last summer’s dazzling Porgy and Bess, and I encourage you not to miss it." - Seattle Magazine 

" Ginger Costa-Jackson and Frederick Ballentine, Seattle Opera has the most real, most convincing Carmen and Jose I’ve ever seen. (Zanda Švēde and Adam Smith takes the roles in the production’s alternate cast, and Ballentine, unbelievably, stepped in for ailing tenor Scott Quinn on just a few days’ notice.) - Seattle Magazine  

Carmen offers "three acts of exquisite earworms and engaging action scattered with visual pop-culture references, followed by a final act — still beautifully sung — that is horrifyingly effective." - The Seattle Times

"Two performers who got it just right were Madison Leonard and Sarah Coit. As Frasquita and Mercédès they were a perfect pair, musically well-blended yet able to shine in their solo moments. They sang well, moved fluently, looked terrific, and had just the right world-weary yet upbeat attitude." - Opera Wire

Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 4, 8, 12, 17, & 19. Sunny Martini photo
"Ginger Costa-Jackson's Carmen rivets the attention whenever she is on stage. She looks the part and acts it like a second skin – a come-hither, sultry, sensuous siren. Every movement she makes: hips, shoulders, even the way she regards people from under her eyelids, signal who she is and that she’s beautiful ... And Costa-Jackson can sing, superbly." Bachtrack 

"Thanks to the sets and costumes designed by Gary McCann and the lighting design by Paul Hackenmueller, this production is beautiful and exciting from start to finish. The 1950s aesthetic is used to a dazzling effect and makes for some clever moments with girl group choreography (courtesy of Associate Director and Choreographer Seth Hoff) and motorcycle entrances. The orchestra, under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti is lively and dynamic. While all of these fantastic elements would be enough for a successful production of Carmen, they play devastatingly against the tragic moments of the opera. In particular, the fantastical parade in honor of the bullfighters is followed immediately by the very unflashy and incredibly disturbing confrontation between Carmen and Don José." - Drama in the Hood 

"And in Seattle Opera's current staging (Carmen) is also highly entertaining. Director Paul Curran has wisely focused on the comic aspects of the opera. The production is bright, colorful, at times even boisterous. It is a lot of fun. If there’s a children’s chorus in this opera - and there is - then it will be an adorable bunch of scamps singing and marching around the stage." -Andy Nicastro 

"Tenor Frederick Ballentine deserves all kinds of kudos for his performance. He has sung the role previously and has a beautiful, expressive voice, but this new production is extremely active, and José’s role runs the gamut from quiet bystander to smoldering, passionate lover and self-doubter, to jealous, violent, out-of-control killer. Ballentine, who might have had one run through of the staging earlier, nailed the role both vocally and as an actor." Bachtrack 

Zanda Švēde (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 5, 11, 15, & 18. Pictured here with Rodion Pogossov as Escamillo. Sunny Martini photo
"The performers, as to be expected in opera, where world-class is a descriptor to which every singer has to live up, are chin-to-the-ground good. Švēde, who was the lead on the day I saw 'Carmen,' almost vibrates in her intensity, her honeyed mezzo-soprano lithely moving back and forth between alluring and penetrative. In his Seattle debut, the opera’s director, Paul Curran, accentuates the intensity." - The UW Daily

"The extensive cast was incredibly well rehearsed and there just a – joy – emanating from the stage Saturday evening. When an audience demands several curtain calls, you know the performance was a hit in anyone’s book."- Eclectic Arts 

"It’s a gorgeous production, too. Gary McCann’s costumes and billboard-dominated set seem to place the action around 1950 and possibly in Cuba." - Seattle Magazine 

"The supporting cast was strong. Ryan Bede was a refreshingly capable Moralès, not just vocally, but as one of the only officers on stage that was competent at his job. Daniel Sumegi was a well-seasoned, slightly raspy Zuniga. John Marzano and Mark Diamond as Remendado and Dancäire were mischievous and sang a tight, witty quintet." - Opera Wire

"Rodion Pogossov’s Escamillo is energetic and lively. His clowning around during the “Toreador Song” - I believe he steals a move or two from Chuck Berry - fit in nicely with the production's light-hearted tone."   -Andy Nicastro 

Vanessa Goikoetxea (Micaëla). Philip Newton photo
"As Don José’s commanding officer and a rejected suitor of Carmen, bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi’s Zuniga channeled Alan Rickman with a mixture of chronic irritation and vague menace." - The Seattle Times

"The effective lighting of the sets, by Paul Hackenmueller, was well nuanced, such as the shadowy tavern corners with spotlights just on the action itself and the important characters." Bachtrack 

"Vanessa Goikoetxea deployed her strong soprano to reveal what’s really under Micaela’s timid exterior, and, after her Act 3 aria, earned the night’s loudest ovation for it." - Seattle Magazine  

Sarah Coit (Mercédès), Rodion Pogossov (Escamillo), and Madison Leonard (Frasquita). Philip Newton photo

"Don José’s intended fiancée, Micaëla, exists solely to counterbalance Carmen as a wholesome example of femininity; it’s a shallowly written role. But soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea (Emily Dorn on alternate nights) gives it such depth of character that, while we love to watch Carmen, in real life, we’d rather know Goikoetxea’s Micaëla." - The Seattle Times

"Stage director Paul Curran’s coherent concept succeeded seamlessly. Bringing Carmen into a different era lost none of the opera’s impact. Lastly, none of this would have been as successful without the music so ably played by Seattle Symphony members under Giacomo Sagripanti." Bachtrack 

Adam Smith (Don José) and Zanda Švēde (Carmen). Sunny Martini photo

Carmen plays May 4-19, 2019 at McCaw Hall. 
Tickets & info:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Women of Color decolonize the art of Carmen

Perri Rhoden, Sara Porkalob, Aramis O. Hamer, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and Naomi André. Sunny Martini photo

Prior to its May performances of Carmen, Seattle Opera held a panel discussion that amplified the perspectives of Women of Color, and unpacked themes of patriarchy and white supremacy in Western art and entertainment. 

By Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor

When Georges Bizet created Carmen in 1875, his home country, France, was obsessed with conquering the-so-called “Orient” (which, at the time, French people lumped the Middle East and Africa into, as well as Asia). Carmen herself is a sort of embodiment of these “faraway” cultures that France wanted to dominate. As a Roma womanan ethnic minority in white European societyCarmen brought an exotic element to the opera that French people could build fantasies upon. And like the “the Orient,” Carmen could not be fully tamed; in the end of the opera, she pays the ultimate price at the hands of Don José.

At a recent panel discussion called “Decolonizing Allure: Women of Color Artists in Conversation,” Dr. Naomi André said that this concept of “Orientalism” and the “Other” should encourage us to consider what’s at stake when we view these works.

“While [Carmen] is entertaining and wonderfuland I love Carmen, and I love that she’s bold and can say, ‘I’m interested in you. And now I’m not interested in you’remember that she’s punished at the end. She’s died at the end. It’s as if this voice is way too powerful and it has to be snuffed out.”

A scholar of Blackness in opera among other topics and a professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. André moderated “Decolonizing Allure,” which featured four additional speakers. For the Asian American woman writing this article at least, the evening offered radical and transcendent food-for-thought where many of us whose identities do not always feel centered in art forms like opera, ballet, and theater, were prioritized and honored.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Cinematic Lives of Carmen

From The Simpsons episode "Trip to the Opera."

By Julie Hubbert

A Seattle native who grew up attending Seattle Opera, Hubert is an associate professor of music history at the School of Music at the University of South Carolina where she also teaches in the Film and Media Studies Department. This fall, with the help of a NEH Fellowship, she will complete a book on music in films from the New Hollywood Era. 

What do Nietzsche and Bart Simpson have in common? It’s not a trick question. In fact, the answer reveals a hidden collaboration that has shaped the reception of this opera for over a century. The answer is Carmen. Nietzsche loved Carmen, although this admiration was certainly colored by misogyny and his growing contempt for Wagner. Bart Simpson’s connection to Carmen, however, is equally compelling and perhaps even more complex. In the second episode of the animated series, after Bart cheats on an IQ test, his mother Marge rewards him with a night at the opera. While there, Bart and his father Homer delightfully skewer opera conventions (a soprano with a healthy appetite does end the opera), but they also display an intimate knowledge of the music, especially when Bart sings the time-honored contrafactum of the Toreador’s Song: “Toreador, please don’t spit on the floor. Please use a cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Telling Carmen's Story

Seattle Opera interviewed our two Carmens: Zanda Švēde, left, and Ginger Costa-Jackson, right (photo by Suzanne Vinnik).
“As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.”
― Georges Bizet

Carmen, Bizet’s heroine, attracts a variety of labels. Some view her as a powerful sexual being or even as a feminist. Others see her as a Roma stereotype, or as a woman who must be punished for daring to do what she wants in a patriarchal society. Seattle Opera sat down with our two Carmens: Ginger Costa-Jackson and Zanda Švēde. We learned more about what it's like to sing this role, and what to make of the work's famous and brutal ending in 2019. Neither of the two mezzo-sopranos would probably encounter Carmen in real life. (Carmen would likely be more into dancing the night away, singing karaoke, and being the life of the party, whereas the two singers are more quiet, homebody-types). But both Costa-Jackson and Švēde described a deep admiration for how Carmen inhabits her own body, how she is brave and un-apologetically herself, and how her ferocity resonates with audiences long after the curtain has come down.