Tuesday, October 20, 2020

$1 million gift cultivates the next generation of opera storytellers

Sean Airhart photo

The newly announced Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab seeks to empower emerging librettists and composers

A $1 million gift to the Seattle Opera Foundation from the Friday Foundation will help usher in a more diverse generation of storytellers in opera, with a focus on composers and librettists ages 18–30. Applications for the first year of the Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab were accepted late into summer 2020, and chosen participants will be announced this fall. The majority of applicants were Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color (BIPOC)—and/or identified as women. The 16 artists selected will create 20-minute operas, which will be performed in Tagney Jones Hall at the Opera Center next year. Participants will receive support throughout the development process and refine their pieces through table readings and music workshops.

Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann said the new, multi-year initiative will bring new stories and perspectives to the community, and to the repertoire at large:

“New stories, new voices in opera complement the great works of the past and help us continue to evolve. The Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab will engage young artists of varied backgrounds in music and theater. We hope to stimulate curiosity about opera, and welcome in new artists, storytellers, and audiences—especially those who have not felt included before.” 

Mentors for this year’s lab include Tazewell Thompson (librettist and director), speaker for the racial justice panel Breaking Glass (’18), and librettist for Blue, an opera about the love, loss, and resilience of a Black American family. Additional mentors are Aishé Keita (actress), who’s been recognized for her work in Danai Gurira’s Familiar at Seattle Repertory Theater and The Guthrie Theater and Kamala Sankaram (composer)—who has received commissions from Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Opera Memphis. Finally, Jerre Dye (librettist) and Zach Redler (composer) creators of The Falling and the Rising (’19), join this year’s mentor group.
From left: Tazewell Thomspon, Jerre Dye, Aishé Keita, Kamala Sankaram, and Zach Redler.

The Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab is also significant for Seattle Opera’s commitment to racial equity. The company’s Racial Equity and Social Impact (RESI) plan—which was just made available to the public—mandates that programming include diverse perspectives and topics. The company is also challenging itself to present more operas and works by BIPOC creators.

The Friday Foundation’s $1 million donation enabling creation lab is part of a major investment in arts and culture. Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Art Museum, the Henry Art Gallery and Seattle Symphony will also receive gifts from the foundation, which honor the memory of the late Jane Lang Davis and Richard E. Lang. The couple’s commitment to performing and visual arts stems from their belief that the arts are fundamental to the health and growth of the Puget Sound region. 

Jane Lang Davis was a member of Seattle Opera’s Board of Directors from 1971–1980, and a longtime member of Seattle Opera’s Advisory Board. A subscriber for more than 50 years, she introduced many of her close friends and family to opera. She also helped to connect former General Director Speight Jenkins with important contacts in the region’s performing arts community. To learn more about the Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab, go to seattleopera.org/creationlab and fridayfoundationarts.org.

The Lang Family Collection, 1973


Monday, October 19, 2020

Meet the Artist: Jorell Williams

Premiering this Friday, Oct. 23 is Jorell Williams in Recital with pianist Rachael Kerr. The streaming performance is available free to the public until Friday, November 13, 2020. Jorell Williams is “a robust baritone capable of descending to delicate threads of sound” (Operawire). From his Seattle Opera debut in the powerful chamber opera As One, to his more recent appearances as Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and his moving performance as Homecoming Soldier in The Falling and the Rising, Jorell is fast becoming one of our favorite singers. Learn more at seattleopera.org/williams

What most excites you about your upcoming Seattle Opera recital? 
I love the intimacy of concert work in recital. While there is no live audience, this is an opportunity to tell stories through introspection. The songs in the program are funny and full of heart and hope. The opening number is a doozy—it’s about an election!

Seattle Opera audiences first met you when you sang the role of Hannah before in As One (’16)—a chamber opera about a transgender woman’s journey. We, the audience were literally a few feet away from you in this intimate presentation at Washington Hall. Tell me about that experience.
As One was one of the most vulnerable performances I’ve ever given in my entire career. It presented an opportunity to break through a wall that ultimately, opened me up to a more diverse range as an artist. I am not afraid to be vulnerable now. When I do an audition for television, for example—I can return to that place of vulnerability at the drop of a hat. What helped me achieve this during As One is hard to describe. It was everything: knowing the librettists. Getting to work with Maestro John Keene. Everyone in the rehearsal room, really. They created a safe space to tell this story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Seattle Opera hosts fall blood drive

Sean Airhart photo

Company hosts second pop-up event in partnership with Bloodworks Northwest: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on Oct. 26, 27, 28, 29 and Nov. 3, 5, 2020. The Opera Center: 363 Mercer St.

Seattle Opera will host its second blood drive of the year in partnership with Bloodworks Northwest. At the company’s first drive in August 2020, 196 people gave blood over a four-day period. Twenty-two percent of participants were first-time blood donors. Donations from the event may have benefitted as many as 500 patients in the Greater Seattle area. 

The pop-up blood drive will once again take place at The Opera Center, adjacent to McCaw Hall. This state-of-the-art facility was envisioned as a space where innovative community partnerships can thrive, said Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann. This is why, during the challenges of 2020, The Opera Center has served as a site for making PPE masks, a supply drive for people experiencing homelessness, and a pop-up blood donation center.

Monday, October 12, 2020

An inside look at Pagliacci

Antonello Palombi (Canio) and Nuccia Focile (Nedda) in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, 2008 © Rozarii Lynch
Seattle Opera continues its Fall Season with a recital featuring the highlights of Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Based on a real crime, this verismo opera owes its continuing success in part to the composer’s ability to balance humor, romance, and darkly violent moods.

Pagliacci means “Clowns” or “Players” in Italian—though the ending of this opera is far from amusing. "The lead tenor Canio’s ever famed aria ‘Vesti la giubba makes a point of emphasizing the juxtaposition," writes Kelly Maxwell of Opera Colorado. "‘Put on the costume,’ he bemoans, ‘the people pay and want to laugh.’ Late in the aria, to potent high notes, he declaims, ‘Ridi Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto!’: ‘Laugh, clown, though your heart is shattered.’” 

With both words and music by Leoncavallo, Pagliacci premiered in Milan on May 21, 1892, with the conductor Arturo Toscanini on the podium.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Meet the artist: Marcy Stonikas

Marcy Stonikas in Recital premieres at 7 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 9 on Seattle Opera's Facebook, YouTube, and website. The performance is available to the public for free until Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

Marcy Stonikas began her relationship with Seattle Opera audiences in 2010 as a member of the Young Artist Program. Since then her "spine-tingling soprano" (Opera News) has been heard on the McCaw Hall stage in The Magic Flute ('11), Turandot ('12), Tosca ('15), Ariadne auf Naxos ('15), Aida ('18) and most recently in Britten's The Turn of the Screw ('18). We are excited to welcome Ms. Stonikas back for a virtual recital premiering October 9, 2020 when audiences will be able to enjoy her "huge, clear, commanding voice" (Washington Times) once more.

This recital is co-hosted by Florida State University College of Music and was filmed at the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall on the Florida State University Campus. Pianist Valerie Trujillo is Professor of Vocal Coaching and Accompanying at Florida State University. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Honoring the memory of Dallas Duell

The Seattle Opera community is grieving and honoring the memory of Dallas Duell (19522020), our former Assistant Stage Carpenter, who passed away this September. Dallas retired from Seattle Opera after 31 years with the company last year. A treasured member of our community, Dallas was the creator of magic flutes, dragon tails, sacrificial goats, and fine-tuner of the mechanical Lohengrin swan. For years, he built and created scenery for Seattle Opera, and kept everyone safe on the stage. 

“We Love the Things We Love for What They Are.” 
—Robert Frost

Dallas James Duell, loving husband and father, passed away on September 18, 2020 in Harwich Port, Massachusetts after a brief and brutal encounter with stage 4 lung cancer. In hospice care, he was surrounded by extended family. His wife Christine Johnson-Duell and daughter Abigail Duell were with him when he passed.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Opera production during the pandemic

During non-pandemic times, Doug Provost manages carpentry, sound, lighting, projections, hair & makeup, the costume shop, and more at Seattle Opera. As Director of Production, he supervises the creation of new shows, and productions that we create with other companies. COVID-19 shutdowns have forced the opera industry to adapt in order to survive, and Provost has risen to the challenge with gusto. We sat down with Doug—masked, and from more than 6 feet away, of course!—to learn more about how his role at Seattle Opera has changed in the last six months.  

Since COVID-19 shutdowns hit in March, what have been the biggest changes for you? What are the challenges and what have been the opportunities? 
My primary role as the Director of Production is still the same. Unfortunately, with cancelled performances and the reduction in our core staff, the remaining team and I have taken on additional roles and responsibilities left behind from our furloughed colleagues. I am really proud of my team and how they have navigated the new work dynamics. Despite the painful challenges that the company has faced, our team has had a can-do attitude, and demonstrated amazing work flexibility, and a willingness to take on jobs that have been out of scope to help advance our company and our art. We are approaching this new normal akin to playing a Super Mario game. We are navigating situations and obstacles which are in constant motion; a continual state of flux. This has resulted in a mindset of constant learning and a stretching of our abilities. Getting hit by a new obstacle isn’t viewed as “failing,” but more as an opportunity to learn, adjust, and grow. This has totally changed our work culture for the better. We’re in it to win it. I am so proud of our team.

Monday, September 21, 2020

An inside look at Cavalleria rusticana

The townspeople in Seattle Opera's last Cavalleria Rusticana ('90). Photo by Matthew McVay.
Seattle Opera opens its Fall Season with a recital featuring the highlights of Mascagni's opera Cavalleria rusticana—“Rustic Chivalry” in Italian, or more euphemistically translated to English as “Country Manners.” Cavalleria allowed city dwellers in northern Italy to daydream about how their rural counterparts lived via the story of a little village in faraway Sicily.  "Set in a Sicilian idyll, Cavalleria rusticana is a tale of frustrated love, betrayal and jealousy—with one of the most beautiful intermezzos ever written," writes Rupert Millar for The Drinks Business magazine. "Nineteenth-century Sicily is a place of rough justice, where wine mixes with blood feuds and violence. The beauty of the surroundings belies a strict, extremely conservative society beholden to codes of honor and chivalry, where death is the only penalty for dishonor or disgrace—the 'rustic chivalry' of the title."  

Learn more about Cavalleria rusticana which was composed by Pietro Mascagni, with libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, below.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Watch Crescendo for Racial Justice In Opera

From left: Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Naomi André, Matthew Ozawa, Kazem Abdullah, and J'Nai Bridges.

Black Lives Matter! And right now, amid COVID-19 shutdowns, the opera world has an opportunity to make systemic changes toward justice. In Seattle Opera’s August 2020 Community Conversation, Black and PoC opera professionals reflected on this pivotal moment in history. How can opera reemerge as a space of belonging, healing, and liberation for communities of color? Watch the discussion to learn more.  

Many thanks to all who tuned in to our Crescendo for Racial Justice in Opera panel. The video is now available to view at seattleopera.org/crescendo. Moderated by Seattle Opera’s own Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Director of Programs & Partnerships (Moderator), we were honored to be joined by Naomi André (professor at the University of Michigan and Seattle Opera Scholar in Residence), Matthew Ozawa (Opera Stage Director), Kazem Abdullah, (Conductor), and J'Nai Bridges (Mezzo-Soprano). 

Below, check out some of the answers to questions we weren’t able to get to during the discussion. Questions were submitted by different viewers via Zoom during the live, online event. Answers are based on the broader discussion, as synthesized by Alejandra Valarino Boyer. (Outside of her work with Seattle Opera, Valarino Boyer is also the creator of BIPOC Arts, a database which highlights Black, Indigenous, and PoC opera professionals).

If you have further comments or questions, email gabrielle.gainor@seattleopera.org.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Seattle Opera Unveils Virtual Fall Season

Ariadne auf Naxos ('15). Elise Bakketun photo

Everyone can enjoy opera with free online recitals, classes, and programming 

Like all arts and cultural groups this year, Seattle Opera has faced the pain of cancelled performances and setbacks due to COVID-19. And yet, the company is ramping up efforts to make the arts more accessible, finding new opportunities to bring music, storytelling, and performance for all during the global pandemic. As Songs of Summer, a free, 15-performance recital series concludes this week, Seattle Opera unveils its Fall Season. With a variety of free performances and programming to enjoy at home, the Fall Season was created with both artistic innovation—and public safety—in mind, said General Director Christina Scheppelmann.

“We hope to entertain you, bring you quality singing and music to lift your spirits,” Scheppelmann said. “It’s disappointing that we cannot offer productions the way we had promised in January. However, ceasing to present opera was not an option. Seattle Opera deeply values creating and sharing art that heals and entertains. So, we’re not closing our doors; we’re producing new musical experiences for you that employ artists safely.”