Saturday, March 6, 2021

The myth behind Mozart's Don Giovanni

Left: Illustration (c. 1914) of a scene from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni (1787), in which Don Giovanni attempts to seduce Zerlina. Credit: World History Archive. Right Jared Byee (Don Giovanni) and Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira) in Seattle Opera's streaming Don Giovanni. Ken Christensen image 

Mozart's infamous character Don Giovanni is based on the legend of Don Juan, one of the most famous stories in European cultural history.

By Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean

Even though many people have aspired to be Don Juan (and a few have racked up numbers of sexual partners to rival his), he never really existed. He first appeared as a fictional character in a Spanish play printed in 1630, The Prankster of Seville and the Stone Guest by Tirso de Molina (pen name of the monk Gabriel Téllez). Molina was writing during the Golden Age of Spanish drama; but this play is no masterpiece. Much of it is pretty typical of its period: proud Spanish gentlemen defending their sacred honor with drawn swords and bristling mustaches while virtuous damsels swoon. But Molina was the first to introduce into the story of the great seducer the old folktale about the offended dead person who comes back for revenge. Don Juan ensures his damnation by blaspheming; he insults the corpse of a father who died defending his daughter’s honor. Audiences for the last four centuries have delighted in the scene where the statue of the dead man comes to dinner, invites Don Juan to dine with him, and then clasps Don Juan in his grip of death.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Why present Don Giovanni in 2021?

From left: Jasmine Habersham (Zerlina), Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore), and Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira). 

*Content warning: rape; sexual assault.

For many years, the character of Don Giovanni was celebrated as “Mozart’s bad boy”—an evil but charming anti-hero. But today in 2021, society has less tolerance for stories that fail to take sexual assault seriously. The norms that once helped to soften violent themes in an opera like Don Giovanni have been chipped away through #MeToo, and other social justice movements. 

So why present Don Giovanni in 2021? In addition to brilliant and glorious music, why does Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte's masterpiece demand our attention NOW?

Three singers in Seattle Opera's Don Giovanni share their thoughts on this topic. Sopranos Jasmine Habersham (Zerlina) and Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira), as well as bass Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore), are all making company debuts. Don Giovanni, streams March 19–21, 2021. For more information, go to seattleopera.org/giovanni.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Honoring Black artists, creatives in opera

Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes, dramatic soprano Jessye Norman, and baritone Lester Lynch. Credit: Kate Lord, The New York Times, and Philip Newton. 

It may be Black History Month now in February 2021but Black artists and creatives are helping to define and bring excellence to opera every month of the year! In this spirit, members of our Don Giovanni cast and creative team share about some of the individuals who inspire them.   

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Don Giovanni offers an ‘opera film’ experience

From right: Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore); Maestro Lidiya Yankovskaya; scenes of filming Don Giovanni by Paula Podemski and Doug Provost.  

Seattle Opera presents Don Giovanni, streaming March 19–21, 2021 for $35. Learn more at seattleopera.org/giovanni.

For many years, the character of Don Giovanni was celebrated as “Mozart’s bad boy”—an evil but charming anti-hero of opera. But for Stage Director Brenna Corner and Maestro Lidiya Yankovskaya—the duo behind Seattle Opera’s streaming Don Giovanni—there’s so much more to this masterpiece than toxic masculinity.

“The title character is a tool through which librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte speaks to the challenges and experiences of women from different social classes,” Yankovskaya said. “While Don Giovanni himself is a trope, the women in this story continually defy our expectations and assumptions.”

With a mix of tragedy and comedy, the story depicts an unrepentant sexual predator convinced of his irresistible charm who must who must pay for his misdeeds. Through the lens of female characters such as Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina, the audience sees the human impact of Don Giovanni’s abuse, violence, and narcissism. Mozart’s immortal music for Don Giovanni has been enchanting audiences since its 1787 premiere. But at Seattle Opera in 2021, Don Giovanni will bring something new to the table—a fusion of opera and film artistry. Inspired by a 1960s film of Hamlet on Broadway, stage director Brenna Corner has chosen to capture this streaming opera in black-and-white film. Because of the pandemic, it’s not possible to perform in McCaw Hall. So, Corner thought, why not lean into new artistic possibilities?

Friday, February 5, 2021

An update from the General Director

Philip Newton photo

Dear Seattle Opera Community, 

Yesterday we completed the recording sessions for Don Giovanni. It was a wonderful and challenging project to complete and brought many new artists to Seattle Opera. More than half of the cast is making their Seattle Opera debut. Introducing artists to Seattle audiences is an important part of my role here and a way for you all to experience great talents and expand the opera artists you follow. As I continue to plan out next season and beyond, I look forward to bringing back many of the artists you love as well as introducing new voices, new productions teams and a variety of titles.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

What to listen for during the Ring broadcast

Stephanie Blythe (Fricka) and Greer Grimsley (Wotan). Chris Bennion photo

Whether you're new to opera or a longtime fan, we hope you will tune in to enjoy our special broadcast of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle this February 2021! Tune in to Classical KING FM 98.1 or king.org to enjoy a 2005 recording of the four-day opera. This “cycle” includes: Das Rheingold on Feb. 6, Die Walküre on Feb. 9, Siegfried on Feb. 11, and Götterdämmerung on Feb. 13. 

Enjoy these fun facts surrounding the 2005 Ringplus tips on what to listen forwhen you tune in

- At 10 a.m. this Saturday in Das Rheingold, be prepared to hear nothing but E-flat for several minutes! This note depicts the creation of the world, slowly evolving from the lowest-ever note on double-bass (the instrument used to go down only to E-natural; Wagner decided to start his epic with E-flat ‘cause it’d be the lowest note anyone had ever heard!).

- The Danish bass who sang Fasolt the giant, Stephen Milling, was over 6’6” in real life. Our Costume Shop didn’t need to work very hard to help him look larger-than-life!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Notes on the 2005 Ring

Das Rheingold Scene 1: Jennifer Hines (Flosshilde), Mary Phillips (Wellgunde), Wendy Hill (Woglinde), and Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) are thrilled when the sunlight strikes the gold in the bed of the Rhine River. Rozarii Lynch photo

By Melinda Bargreen

Seattle Opera’s Ring was the reason I became the classical music critic of The Seattle Times (for 31 years; I’m still freelancing).

In 1975, my husband and I saved up our pennies, and bought two second-balcony tickets to Götterdämmerung when Ring I was presenting the cast in furs and horned helmets, and there were no supertitles for the German-language production. Thrilled to the marrow by the performance, I eagerly awaited the review in the suburban newspaper where we live. The critic hated the show. It was too long, he said; it was boring … and it was all in German, “Gotterdammerit!”

Incensed, I got up my nerve and phoned the editor to complain about the review.

“Why don’t you send me what you would have written?” the editor asked.

I did, and I was assigned to review all the Seattle Opera productions. One review led to another; soon the classical music critic job opened up at The Seattle Times, when the critic/editor decided to focus on theater, and in 1977 I got the job of a lifetime. (Hint: They pay you for going to the opera and concerts, and writing what you think afterward. What could be better?)

Looking back on the whole jewelry store of Rings, the 2005 version ranks around the top of my personal favorites so far. The arch-traditional Ring I (whose Götterdämmerung I heard on that fateful career-defining evening) was followed by the more avant-garde Ring II, resulting in hot debates among Wagnerian fans. But in Ring III (first presented in 2001), general director Speight Jenkins and the company created something particularly special. Quickly dubbed the “Green Ring,” it was beautiful to look at (those forested, craggy Thomas Lynch sets!) and even more beautiful to hear, as several unforgettable singers made their mark.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Meet Stage Director Brenna Corner


Brenna Corner, stage director of Don Giovanni

Seattle Opera checked in with stage director Brenna Corner to explore her vision for our upcoming Don Giovanni. Learn more about her artistic choice to film this streaming opera in black-and-white, and why these very human characters are so irresistible to her. The Canadian artist has worked as a director, actor, singer, choreographer, and fight director across Canada, the United States, and Europe. This is her Seattle Opera debut.

Content warning: rape; sexual assault.

Welcome to Seattle Opera, Brenna! You had originally conceived of this Don Giovanni for the stage. Now, you’ve recalibrated and envisioned something new for streaming. What has that process been like?

The medium of how we’re delivering this opera has changed. What hasn’t changed is the work itself, or my opinion of the character arcs and the story. We may have been forced to pivot. But now, there are elements of this opera that we’re able to highlight that would not have been possible before.

Tell me about some of those more intimate details you’re excited to show?
The audience will be able to more clearly see facial expressions, gestures, props, rings—and things that usually need to be the size of a small car in order to be recognizable from the back of an auditorium. In this new platform, we can explore Don Giovanni through close-up shots. We will be able to go on much more of a psychological journey than is typically possible.

My hope is that this production will capture what it feels like to be in the rehearsal room the final day before we would typically move into the theater, when the space is small and the action and setting is more intimate. This special view of opera is typically only something that singers, stage managers, directors, and other members of the creative team get to see.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Enjoy the RING on KING FM

Wagner’s Das Rheingold, 2005 © Rozarii Lynch
Enjoy Seattle Opera’s internationally beloved Ring cycle broadcast on Classical KING FM 98.1 or king.org at 10 a.m., Feb. 6 (Das Rheingold) 7 p.m., Feb. 9 (Die Walküre), 7 p.m., Feb. 11 (Siegfried), 10 a.m., and Feb. 13 (Götterdämmerung). Learn more at seattleopera.org/kingfm.

Seattle Opera will offer a broadcast of its most popular production of all time—Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle this February. Tune in to Classical KING FM 98.1 or king.org to enjoy a 2005 recording of the four-day opera. This “cycle” includes: Das Rheingold on Feb. 6, Die Walküre on Feb. 9, Siegfried on Feb. 11, and Götterdämmerung on Feb. 13.

From 1973 to 2013, Seattle Opera built a reputation for its grand presentations of Wagner’s Ring. Bringing in fans from all over the world, Seattle’s production received acclaim from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Opera News. For many people, going to Seattle for the Ring became like any beloved annual pilgrimage, like Burning Man or Santa Fe Opera—or Disneyland. Now, diehard Wagnerians, as well as newcomers to opera, can give their pandemic listening an epic upgrade with this exclusive radio broadcast

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Meet Maestro Lidiya Yankovskaya

Lidiya Yankovskaya; photo by Kate Lemmon

By Glenn Hare

Lidiya Yankovskaya is the music director of Chicago Opera Theater and the founder and artistic director of the Refugee Orchestra Project. She is highly noted for conducting operatic rarities and contemporary works. Yankovskaya is co-leading Seattle Opera’s virtual production of Don Giovanni with stage director Brenna Corner. In this interview, she discusses conducting during the pandemic, her favorite Don Giovanni role, as well her passion for new works and the music of refugees.

When did you realize you wanted to be a conductor?
I started conducting when I was still a teenager. I was regularly leading sectionals as a violinist in my high school orchestra, accompanying as a pianist, and led some orchestra rehearsals from the piano after winning a concerto competition. I would have never considered conducting as a possibility, but my high school orchestra conductor suggested I get up on the podium and offered me a movement of a symphony at a concert. I conducted the third movement of Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony in rehearsal and performance and was absolutely hooked! In college, I pursued a liberal arts education and continued to study as a solo instrumentalist and vocalist, but I also continued conducting and knew that this was the path for me.

You’re spearheading this production with stage director Brenna Corner. Have you worked with her before? As women, do you bring new insights to the Don G story and Mozart’s music?
This is my first time working with Brenna and I am so thrilled for the wonderful collaboration! Even during these unusual circumstances, Brenna has proven to be exceptionally inventive, creative and flexible. I am so excited for the production that she has in store for everyone. As with any creative team, I hope that our personal experiences will allow us to sympathize fully with characters whose depth has not been explored and to bring new perspectives to the work. I hope that in the near future, it will become less remarkable to have production teams made up largely of women, or BIPOC artists, ensuring that our interpretations continue to evolve together with our world.