Thursday, October 10, 2019

Cinderella: Ancient Story, Global Tale

The Rough-Face Girl, (1992) retold by Rafe Martin, tells the Cinderella story of a disfigured Algonquin girl who wins the heart of a mysterious being. Illustration by David Shannon.

By Michelle H. Martin, PhD 

[ You can also listen to a conversation on global Cinderella stories between Dr. Martin and Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean on the Seattle Opera podcast

“Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”—Neil Gaiman, author

When you hear the name Cinderella, do the lyrics “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” come to mind, along with doting mice and a kindly fairy godmother? For many viewers the Disneyfication of this folktale has eclipsed its rich global variations, leaving only a weak and toothless residue of these fascinating age-old stories, some of which would make Disney’s fairy godmother blush.

Cinderella tales, according to folklorist and children’s book writer Judy Sierra, “can be found in more parts of the world, told in more languages and in more different ways than any other folktale.” Estimates range from 350 to over 3,000 variants. The Aarne-Thompson index of tale types identifies two main Cinderella structures: one with a jealous and destructive stepmother, which is most familiar to contemporary audiences; and another featuring a father whose incestuous desire for his daughter after the death of her mother motivates the child to flee.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Jessye Norman: legacy

Matt Campbell—AFP/Getty Images
By Naomi André, Seattle Opera Scholar in Residence 

There are so many things to think about as we celebrate the legacy of Jessye Norman’s life. Her passing this week came as such an unwelcomed shock to me not because of anything I knew about her health, but because as I entered adulthood in the 1980s, Jessye Norman had always been someone I could count on to be there. Many people who know her roles in opera or heard her perform live, know of the velvety, warm sonic soundscape of her voice. But it was much more than just a voice—she embodied a presence for me, and, I suspect, for many others.

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Wallis Giunta (Cinderella) and Jonathan Michie (Dandini). La Cenerentola, Oper Leipzig © Kirsten Nijhof
By Jonathan Dean 

La Cenerentola is Cinderella...almost. 

Rossini’s opera differs from most of the world’s many Cinderella stories because of a few key features: there is no magic, the traditional evil stepmother and fairy godmother are replaced with male counterparts, and the prince identifies Cinderella thanks to a bracelet, not a slipper. And then, of course, there’s Dandini, the prince’s clever and mischievous servant. He isn’t part of the standard Cinderella-story cast list. What is he doing in this opera? He provides a much-needed reality check; while in real life there are people as virtuous as Cenerentola, or as awful as Magnifico, mostly there are people like Dandini.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Opera’s sensational sisters bring sibling revelry to McCaw Hall

Marina, Miriam and Ginger Costa-Jackson. Photo by Amy Fae 
Seattle Opera presents ‘Three Singing Sisters’ concert featuring Ginger, Marina, and Miriam Costa-Jackson 
One night only: Nov. 2
McCaw Hall
Tickets start at $35

For the Costa-Jackson sisters, singing isn’t just a passion, it’s a family business. Ginger, Marina, and Miriam Costa-Jackson—all recent or upcoming performers with Seattle Opera—are offering a special, one-night-only concert at McCaw Hall on Nov. 2. Audiences can expect an entertaining mix of opera, Broadway, and Neapolitan hits from these glamorous Sicilian-Americans. Each a rising star in her own right, the singers are especially memorable when performing together.

“Technically we have three different voice types: mezzo, full-lyric soprano, and coloratura soprano,” said Ginger Costa-Jackson. “But our different colors and strengths complement each other and create a very natural blend. It’s like a Neapolitan ice cream, except we are Sicilian!"

Friday, September 27, 2019

A message to our community from President Brian Marks

Seattle Opera's civic home, The Opera Center. Sean Airhart photo
Dear Seattle Opera Community,

Before a new arts season ramps up this fall, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year. As you know, Seattle Opera has a proud history as a change-maker in the arts. It was our founding artistic director Glynn Ross who said in 1969, “We are not custodians of the old order. We are not curators of establishment art. We must be oriented towards the future. It is our business to improve the quality of life. We had better become positive and not just stand by.”

Seattle Opera continues to hold those words true to our daily work fifty years later. We tell stories to celebrate our rich traditions, while speaking to our world today. We use opera to engage in civic dialogue with our diverse community.

Here are a few recent examples of Seattle Opera’s success that I’d love to share with you.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Cinderella lights up the stage with vocal fireworks

Wallis Giunta as Cinderella. Photo courtesy of Opera Leipzig 
When stage director Lindy Hume last worked at Seattle Opera, her powerful Rigoletto sparked important #MeToo conversations with a story intended to be devoid of hope. Next up, she’s bringing something completely different to McCaw Hall—a sparkling fairy tale that families will fall in love with. 

“When Rossini composed his Cinderella (La Cenerentola), the alternative title was Goodness Triumphant,” Hume said. “Cinderella ends in a blaze of optimism, which is sorely needed in these times. This show is joyful, quirky, and led by a feisty heroine whose defining character is her goodness.”

Hume’s upcoming production stars audience favorite Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen in Seattle Opera’s 2019 Carmen) alternating with Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta (company debut) as the title character. Inspired by the whimsical worlds of Charles Dickens and Tim Burton, Hume sets the familiar classic in and around an emporium filled with multi-level sets, unexpected twists, and Victorian-era costumes, including two jewel-encrusted ball gowns for the heroine. But this fairytale isn’t Disney

Rossini’s original Cinderella

Gertrude Righetti Giorgi (1793-1896) was a contralto and the first to sing the heroine in Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentona). According to Alto: The Voice of Bel Canto by Dan H. Marek, her voice was “full, powerful, and of rare extension, rising from F below the staff to B-flat above it.” Righetti Giorgi had a short career, retiring in 1822 because of ill health, but she created the leading roles in two of the immortal masterpieces of the Italian lyric stage: Rosina in The Barber of Seville and the title role in Cinderella, which premiered on January 25, 1817.

Righetti Giorgi was a spirited advocate for Rossini, and in turn, Rossini appreciated her ideas and strength of character. Righetti Giorgi in fact convinced Rossini to convert an aria that had been written for Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville into Cinderella’s famous celebration of forgiveness, “Non più mesta” (“No Longer Sad”).

Lindy Hume, Stage Director of Seattle Opera's upcoming Cinderella describes Rossini as a composer who was known to portray dimensional, interesting women:  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Cinderella: Disney vs. Rossini

Left: Disney's Cinderella. Right: "Cinderella," San Diego Opera, 2016 © J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.
Rossini's opera Cinderella (which comes to Seattle Opera this fall), might be a little different than the one you're used to. The narrative familiar to many Americans comes from the 1950 Disney cartoon, which took its inspiration: fairy godmother, transformed pumpkin, glass slipper, midnight spell and all, from Charles Perrault’s 1967 Cendrillon (Rossini was also inspired by Perrault, however, conscious of his theater producer's budget, the composer avoided expensive magic and transformation scenes).⁣

Friday, September 13, 2019

New chamber shares true stories from U.S. military

Photo by Ziggy Mack

Working with military veterans, Seattle Opera brings service and sacrifice to the stage. In partnership with Path with Art, The Falling and the Rising features chorus of former soldiers 

Nov. 15, 17, 20, 22, & 24, 2019
The Opera Center: 363 Mercer St.
General admission: $45 | Military discount: $35

Tickets & info:

When Seattle Opera opened the doors to its new facility at Seattle Center last year, the company promised that the new, highly visible location would help more people find and experience opera. This fall, the company’s first chamber opera in the building is sure to do just that. The Falling and the Rising, a new American work, is based upon a series of interviews with returning soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Old Guard at Fort Myer, and Fort Meade, Maryland.

“Through our chamber operas, Seattle Opera has offered powerful narratives and important moments of representation: a transgender woman’s journey, one family impacted by Japanese American incarceration, a queer love story, and more,” said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera Director of Programs and Partnerships. “This fall, we present a new chamber opera based on powerful testimonials from American soldiers whose stories often go untold.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Listen now to our Cinderella podcast

Photo courtesy of Oper Leipzig
Curious to learn more about Rossini's masterpiece, Cinderella (La Cenerentola)? Here's an excerpt of a recent Seattle Opera podcast hosted by Dramaturg Jonathan Dean:

"When introducing Rossini's opera Cinderella (La Cenerentola) it's almost easier to tell you what it's not than what it is. It's not the Cinderella you know from Walt Disney, with a fairy godmother, a pumpkin that turns into a magic carriage, a glass slipper, and an impossibly idealized female lead. This story is much more about human behavior.

Although musically, Rossini's Cinderella and The Barber of Seville are similar, the humor in Cinderella isn't nearly as anarchic or as juvenile as in The Barber of Seville. Unlike that opera, in this one, the hero and heroine actually get to sing a love duet. There's an adorable meet-cute scene for Cinderella and her princehe's disguised as a servant because he wants to find a woman who loves him for who himself and not for his money. It's love at first sight, Italian style where it's both super sexy and sweetly innocent. Imagine two young Italians discovering each other ... Rossini casts the prince, Don Ramiro, as a high tenor and Cinderella, a mezzo (technically at the first performance, a contralto), their voices almost overlap.