Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Praise for Blue

Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch as The Father, The Mother and The Son in the world premiere of Blue at the 2019 Glimmerglass Festival. Karli Cadel / The Glimmerglass Festival

In February 2022, audiences can experience the Settle Opera premiere of Blue, the 2020 winner of Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. This portrait of contemporary African American life is the creation of librettist Tazewell Thompson (five NAACP Awards, plus two Emmy nominations) and composer Jeanine Tesori (Tony-winner known for Fun Home). 

A story of love, loss, church, and sisterhood, Blue depicts a young 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. See what the press are saying about this important piece, which received its premiere at the 2019 Glimmerglass Festival. 

"Blue demands its place on the stage and within a tradition that for centuries has excluded visions of Black experience. Just as opera helped elevate Blue, so, too, can Blue elevate the future of American opera." — The Washington Post 

"A wrenching and remarkably original opera that explores deeply personal emotional truths and gives them universal resonance." —The Wall Street Journal

Monday, June 28, 2021

GENDER EXPANSIVE TRADITIONS FROM EARLY OPERA

Seattle Opera Celebrates Pride Month, Post 3 of 3

Julianne Gearhart (Sophie von Faninal) and Alice Coote (Octavian) in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, 2006. © Wah Lui

From the very beginning of the art form, opera has offered expansive possibilities for gender, sexuality, and beauty. A newcomer to the world of early opera—also known as “opera before Mozart”—will often encounter situations that transgress heteronormativity and cisnormativity.

A work like Gluck’s famous old (1762, revised 1774) opera about Orpheus for example, was written with enough space for different voice types, bodies, and genders to tell the story. At Seattle Opera, we’ve presented this piece as a love story between a man and a woman—and most recently between two women. Next year, when we give Gluck’s masterpiece, it’ll star a countertenor—a male artist who sings in a high vocal range usually associated with women.

High notes are the most exciting. Our ears are designed to collect only a certain range of pitches, and the higher a note is, the more easily we can hear it. That’s why violins are always playing the melody, while instruments like bass, tuba, and timpani support from below with harmony. This fact of acoustics explains why sopranos are so important and ubiquitous in opera today. But in the early days of opera, it was the male soprano, or castrato, who was the lead attraction.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Meet the Artist: Alexandra LoBianco

Alexandra LoBianco (Tosca) with stage manager Yasmine Kiss. Philp Newton photo
On the first day of rehearsal for Seattle Opera’s streaming Tosca, soprano Alexandra LoBianco was thrilled to post her first “rehearsal selfie” in months. “My gratitude is immense and it feels so good to be in the room, watching my beautiful colleagues work,” she wrote on Instagram. “Soaking in every moment; my soul and artistic heart are being refilled.”

A thrilling dramatic-soprano-voice has predestined her for the spotlight. But LoBianco reflects this shine back on others: her friends, cast members, students, costume/hair/and makeup artists, administrative staff, to name a few. “Lexi” doesn't take herself too seriously (just wait ‘til you read the Q&A below!). But she’s serious about opera, and the collective wisdom, energy, teamwork, and love required to make this art form great. Not just a leading lady—Lexi is a teacher, a mentor, and a leader.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

QUEER OPERA THEN & NOW

Seattle Opera Celebrates Pride Month, Post 2 of 3

Native American transgender tenor Holden Madagame performing with Kiefer Jones at a showcase for Glyndebourne Academy 2017 participants (Sam Stephenson). Learn more about Holden's story in the independent.co.uk. 

The first queer works to be presented in opera came from the imaginations of white, gay, cisgender men. Now in the 21st century—and largely thanks to individuals and groups such as the Black Opera AllianceDr. Naomi André, among other Black, Indigenous, and PoC professionals—the opera stage is being illuminated as a more liberated space, where QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) storytelling and artistry can thrive. But at the very beginning of queer operatic representation in the twentieth century—opera emerged as a significant art form in white gay culture.

Some of these first composers and writers to explore queer themes in opera—more or less overtly—included (from right, clockwise) Oscar Wilde, Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein, Giancarlo Menotti, and Samuel Barber. In this post we’ll consider the contributions of these men, both back when they had to be extremely discreet, and today, when it’s possible to be more direct. (Also, please check out our blog post about “Looking at opera through a queer lens”!)

Sunday, June 20, 2021

LOOKING AT OPERA THROUGH A QUEER LENS

SEATTLE OPERA CELEBRATES PRIDE MONTH, POST 1 OF 3

Hanna Hipp (Isolier) and Sarah Coburn (Adele). 

When Lindy Hume directed Rossini’s 1828 opera Count Ory at Seattle Opera in 2016, gender fluidity was a key element of the production, evident in the big hair and crotch-hugging costumes reminiscent of 1970s glam rock. In the trousers role of Isolier, Hanna Hipp’s androgyny was especially striking. Her steamier moments with Adele (Sarah Coburn) suggested a queer romance between a princess and a more feminine David Bowie à la Labyrinth

“Seattle Opera’s new production of Rossini’s final comic opera is about the fluidity of gender, how we often don’t look like who we are, the vicissitudes of lust, and the lengths people go to get in the sack with someone,” wrote Rebecca Brown in The Stranger. 

Composers like Rossini and Mozart undoubtedly enjoyed a little transgressive frisson when creating trouser roles in operatic rom-coms like Count Ory or The Marriage of Figaro. But they likely had no idea what these characters might come to mean to viewers centuries later. In a time where people are living increasingly more liberated lives in terms of both gender expression and sexual orientation, the possibilities of queerness on the opera stage are endless—both through retellings of traditional operas and through new work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Seattle Opera presents outdoor Die Walküre concert

Seattle Center Marketing photo

Welcome Back Concert: Die Walküre is set for 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Tickets are $40; children 6 and under are free. Go to seattleopera.org/welcomeback

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m., July 12.

Come delight in the return of live music at Seattle Opera’s Welcome Back Concert: Die Walküre. Before returning to McCaw Hall this fall, the company will offer an outdoor concert featuring highlights of the Ring’s most popular opera. This famous music includes Brünnhilde’s battle cry “Hojotoho!” Wotan’s poignant farewell “Leb’ wohl,” and the incomparable “Ride of the Valkyries,” used in movies such as Apocalypse Now and The Blues Brothers. Richard Wagner’s larger-than-life masterpiece is brought to life by an acclaimed group of artists, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and Maestro Ludovic Morlot—known for his major contributions as the symphony’s former leader.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Meet the Director: Dan Wallace Miller


Director Dan Wallace Miller joking around with Michael Chioldi (Scarpia) in between filming Seattle Opera's streaming Tosca. Philip Newton photo
As someone who’s both disarmingly zany and down-to-Earth all at once, Dan Wallace Miller brings a presence to opera that’s hard to ignore. From days of running his own company Vespertine Opera Theater, to creating Il trovatore (‘19) and our immersive opera, The Combat (‘17), the stage director possesses a distinct power: helping newcomers (including millennials and Gen Z) realize that they too, are enamored with this art form. And with Miller’s inspired take on Tosca, he shows how this centuries-old art form is as seductive and as electrifying as it ever was.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Exotic and the Familiar:

Cultural Contrast in Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique

Zanda Švēde (Carmen) in Seattle Opera's Carmen. Sunny Martini photo

By Judy Tsou

In 1872, when Georges Bizet chose Prosper Mérimée’s infamous novella Carmen as the subject of his upcoming opera for the Opéra-Comique, the reaction was swift from Adolphe de Leuven, one of the producers: “Carmen! The Carmen of Mérimée? Wasn’t she murdered by her lover? And the underworld of thieves, gypsies, cigarette girls—at the Opéra-Comique, the theater of families or wedding parties? You would put the public to flight. No, no impossible!” We know that Bizet got his way and de Leuven eventually resigned. The subject was risqué, especially for the Opéra-Comique, which by the 1870s had become increasingly conservative. The audience expected G-rated “rom-com” operas.

The librettist, Ludovic Halévy, attempted to appease the producers and offered the following remedies: a tamer Carmen (did not happen), a good-girl foil to Carmen (Micaëla), a heroic male character (Escamillo, the bullfighter) in place of the original narrator, gypsies as comedians (not really), and Carmen’s death “glossed over at the very end of the opera [not! ], in a holiday atmosphere [yes], with a parade [before the murder], a ballet [no], a joyful fanfare [sort of].

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Opera conductors unite for dialogue on race and gender

Maestros left from right: Judith Yan, Alondra de la Parra, Viswa Subbaraman, Kazem Abdullah. 

Free Seattle Opera panel discussion; noon – 1:30 p.m., Thursday, June 3. Online via Zoom; register at seattleopera.org/communityconversations  

Seattle Opera announces the next panel in its Community Conversations series: “The View from the Pit: Maestros on Race and Gender in Opera.” Panelists include Maestros Kazem Abdullah, Alondra de la Parra, Viswa Subbaraman, and Judith Yan with moderator Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera’s Director of Programs and Partnerships.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Meet the Artist: Sonia Dawkins

Choreographer Sonia Dawkins

There weren't any big dance numbers in Seattle Opera's April 2021 production of Flight. However, the story came alive in part thanks to the work of choreographer Sonia Dawkins. Dawkins helped to draw the viewer in and bring out the characters' unique traits through singers’ facial expressions, everyday gestures, and body movements. She also helped to create the love scenes in the opera, composed by Jonathan Dove with libretto by April De Angelis. While the performers had to be socially distanced, Dawkins’ work (coupled with some fancy editing) created an impression of intimacy—to quite a comic effect in one scene!

Based in both Seattle and New York, Dawkins is the founder and artistic director of SD|Prism Dance Theatre. She has served on faculty at Pacific Northwest Ballet (among many other schools, colleges, and institutions), and has performed extensively in the United States and the Caribbean. Audiences may have seen her choreography with Village Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Nevada Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre School, Seattle Theatre Group (Dance This), Northwest Tap Connection, Seattle Children’s Theater, Broadway Bound, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and more. Dawkins is a member of the Stage Directors and Chorographers Society and The International Dance Council.

Hello, welcome! What was it like making your Seattle Opera debut during a global pandemic?!
I was so honored to be a part of the artistic team, and to have a chance to witness how Seattle Opera has been reinventing its work; so amazing.

Seattle Opera was very proactive with us regarding COVID-19 health and safety. Seeing these talented artists, staff, crew, and creative team come together, all the components working together, was inspiring. The opera singers stepped into another realm of their art through the film medium. I would think a piece such as this Flight might help opera to stretch in exciting new directions, too.