Thursday, April 25, 2019

Telling Carmen's Story

Seattle Opera interviewed our two Carmens: Zanda Švēde, left, and Ginger Costa-Jackson, right.
“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.   

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Costuming Carmen

A toreador costume from Carmen. Trevor Giove photo
Seattle Opera sat down with Costume Director Susan Davis to learn more about the costumes for Carmen, which were envisioned by Gary McCann, Production Designer. Every Seattle Opera production takes approximately six weeks to costume from start to finish. This includes making garments from scratch, modifying or refurbishing existing costumes, and making any modifications that come up before opening night. This is the 10th time Seattle Opera has presented Carmen, and each time it looks a little different, Davis says. Bizet set his opera in the 1840s, and the fashions of this time period have an almost comical flair to modern sensibilities, Davis says. "But when you see an opera in a time period you recognize, it can offer audiences a closer connection to the story."

What’s your favorite thing about the costumes for this show?
It’s interesting to be doing this Carmen—it’s definitely new and different from what you saw on our stage last time, in 2011. Stage Director Paul Curran and his collaborator Gary McCann have set the work in the late 1950s. So onstage, you’ll see real clothes; vintage pieces (things you may recognize from your own closet if you were alive in the 1950s), and costumes used in Opera Philadelphia's production. As director of this work, Paul is thinking a lot about the haves, and the have-nots—from the factory workers struggling to make ends meet, to the upper-class in this story without a care in the world.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

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

Soprano Célestine Galli-Marié, the first Carmen.

By Judy Tsou

Tsou is a music librarian emerita at the University of Washington, where she also taught opera analysis for two decades. She has published extensively on critical studies of gender and race in operas and musicals. Tsou is a member of the Seattle Opera Board of Directors.

In 1872, when Georges Bizet chose Prosper Mérimée’s infamous novella Carmen as the subject of his upcoming opera for Paris's 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 gypsies,* thieves, 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, Roma 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, April 18, 2019

Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation

Seattle Opera's upcoming panel subverts Carmen’s white, patriarchal narrative at 7 p.m., Friday April 26. Panelists include: Michelle Habell-Pallán (top left), Naomi André (bottom left), Aramis O. Hamer (center), Perri Rhoden (top, right) and Sara Porkalob (bottom, right). 
At one point in time, a Seattle Opera ticket offered a relatively predictable experience: an enchanted night out, a grand presentation, and often a familiar telling of a popular work. But in the past few years, Seattle Opera has been inviting audiences to explore this art form from a different perspective. This is why, prior to the company’s May performance of Carmen, it plans to hold a free panel discussion that will flip the opera’s depiction of the exotic “Other” on its head. On April 26, the company presents “Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation.”

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Carmen on the Couch: Analyzing Bizet's Bold Heroine

Denyce Graves as Carmen, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Metropolitan Opera Archives

By Tom Huizenga 
Article via NPR

Every opera season the perennial favorite, Carmen, by Georges Bizet, takes the stage at opera houses in places like New York, London and Vienna (And Seattle!).

Carmen owes its longevity, in part, to Bizet's sparkling music, and to its fearless, flirtatious title character. But for all her sexual charisma, Carmen's own fate, in Bizet's opera, says something about how society views strong women.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Carmen in Pop Culture

Carmen is often described as the most popular opera of all time, so it should come as no surprise that its music has been referenced by everything from the Muppets to Major League Baseball. Here we’ve compiled some of our favorite nods to Bizet’s masterpiece.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Incoming General Director Q&A

Photo by Christian Machio
Meet Seattle Opera’s future General Director—Christina Scheppelmann. Beginning in summer 2019, Scheppelmann will become the company’s fourth leader in 56 years. She replaces Aidan Lang, who departs for Welsh National Opera at the end of the 2018/19 season. Born in Germany and fluent in five languages, Scheppelmann is currently the artistic leader of Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s 172-year-old company that annually produces more than 130 performances in opera, classical music concerts, and dance. 

What are some of your proudest artistic achievements? 
For one, creating Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. Now going on its eighth season, the program offers young composers and librettists a developmental forum in which to bridge the gap between conservatory training and full-length commissions. I think it’s a useful contribution to the future of opera.

Meet the next leader of Seattle Opera

Christian Machio
Christina Scheppelmann
will become Seattle Opera’s fourth General Director in the company’s 56-year history. Beginning in August 2019, she replaces Aidan Lang, who will become General Director of Welsh National Opera following the end of the 2018/19 season.

“When we reached out to luminaries in the opera world, Christina Scheppelmann’s name kept coming up from all angles as being someone we needed to talk to,” said John Nesholm, Chairman of the Seattle Opera Board and Co-Chair of the Search Committee. “She brings incredible experience and knowledge of singers, directors, and productions from three continents.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

The voice of Seattle Opera's podcast: Jonathan Dean

Genevieve Hathaway photo
Meet the voice behind Seattle Opera's new podcast—the company's Dramaturg, Jonathan Dean! Dean, a charismatic, multilingual opera fanatic, wears a lot of hats around the office. (For example, he often creates the English supertitles you see projected over the stage for each performance). In fall 2018, he led the relaunch of Seattle Opera's new and exciting podcast. As the host, Jon Dean makes learning about opera fun and engaging, even if this historic art form isn't really "your thing." Episodes feature a variety of fun Opera 101 content, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews for each production. Listen to the podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, or on

 By Philippa Kiraly
What is a dramaturg? The word comes from the Greek: drama + ourgos=work, and its meaning for Seattle Opera covers everything Jonathan Dean has worked on since his hiring in 1995, when he got his start in the Education department undertaking a variety of assignments, then was named director of Public Programs and Media in 2010 and in 2015, Dramaturg.

“It’s a central position in which I perform a lot of tasks which have accumulated over all these years,” he says, his latest energies being directed towards podcasts about upcoming opera productions, discussions about various voice types with illustrations, discussions with performing artists, and discussions about the inner meanings behind such ambiguous operas as Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

TeenTix Editors weigh in on Steve Jobs

The TeenTix Editorial Staff includes Huma Ali, Hannah Schoettmer, Joshua Fernandes, and Lily Williamson.
Seattle Opera was honored that the TeenTix Editorial Staff chose to attend the opening night of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. The editorial staff is made up of five teens who edit and curate the content for the review section of the TeenTix blog, and lead a newsroom of young-adult writers. "As teens, we feel that art is often made inaccessible for our demographic. We are working to fix that by giving teens a voice in the adult-dominated world of arts criticism." 

What did you think of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?
Joshua: I thought it was the most entertaining opera I’ve ever seen since becoming a conscious 17-year-old who actually knows what he’s looking at when it comes to opera. I view this performance through the lens of someone who is more familiar with musicals. With that said, the set design—made up of a series of moving boxes that changed configuration—was excellent. I loved the contrast between the contemporary subject matter, and the historic tradition of this art form. You take a little bit of old with the new—that to me seems to be the very concept of a Steve Jobs opera.

Lily: This is a gateway opera: It’s accessible, quite short comparatively at 90 minutes, and it’s fast-moving. I agree; this opera was reminiscent of a musical. It felt like everything was whizzing around. The story deals with contemporary issues; it feels timely and relevant for 2019.