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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Now available at Seattle Opera: 'Single tickets' for streaming performances

Ausrine Stundyte (Tosca) and Greer Grimsley (Scarpia) in Seattle Opera's 2015 Tosca. Elise Bakketun photo

Music and arts lovers can now purchase ‘single tickets’ to Seattle Opera streams. Pay-per-stream content includes: The Elixir of Love, Feb 12-14, Don Giovanni, March 19-21, Flight, April 23-25 and Tosca, June 25-27 

Seattle Opera is introducing “single tickets” to its 2021 streaming productions of Don Giovanni, Flight, and Tosca—plus a bonus reprise of The Elixir of Love. This is the company’s first foray into pay-per-view streaming content, which can be enjoyed by opera lovers worldwide. The $35 streams are now available to purchase; each opera will be viewable for three days. (Subscribers can access content earlier, and for a total of three weeks). One-hundred percent of proceeds from individual streaming operas this season will benefit artists, musicians, and crew via union funds, including the AGMA Artists Relief Fund. 

Seattle Opera is one of the only American opera companies continuing to create and produce operas it had originally promised for its 2020/21 Season—albeit now in a new, digital format and with strict COVID-19 safety protocols at every step. Seattle-based artists join national and international singers—many of whom were originally scheduled to perform live in McCaw Hall.

“Ceasing to produce opera entirely was not an option" said General Director Christina Scheppelmann. “This time has been extremely challenging, but while respecting strict health protocols and rules, we are finding new ways to create art, to employ artists—and to make opera easy to access."

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hawaiian Artists Work with Opera Youth

Seattle Opera youth and Teaching Artist Andrew Coopman learning hula from Cyndi Aiona Kahaiali'i, Co-Producer with Live Aloha Cultural Festival.  
This fall, Seattle Opera partnered with the Live Aloha Hawaiian Cultural Festival to learn and record a youth opera based on the legend of Lā‘ieikawai. Composed by Neil Mckay, Lā‘ieikawai: Princess of Paliuli has previously been performed in a virtual format by youth singers with Hawai‘i Opera Theatre's Youth Opera Chorus. The entire rehearsal process took place over Zoom. The Live Aloha teaching artists taught participants about the Hawaiian culture, lei-making, the legend of Lā‘ieikawai, and choreographed a hula dance for the opera’s finale.

After learning their individual singing/dancing parts, youth participants filmed themselves (or had a parent film). The individual video files were compiled into one final, digital "performance," and shared with parents and families in December.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Meet This Year's Creation Lab Artists


Top, from left: James T Washburn (librettist), Aaron Jin (librettist), Steven Tran (composer), Drew Swatosh (composer), Rheanna Atendido (librettist and composer). Middle: Brian Dang (librettist), Christopher Reed (composer), Chess Albaneze (composer), Mirabai Kukathas (librettist), Elise Winkler (composer). Bottom: E. Lily Yu (librettist), Rico Lastrapes (composer) & Larisa Juno (librettist) and Paul Stovall (composer) & Julia Koyfman (librettist). 

Seattle Opera announces the inaugural cohort of the Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab, which aims to support a new generation of storytellers in opera. The initiative is open to Washington artists ages 18–30 of all backgrounds—including those without opera experience. The 15 people selected will create short works, which will be performed in Tagney Jones Hall at the Opera Center in 2021.

“Opera cannot continue without new stories and new voices to complement great works of the past,” said Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann. “I am so glad that the project has attracted high-caliber and accomplished artists, who bring diverse experiences to the program."

In addition to musicians and theaters artists, participants include a fiction writer, a film producer, a Juilliard student, and more.

Indigenizing Opera: Renson Madarang

In a year where racial equity has been top of mind, what does decolonization in opera look like? Decolonization is the process of breaking down systems that place Western worldviews above all others. This is relevant for opera, which has often existed through the lens of narrow, European perspectives. Opera has often told stories that exoticized People of Color. They are depicted as caricatures (Ping, Pang, and Pong), tragically foreign (Cio-Cio-San), stereotypes (Sportin' Life), or as sexy, exotic firecrackers (Carmen). But decolonization is about returning to our shared place of humanity; here, we can no longer hide behind our own ignorance, or create stories about people whom we fear or don't know. Decolonization is about recognizing one another as equals, and courageously embracing our differences. It requires valuing Indigenous ways of life, and ensuring that Indigenous people are able to determine their own destinies, be it in a story or in real life. 

One person who is finding ways to be his full self in opera is tenor Renson Madarang. Madarang has performed on operatic and concert stages around the world, as well as in the studio collaborating with Disney. As a Kanaka ʻŌiwi (being of Native Hawaiian and Filipino descent), he is also a member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I. In addition to his work in the arts, Madarang is passionate about his work at Indiana University's First Nations Educational & Cultural Center (FNECC). As the Native Education and Programs Assistant, he's been working with various departments and schools at IU, discussing issues around Native voice and the systemic oppression of racialized minorities in higher education. He recently engaged with Music Education students surrounding Native/Indigenous music, and its treatment in American Music Education. Madarang describes his experience as having a "decolonized identity" in a "colonized art." As someone who loves opera and is committed to the sovereignty of his own people, he has ideas on both potential problems—and exciting collaborations—between Indigenous people and Western art forms.   

What is it like having a decolonized identity within a colonized art? How do you navigate that?
I would liken it to being an analog person in a digital world. I try to live out parts of my Native Hawaiian culture, but it’s still very much a colonizers’ world. You still need the ability to be able to code-switch between cultures. Indigenizing opera is not an easy task, but it’s an idea we still need to embrace. Opera is for all peopleit has the ability to embrace our Indigenous mechanisms, our sounds, our ideas. Opera can be a bridge between people, too. Every culture uses music and movement to present stories. Opera can be a vehicle to introduce Indigenous ways of knowing and existing to the non-Indigenous.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Seattle Opera Digital Spring Season

From left: Sarah Larsen, Andrew Stenson, Jasmine Habersham and Karen Vuong will offer free recitals for Seattle Opera.  
Seattle Opera is excited to reveal our digital Spring Season today, which includes new streaming operas for subscribers and plenty of free opera fun for all. The company will build off the success of free content produced during the pandemic. Thus far, free recitals have garnered more than 20,000 views from around the world, and more than 150,000 listeners have tuned in to enjoy free broadcasts on Seattle Opera Mornings on KING FM

These broadcasts will continue, as well as free recitals: Sarah Larsen performs in “Ode to Beethoven,” as part of the city-wide digital Beethoven Festival on Dec. 16. Also in the winter, Andrew Stenson (from The Elixir of Love) performs on Jan. 29 and Jasmine Habersham (Don Giovanni) will offer a recital on Feb. 19. Karen Vuong (Flight) rounds out free recitals on May 7. Featured pianists will include David McDade (Jan. 29 and Feb. 19) and John Keene (Dec. 16 and Feb. 19). 

Another opportunity to enjoy free content will come during the Big Opera Show, the company’s virtual fundraising event, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 11. Special guests will be announced in early 2021.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Meet the Artist: Madison Leonard

Madison Leonard (Adina), Philip Newton photo

Rising soprano Madison Leonard returns to Seattle Opera as Adina in our streaming production of The Elixir of Love. The 2018 winner of the Metropolitan National Council Auditions made an impression on Seattle Opera audiences in 2019, when she not only made her company debut as Chrisann Brennan in The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, but returned to sing Frasquita in Carmen and then starred in Rigoletto as Gilda. The Coeur d'Alene native shares more about what it's like to be singing during the global pandemic and how this time has impacted her personally and professionally. 

You spent quite a bit of time at Seattle Opera last year. What's one of your favorite 2019 memories of singing here? 
On the opening night of Rigoletto last year, I was experiencing what any non-bungee-jumping person would consider an extreme adrenaline rush. Right after our high, fast-paced duet, the Duke ran off into the wings leaving me alone in the middle of a very sparse stage. As the applause quieted, Maestro Carlo Montanaro began leading, what I can only assume was the orchestra playing beautifully. But all I could hear was my own heartbeat thudding in my ears. We had a revolving stage for this production, so as I stood right at the exact center (in pink, fleece pajamasvery sophisticated), I watched the little lights from the wings, house, and rafters slowly spin around me. Fortunately, muscle memory helped me out with the first few lines of singing, and off we went. But for those few moments, I felt like I was floating weightless somewhere out in space. I'll never forget that one suspended moment in time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

BIPOC: Apply now for The Seattle Arts Fellowship

Aramis O Hamer speaks during "Decolonizing Allure" panel discussion during Seattle Opera's Carmen ('19). Sunny Martini photo. Photos taken inside the Opera Center by Philip Newton and Sunny Martini.

BIPOC interested in careers in arts leadership and administration may apply now for paid fellowships with Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and (and 
Classical KING FM starting in 2022). Deadline to apply: Feb. 1, 2021. Learn more at seattleopera.org/fellowship

Four leading arts organizations are coming together to launch the Seattle Arts Fellowship—a new initiative that supports emerging leaders and administrators of color.

“Black, Indigenous, People of Color are an integral part of what this art form should be now and in the future both on stage and behind the scenes,” said Christina Scheppelmann, General Director of Seattle Opera. “With the Seattle Arts Fellowship, we invest in their voices, and in their leadership.”

The fellowship was initially seeded through Seattle Opera’s efforts and grants from Opera America. Now, in addition to the opera, presenting institutions include Seattle Symphony and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Each organization will offer a fellowship in areas ranging from Marketing, Community Education, Artistic Planning, and Broadcasting (starting in 2022) at Classical KING FM 98.1.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

David Gately Conversation (Part 2)

During the filming of The Elixir of Love. Philip Newton photo

During the middle of rehearsing The Elixir of Love, stage director David Gately took a few minutes to check in with us. He let us know how things are going under these unique circumstances.

So David, how's it going?
Surprisingly, really well. It has been incredibly fun putting the production together. Everyone is so excited to be involved. After doing a few run-throughs, we started video capture today. The entire process is terrific!

How many cameras are you using?
We have four cameras—three positioned at various locations in the hall and one roaming steady camera. We’re getting multiple views of the performance.

Will you share some insights on how you're keeping everyone safe?
We are following all the local guidelines, of course. We maintain at least 20 ft. of clearance around artists when they are singings, which is mandated by the American Guild of Musical Artists. We are using double props. After a performer touches a prop, we stop the action, and replace it with an identical one before another performer touches it. The props person wear gloves at all times, and each prop is cleaned and sanitized before it is used again.

A Conversation with director David Gately

Stage Director David Gately has helped to create a new The Elixir of Love production for streaming at Seattle Opera. Gately has directed opera all of his professional life, starting back during his days in college. In this conversation, which took place shortly before arriving in Seattle, he discusses his hopes for this Seattle Opera production, directing while social distancing, the future of the performing arts, and more. 

How would you best describe your directing style?
I find it best to let others describe my style. Nevertheless, my approach is simply to concentrate on the acting and the characters first. Whenever I look at a piece, I immediately go to the text, while the music is yet another source of information about what’s happening between characters.

My comedy is rather aggressive with lots of physical interaction. Now, obviously that’s going to be a real challenge with social distancing where people can’t be near each other. So this is going to be a totally completely different kind of thing. We hope the viewer will get the flavor of what we’re doing within the guidelines of being safe