Monday, December 21, 2009

In Memoriam: Perry Lorenzo

Dear Friends of Seattle Opera,

I want to take this opportunity to memorialize Perry Lorenzo. Seattle Opera's Director of Education for almost 20 years, he passed away on December 19. He had fought lung cancer valiantly for seven months. At only 51 he had accomplished more than many do in a lifetime.

His love of opera started so far as I know with his first performance of Götterdämmerung in 1975, which happened to be the first presented by Seattle Opera. He attended every single Ring performance this company gave until he became ill. From 1982 to 1992 he taught at Kennedy High School in Burien and, as a teacher in the humanities, managed to involve countless students in opera. I first met Perry when I was called to judge a competition of the students in his senior class. In groups of two or three they were asked to design an opera; the thoroughness of their grasp of the operas they chose testified to his remarkable inspirational and teaching abilities. I lured him to Seattle Opera in 1992 as director of a fledgling Education Department, and he quickly revolutionized what we were doing.

He knew that students cannot be expected to appreciate our art form without education, and he made sure that every one of the teachers of the 700 students who come to each of our dress rehearsals was prepared to introduce their classes to the opera they were going to see. Ever since Perry came to Seattle Opera, the students are among our most perceptive audiences.

Perry brought talented young people to work in education and began to share the lecturing with them. We developed one of the largest arts education programs in Seattle, giving around fifty lectures per opera.

Perry was eager to begin a Young Artists program and from its inception in 1998, he has been both an involved director of the program and an avid supporter of each of the artists chosen. He oversaw the program's development in length and scope. The tours over the whole state in the fall, the 70-minute program for kindergarten through the sixth grade, and the fully staged opera in the spring have all been equally important to him. He encouraged Seattle Opera to engage Peter Kazaras as artistic director of the program and Brian Garman as music director, but continued to take an active part in choosing repertory and the singers themselves.

In addition to all that he did on opera, he had a strong belief in ecumenism. He moderated many panels on this subject with representatives of all faiths. He lectured frequently on opera at Seattle University but also on the need for a feeling of brotherhood between faiths.

These are the facts but they fail to capture the irrepressible excitement about opera that Perry conveyed. He was an intent and critical observer of our art form. He said frequently to me that I didn't pay him to tell me anything but the truth, and sometimes his truth was tough. But when we did something well, his ability to grasp the essence of why it was good always amazed and moved me. His love for opera, in particular for this company, knew no bounds. Offered many other positions, he turned them all down without a second thought. Seattle Opera was what he believed in, and he was determined always to make it better, more productive and more an active part of the life of Seattle.

Perry was proud of being an intellectual and the most devout Catholic whom I have ever met. But even more important to me he was a unique individual, one who touched the lives of many, often lifted their spirits, and enlightened all with whom he came in contact to the value of great art.

A funeral service will take place at St. James Cathedral on December 30 at 2:00 p.m. Seattle Opera will hold a celebration of Perry Lorenzo's life on January 9, 2010, at 3:00 p.m. in the auditorium of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be directed to Seattle Opera's Perry Lorenzo Fund for In-School Education, or to St. James Cathedral.


Speight Jenkins
General Director