Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tribute to Perry Lorenzo

Perry Lorenzo was Seattle Opera's Director of Education for almost 20 years. He passed away on December 19 after fighting lung cancer valiantly for seven months.

In his letter to the community, Speight Jenkins said, "...when we did something well, [Perry's] ability to grasp the essence of why it was good always amazed and moved me."
Perry Lorenzo's affection for our art form moved countless people throughout his life. Please feel free to share any memories you have of Perry in the comments of this blog post.


  1. I can hardly express how much Perry influenced my appreciation of music as an art form. In 1993, my mother passed away and my husband and I decided to pick up her opera subscription. We figured if we didn't enjoy it would would consider it a donation to the opera in my mother's memory. We started by going to Perry's pre-performance lectures and soon we were hooked. Over the years, we've seen Perry in all manner of venues - at the Seattle University lectures, at the Ring, and at Elliot Bay Book Store with Speight (where was the perfect foil to Speight). Attending the Ring this year, we knew Perry was ill, and later understood he was losing his battle with cancer. However, even knowing that he was gravely ill does not lessen the shock of this loss. But Perry left me (and many others) with wonderful gift: the gift of loving and understanding opera. It is a gift that will keep on giving and I will always remember him for it.

  2. I have so many great memories of Perry's lectures. I can remember sitting in the basement of the old Opera House with my knees almost up against the podium. But the one image that will always stay with me is from the lecture before Eugene Onegin - Perry's impression of the "floppy haired intellectual" was just incredible: with just a flick of his hair he was instantly "Mad, bad and dangerous to know". Thank you Perry for enriching my and countless other peoples' lives.

  3. I am shocked and saddened at the passing of Perry Lorenzo. When my husband and I moved to Seattle he had to literally drag me to the opera. Soon after, it was me who insisted we upgrade our subscription, and made a week of it when we attended our first Ring Cycle, complete with Perry's daily lectures series. Our now shared passion for all things Opera is attributable to Perry's pre-performance lectures, Speight's post performance Q&A's and the wonderful "sparring matches" between Speight and Perry at Elliot Bay Books.
    And even through our boys' teenage refuse-whatever-your-parents-suggest years, they both enjoyed many High School Opera Club dress rehearsals. They are the future of opera, because of men like Perry. Thank you for spreading the joy of the arts to this family.

  4. My husband and I have the most wonderful memories of Perry's lectures during the Ring Cycle 8 years ago. The entire Ring became clear to us through his clear insight and intelligence. We are so sorry and shocked to hear of his death -- a blow to Seattle and a huge loss to the opera community.

  5. I am so saddened by Perry's loss. In addition to sharing a delightful friendship, he and I had many opportunities to lecture together, on musical subjects ranging from chamber music to Bernstein's "Mass" (a guilty pleasure we both shared).

    I still remember our first meeting quite well: he and I had been engaged to give some pre-concert lectures for Dmitri Sitkovetsky's Seattle International Music Festival. As we had never worked together before, Perry and I had arranged to meet at the lecture site about thirty minutes beforehand to strategize, make sure we wouldn't step on one another's material, etc. Unfortunately, he and I were both coming from other engagements on a weekday late-afternoon, and were both late -- I think we actually met up at about 5:27, with a start-time of 5:30 breathing down our necks. After a hasty introduction, our planning session went something like this: "OK, you start with this..." "...and I'll go into this..." "...Good, and then we'll talk about this..." ...and so it went until we took a collective deep breath, walked onstage, and magically gave the most relaxed lecture imaginable, as if we had been colleagues for years. We often laughed at our against-all-odds success many times after that...

    Perry was erudite without being stuffy, polished without a trace of snobbery, and opinionated without making one holding an opposite opinion feel defensive or lacking. Like no-one else I can think of, he exemplified the time-honored phrase "a gentleman and a scholar".

    Rest in peace, dear friend.

  6. I join so many others in feeling deeply shocked and grieved to learn this news. Perry was an encourager and mentor of mine from my teenage years, in 1983, through my years in graduate school and as a professional. Perry had coached the debate team at Kennedy and I was a competing high school debater from another Puget Sound high school. In a testament to his remarkable humanity, even as a coach of a competing team he reached out and supported me and my teammates over the years. When I had the good fortune to continue to cross paths with him in my adult/professional years, Perry always knew exactly who I was, what I was up to, and was eager to hear more. Funny thing, I'm sure at least a thousand people felt equally loved and encouraged by Perry.

    Perry Lorenzo is a legend. A man of remarkable depth: intellectual, spiritual, artistic and humane. My his memory live as a blessing and a challenge to all of us, in all of our dimensions, to strive for excellence, compassion, encouragement, love and artistic beauty.

    Peter Drury

  7. Christy (clapp) JohnsonDecember 22, 2009 at 12:23 AM

    Mr. Lorenzo (even though I'm 35, I still can't seem to refer to him as "Perry") taught a World Religions class at Kennedy while I attended. He was, by far, the most impressive educator I've seen to date and I'm saddened by the news of him passing.

    I rejoice in the knowledge that one of God's angels was called home. I always admired him and will continue to do so...

  8. I am remembering Perry Lorenzo and how he (albeit unknowingly) directly contributed to my desire to be a part of Seattle Opera, 10 years ago. I wanted to sing for sure, but at the very first lecture of his that I attended, his palpable enthusiasm and vast knowledge of history, religion, politics, the human condition, opera specifically and the arts in general, and how they all fit together, was so incredibly inspiring, that singing became only a part of why I needed to be involved. And from that moment, whenever I tell someone about the company, his name, and the education program, is at the core of what I believe makes it so fantastic and sets it so apart from others. He will be missed dearly but he has left his mark absolutely. Rest in Peace.

  9. As a Seattle U. student, I remember attending a talk that Perry gave on campus. I was only there to impress a girl I liked, but it wasn't long before Perry had my full attention. I was taken in by the energy and passion he brought to the subject. I left feeling inspired, and since then I've continued to grow in my appreciation for opera. Thank You!

  10. Perry was the first big influence on me in Seattle Theatre and in the Opera world. I've written more here: , but in short, Perry was a great friend, an amazing mentor and a truly great man.

  11. I hope Perry knew what an inspiring teacher and person he was to so many of us. His energy, enthusiasm and intelligence drew me to opera. Thank you, Perry, for helping me find my way backstage.
    Rebecca Dunne

  12. Perry was a a true polymath, a unique individual with amazing gifts. I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience those gifts. My favorite memory is Perry's shorthand description of classical and romantic narratives. In classical, the lovers meet at noon in a garden with the approval of family and friends; by the end of the story they're wed. In romantic, the lovers meet at midnight in a graveyard with the disapproval of family and friends; by the end of the story they're dead. Perry will be dearly missed by so many. My heart goes out to his family, friends, and co-workers.

  13. There was no more entertaining speaker than Perry Lorenzo. I've been driving down to Seattle Opera productions from Vancouver, BC for close to 15 years now, and Perry was a big reason for coming. He really differentiated Seattle from other regional companies by doing all manner of things, beyond his talks, to make opera relevant. I think there's a palpable resurgence of interest in opera over the past few years, and I know Perry had no small part in this.

  14. I saw Lohengrin at the Seattle Opera when I was 16 years old. Thanks to Perry's amazing pre-opera lectures, I understood enough to completely fall in love with Wagner, opera, and (just a bit), Perry himself. I always found that his opera lectures made what is so often portrayed as a distant and archaic art real, present and relevant. His love for the art and for the humanity appreciating it was palpable. He made us love, too. What a gift he had, and what a gift he was to us.

  15. Perry is already terribly missed! He was a wonderful teacher who introduced me to effective writing, philosophy, history, art, sociology, opera and theater. I have thought about him very frequently since relocating to New York City 8 years ago, to pursue the rather challenging task of art criticism, and more recently, while teaching critical writing classes at Parsons. When I saw David Hyde Pierce's stunning performance in "Accent on Youth," at the Manhattan Theatre Club last Spring, I was reminded immediately of Perry's strong yet, subtle humor as well as his sharp wit. The last contact I had with him was 2 years ago, when I sent him an article that had been published by the New York Sun. It started off with a small quote by Truman Capote, describing Brooklyn as a place of "splendid contradictions." As is life. I will miss you, Perry.

  16. We are very sorry to hear about Perry's passing. My wife and friends had the pleasure of seeing him work for the Seattle Opera and Kennedy High School and he was, in my wife's words, "Just a great guy." Perry, thank you for all your contributions to our lives and may you have a peaceful journey.

  17. John, Christopher and I will always hold Perry in our hearts. He has been an incredible friend and honorary member of our family. My husband and I were lucky enough to have him officiate our wedding ceremony. I'll never ever forget his compassion, love, light, eloquence as a speaker and his intellect.

    A great light has gone out. We love and miss you Perry!

  18. My thoughts and prayers are with Perry's family and the entire Seattle Opera family. His passing is a great loss to you and to the international opera community.

    I have so many memories of Perry from my numerous visits to Seattle and from his guest speaking appearances in the Bay Area. He had an uncanny ability to explore the depth of a subject while keeping his audience enrapt with his trademark wit. When he was wound up, we fell out of our seats laughing. He could deal with sensitive topics with grace. Perry often shared personal and contemporary experiences to encourage the audience to bring themselves to the work: the homeless person in front of the market as a metaphor for the outcast Elektra.

    Perry also possessed a mischievous sense of humor. I will never forget arriving for the opening of the now legendary 1998 Tristan und Isolde and having him greet me with the notice that the production was canceled and in its place we would be seeing Pirates of Penzance. He was lucky we didn't have Twitter at the time! Others have recalled the sparring between Perry and Speight at the Elliott Bay Book Company sessions. My favorite example was the session preceding Vanessa in which Perry hypothesized that Erika was not Vanessa's niece, as the libretto states, but her daughter born out of wedlock who was raised as a niece. If we didn't leave convinced, we at least had our eyes opened to the plausibility of his assertion and looked differently at the following evening's performance.

    Although he had a great intellect, Perry was never condescending to his audience. He could be amusingly self-deprecating. At the last lecture I heard him give in Seattle, he stopped me on the way in to say "Oh, go have dinner. You know all of my jokes." Well, OK, I may have heard more than once about doing long division with Roman numerals. But it was always worth attending a one-hour (or three-hour, in the case of the Ring) lecture for one jaw-dropping insight. Did Mime really kill Sieglinde? I emailed all of my crazy Wagner friends after hearing that and started a war of words.

    Rest in peace, dear Perry, and thank you for the memories.

  19. For myself I am so sad. I will miss Perry and his entertaining and thought-provoking presence.

    For his family and friends my heart breaks at your loss. To have been close to him must have been such a deep treasure.

    For Perry, I know he rests with God and I bless his remarkable life with my tears.

    I am so grateful to Seattle Opera for giving me the chance to have known him even a little.

    Cindy Jacobs
    Tallahassee, FL

  20. Like many opera subscribers, my wife and I first came into contact with Perry through his lectures. We really got to know him, however, on an opera trip to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague. Throughout, he was the quintessential Perry with a ‘kid in the candy store’ fascination with the churches, monasteries and opera venues surrounding him. He was thrilled that his room in Vienna faced the Opus Dei church and loved the day he visited and discovered a ‘new’ monastery near Vienna. I remember looking back a row while attending a wonderful production of The Bartered Bride in Munich and seeing him with a look of an absolute childlike rapture watching the opera. Perry often went his own way, but he had an uncanny ability to bring the rest of us to the best places in his search for meaning and beauty. Even knowing of his illness, I hoped to be able to tell Perry about a production of The Tsarina’s Slippers we saw at Covent Garden in late November and get his reaction and thoughts. Not being able to do so is just one of the many losses we all feel.

    Vance Wolfe

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  22. Perry touched my life and set an example for me as an academic and an educator. I have never seen such an enthusiastic devotion to opera. My only regret is that I was not able to spend more time with him.

  23. I first met Perry when my mother and I nervously talked to him after a lecture. I was a shy junior high student – and a full-blown opera enthusiast. At the time, I used to design imaginary Ring cycle productions on graph paper. Perry invited us to the Seattle Opera building to have a look at these adolescent doodlings, and was remarkably enthused. That was the beginning of a long relationship with Seattle Opera, as a member of the “Opera Scholars” and an education intern thrice (he jokingly called us the “Wagner Youth”). I even had the pleasure of playing the leitmotifs at the piano for his Ring cycle lectures. Perry wrote a lovely college recommendation for me, as I went off to study music composition. Now nearing the completion of my doctoral studies, I look back and Perry was such a huge part of my development.

    Perry was a delightful, charming individual, as well as the greatest public speaker I’ve ever known. Even though we disagreed on a lot of the gritty issues (religion, politics, music), he had an enthusiasm that was so contagious.

    I attended a performance of the Wagner spoof Das Barbec├╝ one summer. I didn’t realize that Perry was in the house until the laugh lines started. Perry’s inimitable laugh was louder and heartier than anyone else’s in that theatre, and I’m sure a great number of people in that audience recognized it immediately. That’s how I’d like to remember him.

  24. Hallo, fellow Perry-admirers!
    In his review of the 2005 Seattle "Ring", the critic called Perry an "educator par excellence"; that he very much was.
    He was also a human being par excellence. Seattle has lost one of its most valued and valuable citizens!!!!
    Win H.

  25. Vissi d'Arte feels...
    great sadness over this tragic loss and holds dear in her heart memories of a brilliant mind, a generous heart and an often impishly shy Perry.
    Being chauffeured to a community lecture to Lake City, he commented on St. Helen's eruption, and how this had brought his car to a complete standstill and consequent abandonment. The details were hilarious and astounding, even more so, as he managed to present a rather serious and somber intro to one of his beloved operas just minutes later. Perry, you are missed, admired and treasured in our memories and hearts. You have deserved a special place in Paradise!

  26. I didn't really expect to meet a true genius in my lifetime - Perry was my genius. I was lucky enough to co-ordinate the amazing group of Education Volunteers for 7 years in the old Opera House. What a dream job that was - I don't believe I ever missed one of his pre-opera lectures during that time. Standing room only - he held everyone spellbound.

  27. Today is a very sad day for the Seattle Opera family, friends and supporters of the arts community. Perry enriched so many lives and added such enjoyment for opera whether you were a first timer or seasoned subscriber. He will be truly, truly missed.

  28. I have known Perry Lorenzo since 1990 when I became a member of the debate team he coached and later a student in his Humanties class at John F Kennedy Memorial High School in Burien. Words cannot describe his quality as a teacher and a person, but those who experienced him know how inspiring he was. He made the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary sublime.

    Back then, Perry coordinated regular trips to Seattle Opera with his classes - even then he was giving the pre-Opera introductions. When he left JFK, he made a natural transition to his position at Seattle Opera.

    We kept in touch after I graduated, went to college at UW and Grad School in New York. We last saw each other a few years ago on a visit to Seattle. I was shocked to learn of his illness and passing.

    Perry had a profound impact on my education and my life. He introduced me to the world of classic literature and the arts which I pursued into my graduate studies, very much as a direct result of his influence on me. His passion for life, learning and all things beautiful was both magnetic and infectious to those he spoke to. I trust his spirit will carry on in many as it does in me.

    Perry was a gifted teacher and a wonderful friend. He will be missed.