Friday, August 24, 2018


We’ve had a great experience putting on Porgy and Bess this summer! This production was the fourth time Seattle Opera has presented what many consider the greatest of all American operas. In terms of numbers of performances and tickets sold, Porgy and Bess is certainly the most popular American opera our company has given.

But we’ve presented a smattering of other American operas over the years, as various and diverse as our sprawling melting pot of a nation. Musical highlights from Seattle Opera’s productions of many American operas are now available on SoundCloud. Here’s a catalogue full of links to that music, with the operas listed in the order in which they were originally created.

Giancarlo Menotti wrote libretto and music to The Consul after World War II, partly to protest the dismal post-war situation with immigration and the crushing bureacracy of mid-twentieth century life. As Seattle Opera was horrified to discover when we presented this work in 2013, not much had changed. The great Italian maestro Carlo Montanaro led our premiere production of The Consul.

American composer Douglas Moore wrote this tuneful, touching riches-to-rags saga, based on true events, to a wonderful libretto by John LaTouche for Central City, Colorado in 1956. Two years later it kick-started the career of Beverly Sills at the New York City Opera. Seattle Opera first performed the piece in 1984, then reprised it in 1992, conducted by George Manahan; that 1992 production is the source of these excerpts.

American composer Samuel Barber won a Pulitzer for his beautiful 1958 opera Vanessa, set to a libretto by his partner, Giancarlo Menotti and inspired by the fiction of Isak Dinesen. Barber’s extremely lush, melodic music questions what becomes of romance in a harsh and cynical modern world. Seattle Opera presented Vanessa in 1999, under the baton of Yves Abel.

Seattle Opera has yet to present Carlisle Floyd’s best-known opera, Susannah, a tragedy that arose in response to McCarthyism. Another Floyd opera appeared in Seattle in 1992, when our second General Director, Speight Jenkins, brought up from Houston Floyd’s revised version of his sprawling tragedy The Passion of Jonathan Wade. (The original version premiered in 1962.) Set in South Carolina against the background of Reconstruction, this opera starred two of Seattle’s favorite singers, Dale Duesing and Julian Patrick, and was conducted by Hal France.

Eugene O’Neill’s play, which updates the story of ancient Greek myth’s most messed-up family to the world of well-to-do, WASPy America after the Civil War, was transformed into an opera by Martin David Levy in 1967. It was first given at the Metropolitan Opera, shortly after they moved into Lincoln Center. But in the ‘90s Levy revised and simplified the opera considerably. That later version, conducted by Richard Buckley, was the second opera given in McCaw Hall, in the fall of 2003.

Our own first world-premiere opera dates from 1970, and that’s Carlisle Floyd’s adaptation of the beloved John Steinbeck novella. The opera was complete, but they needed a theater for it; Glynn Ross, first General Director of Seattle Opera, leaped at the opportunity, and a new American opera was born. These musical excerpts were recorded when Seattle Opera revived Of Mice and Men, in 1976, under the musical direction of Henry Holt.

Seattle Opera had presented Wagner every summer, from 1975 until 1987, until suddenly, in the summer of 1988, Speight Jenkins shook things up by presenting the extraordinary Philip Glass opera about Gandhi, Satyagraha. First performed in 1979, Satyagraha is sung entirely in Sanskrit (and presented without supertitles!). Bruce Ferden conducted the Seattle performances.

Jake Heggie, one of today’s leading American opera composers, came to Seattle in 2005 for The End of the Affair, his operatic transformation of the intriguing novel by Graham Greene. Like Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick, other operas by Heggie, this work asks important and difficult questions about the nature of faith. Yves Abel conducted The End of the Affair in Seattle.

Seattle Opera’s first commission was Amelia, which premiered in 2010. The opera tells a very American story about flight, family, and war; it was created by composer Daron Hagen, librettist Gardner McFall, and director Stephen Wadsworth. Amelia has since been performed at several other theaters around the country, and the Seattle Symphony has played the orchestral suite made from its beautiful interludes; but the lavish original Seattle production, created and funded long before the economic downturn of 2008, only existed for those unforgettable performances in Seattle!

We commissioned and premiered an American opera on a smaller scale a few years later when An American Dream appeared at McCaw Hall, in rep with Nabucco during the summer of 2015. With music by Jack Perla and libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo taken from crowd-sourced stories contributed by people from the Pacific Northwest, this opera deals with the Japanese Internment during World War II. Judith Yan conducted both the premiere and our 2017 revival; the opera has also been presented in Maine and Alaska.

Our new opera for November 2016 was As One, a gorgeous chamber opera by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettist Mark Campbell. Two singers, a baritone and a mezzo, tell the story of a person transitioning from male to female. Our production was conducted by our very own John Keene, Seattle Opera’s beloved Chorus Master.

And what’s next? Well, Mark Campbell (of As One) returns next winter when we give The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, the new opera he wrote with Mason Bates. And we’ve got more American operas coming your way! Stay tuned...