Monday, September 28, 2020

Honoring the memory of Dallas Duell

The Seattle Opera community is grieving and honoring the memory of Dallas Duell (19522020), our former Assistant Stage Carpenter, who passed away this September. Dallas retired from Seattle Opera after 31 years with the company last year. A treasured member of our community, Dallas was the creator of magic flutes, dragon tails, sacrificial goats, and fine-tuner of the mechanical Lohengrin swan. For years, he built and created scenery for Seattle Opera, and kept everyone safe on the stage. 

“We Love the Things We Love for What They Are.” 
—Robert Frost

Dallas James Duell, loving husband and father, passed away on September 18, 2020 in Harwich Port, Massachusetts after a brief and brutal encounter with stage 4 lung cancer. In hospice care, he was surrounded by extended family. His wife Christine Johnson-Duell and daughter Abigail Duell were with him when he passed.
Dallas was born in Spokane, WA and grew up in Mt. Vernon, Seattle, and Edmonds, WA. A graduate of Woodway High School in 1970, he studied Theatre at Everett Community College and Eastern Washington University. He was a proud lifelong member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and served as an officer of IATSE Local 15 in Seattle for several years. He worked at Seattle Opera for 31 seasons and was, most recently, Technical Director at Kentucky Opera. Earlier in his career, Dallas held technical positions on two national Broadway tours. For nearly five decades, he was a valued member of theatre crews nationally and internationally.

He leaves his wife of 26 years, Christine Johnson-Duell of Harwich Port, MA and daughter, Abigail Duell of Sturbridge MA. He is also survived by his mother, Virginia (Bertis) of Edmonds, WA; siblings Marcus, of Arlington, WA; Gina of Van Zandt, WA; and Celia (Creek) of San Diego, CA. He will be missed by his in-laws, Beverly (Sault), Thomas Johnson, Sr., Eileen Leary, and Thomas Johnson, Jr., and by his many nieces, nephews, and cousins on the east and west coasts. He was preceded in death by his sister Melinda Duell and his father Howard Duell.

Dallas spent his professional life in the theatre, using his skills in multiple media to create sets and props for productions of all sizes, from elementary school plays to Seattle Opera’s Ring Cycle. He was skilled in all aspects of technical stagecraft and loved to figure out thorny theatre challenges. He was known to have a kind and generous demeanor and his commitment to pass on his knowledge of theatre and his belief in the importance of unions led him to mentor young people in the Ingraham High School Theatre Department and in the apprentice program of the IATSE Local 15 Technical Training Trust. For the past decade, Dallas was a dedicated bike commuter and used his solitary daily ride to think.

A devoted father and husband, Dallas was open to trying new activities, traveling new places, and offering an attentive ear and constant, measured support. He volunteered for every school Abby attended, from preschool to college, and supported Christine in her writing practice, professional responsibilities, and in moving across the country for a new job opportunity. He loved to travel, and when he did, he sought out hardware stores to purchase unique and memorable items (including a metric tape measure from Paris). He loved to be outside walking, with family, his trips to the dog park with his favorite dog Tosca, or solo. The cider press he made in 2005 has become iconic among friends and family. He loved to read, work on jigsaw puzzles with Abby, and dance around the kitchen with Christine.

Gifts in his memory can be made to Ingraham High School Theatre Department Dallas Duell Memorial Fund or Seattle Opera. (Christine and Abby welcome photos and written stories of Dallas for a memory book. Please send messages and photos to

Dallas Duell and Christine Johnson-Duell

From Seattle Opera's The Magic Flute program, 2017
By Jessica Murphy Moo

For Dallas Duell and Christine Johnson-Duell, working at Seattle Opera is a family affair. They met here—backstage or at a staff crabfest party, depending on who’s telling the story—and their daughter, Abby, grew up backstage, visiting Dallas for  family dinners during productions, singing onstage in Seattle Opera’s Youth Chorus, and participating in Seattle Opera’s camps and teen programs.

Dallas, a member of Seattle Opera’s talented stage crew, is Assistant Stage Carpenter, and has created too many props and set features to count, but some highlights include 150 mock rifles for War and Peace, a dragon’s tail for the Ring, some fine tuning on Lohengrin’s mechanical swan, and a sacrificial goat for Iphigenia in Tauris. Christine, a member of Seattle Opera’s fearless Development team, is Foundation and Government Giving Manager and grant writer extraordinaire who also writes exquisite poetry (I highly recommend her collection Italian Lessons, especially for opera fans!).  

CHRISTINE: I love opera. Always have. The very first opera I ever saw was Don Quichotte at Boston Opera Company under the direction and the baton of Sarah Caldwell. I had that experience where you’re in the house, but you forget where you are. I couldn’t believe how fantastic it was. I love the spectacle and the depth of nuance.

DALLAS: I’m a theater guy more than an opera guy. But I love working for a company whose mission and goal is to move people. That’s what this company does.  

I was putting on plays in the basement of my house when I was 12 years old. In college I performed and did technical theater, then at Eastern Washington University I chose technical theater and never looked back. I’ve toured on the road as a stage electrician— The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the Ice Capades. I was a prop guy at Seattle Opera, then I became the Scenic Shop foreman while they were building the Ring, and then I became part of the Stage Crew as a carpenter. 

I write our foundation and government grants. I have the best job because I get to write, which is my passion, and I write about opera, which is also my passion. A number of the grants I write are in support of our Education and Community Engagement programs, which I deeply believe in because we can see the impact of those programs up close, in our daughter! For The Magic Flute I worked with 4Culture, one of the production sponsors. I really enjoy connecting with donors who are also passionate about opera and arts education!

The magic flute.  

I was working for the props department the last time this was produced. I took an old beat-up silver flute, removed the keys, and put it on a Plexiglas rod with a light. 

CHRISTINE: Aside from “this guy,” [gesturing to Dallas] our daughter is a vocal performance major, in part because of Seattle Opera. When she was four, I took her to a Young Artists production of La Cenerentola; Larry Brownlee was singing the lead and she’s been a fan ever since. She was in the youth chorus for Turandot, Pagliacci, Suor Angelica, and Our Earth, and was a super in Rheingold and Macbeth

CHRISTINE: I also love working here because I believe in (former General Director Aidan Lang's) vision for Seattle Opera to be Seattle’s opera company, that we’re here for everyone. 

DALLAS: It’s been a lifetime of challenges. It’s been rewarding. Many have been here as long as I have. People have stayed because it’s like family and we’re investing in the community.

The last day of Dallas's 31 years at Seattle Opera, May 2019. Photo by Jason Balter


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