Friday, February 5, 2021

An update from the General Director

Philip Newton photo

Dear Seattle Opera Community, 

Yesterday we completed the recording sessions for Don Giovanni. It was a wonderful and challenging project to complete and brought many new artists to Seattle Opera. More than half of the cast is making their Seattle Opera debut. Introducing artists to Seattle audiences is an important part of my role here and a way for you all to experience great talents and expand the opera artists you follow. As I continue to plan out next season and beyond, I look forward to bringing back many of the artists you love as well as introducing new voices, new productions teams and a variety of titles.

As we work through this season, we are continuously reviewing our COVID-19 safety protocols with our internal team, King County Public Health, and the Seattle Center campus health and safety professionals, and our union partners. We extended the Don Giovanni rehearsal and recording process due to our protocols in place. The premiere for our subscribers has also shifted to Friday, March 5 – please mark your calendars. Unfortunately, with the shift in our schedule, we were unable to adjust the recording dates with the orchestra and could not continue working with them on this production. We look forward working again with our orchestra musicians in Flight and Tosca.

As we move further into 2021, there are a few projects that I want to provide an update on:

- The first year of the Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab is well underway. Seventeen composers and librettists are busy working with mentors to create 20-minute operas. We have virtual performances planned for May 22, June 12 and 25. I hope you will join in to hear the stories and music of what we hope will be part of the next generation of opera creators.

- More than 50 people applied for the first year of the Seattle Arts Fellowship, which begins in July. The program is designed for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who have a passion for the arts and aspire to become leaders in arts organizations. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Symphony, and KING FM on this project.

I am regularly asked, “How is the opera doing financially?” That is a difficult question to answer while we ride out the course of the pandemic. Thanks to the support of so many of you, I am confident that Seattle Opera will weather this storm. We have heard how eager you are to return to live performances at McCaw Hall, and we are just as eager to present performances there for you again. As of now, we have no guarantee as to when audiences will be allowed there or in any large auditorium in Washington State. We will follow the instructions of Public Health officials while hoping for the best for the sake of all of our health.

As we have found ways to continue employing artists through streaming operas, there have been many unexpected joys to find during this time. But the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has also been deeply painful. Last June, we furloughed more than half of our administrative staff. At that time, we expected to be returning to in-person performances and restoring many of those positions during the winter. But as the COVID crisis continued relentlessly, we had to modify our plans for the digital stage as well as the future beyond the pandemic.

In September, we made the difficult decision to eliminate several positions—while many other staff members remained furloughed. We were hopeful that health conditions would improve and it would be safe to return to the theater in the first half of 2021. Now, we see this is not the case. Live performances will likely not resume until next season. Because we must be a much leaner operation for the near future, we do not see a path to rehire the staff members who are currently furloughed. Nor do we believe we can keep them on furlough for more than a year. Thus, we will be laying off the remaining 24 people on furlough. This is a very hard and emotional decision for Seattle Opera. The global pandemic continues to be the biggest challenge the performing arts sector has ever seen, and what we are discussing today would have been unimaginable when shutdowns began last March.

Included in our staffing plans for the near future is the reorganization of the Costume Shop and Hair and Makeup Studio into one department. The team that has been in place since the summer, through both The Elixir of Love and Don Giovanni, will continue to run the combined department’s activities moving forward. Costumes and Hair and Makeup are critical parts of any theater, and will continue to be an integral part of our company’s productions.

An opera company is made of people—talented artisans and creative administrators who pour their time, energy, and whole selves into their work. We all benefit from them sharing their gifts. Seattle Opera has a legacy of staff longevity, and I see this as a testament to the community and culture of this company. When making decisions like today's unfortunate staff layoffs, it is impossible to separate the business decision from the people those decisions affect. We all are deeply grateful to each person impacted, whether they worked at Seattle Opera for one year or for twenty years.

Music has the power to help ease our hearts and gives us the capacity to remain hopeful while we wait for brighter days in the future. We are grateful to our partner KING FM for their continued investment in keeping you connected to the music of Seattle Opera. I invite you to listen to our 2005 recording of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle beginning tomorrow with Das Rheingold on KING FM and continuing through next week. For those who saw it, hopefully this will bring back great memories. If this is your first Ring, you’ll find glorious music and performers throughout. The rest of the broadcast schedule is available at Thank you to our union partners and King FM for continuing to support these broadcasts, which are bringing much joy to people around the world.

With deep gratitude,


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