Sunday, February 21, 2021

Honoring Black artists, creatives in opera

Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes, dramatic soprano Jessye Norman, and baritone Lester Lynch. Credit: Kate Lord, The New York Times, and Philip Newton. 

It may be Black History Month now in February 2021but Black artists and creatives are helping to define and bring excellence to opera every month of the year! In this spirit, members of our Don Giovanni cast and creative team share about some of the individuals who inspire them.   

Bass Kenneth Kellogg makes his company debut as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. 
"It's impossible to name just one Black artist who inspires me. The link of importance from the first to the last is inseparable. As a Black artist myself, I know how difficult the road is and how many barriers and variables there are to success in this field. I wouldn't be here without every effort made by those who came before me. And future artists will benefit from every effort made by every artist now. Any artist who has faced—is facing, or will face that challenge and still persist—is inspiring to me." —Kenneth Kellogg, Commendatore

"I tend to be inspired by creatives who are incredible storytellers. While I love opera, I also strive to take inspiration from artists in other genres and mediums. My inspirations include Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Audra McDonald, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn and Toni Morrison." —Jasmine Habersham, Zerlina 

American writer and professor Toni Morrison is the librettist of the opera Margaret Garner.  

"Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes was an early mentor to me in my career. He's better known in the theater and dance worlds, but he's also designed several operas, including some for Boston Lyric Opera. Immediately after college, I spent a season at Arena Stage as the Lighting Fellow of the Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship. This program fosters diversity in the arts by helping to develop the next generation of theater professionals of color. Allen was, and still is, an incredible designer and a generous educator. He has fostered so much talent over the last 30 years between the Fellowship Program and his time teaching at New York University. There are many hundreds of working design professionals that can point to some period under Allen's tutelage.

Gordon Hawkins (Nabucco) and Mary Elizabeth Williams (Abigaille) in Nabucco. Philip Newton photo

Closer to home, Lawrence Brownlee and Mary Elizabeth Williams were both members of our Young Artist Program many years ago and have become international opera superstars! Plus Larry's recent forays into podcasts and live video series showcasing other Black opera artists have been hugely inspiring, I just listened to his conversation with Arthur Woodley, another incredible black artist who we sadly lost last fall." —Connie Yun, Lighting Designer

American tenor Lawrence Brownlee is a former Seattle Opera Young Artist, and one of the most in-demand bel canto tenors in the world today. 

"I am a HUGE fan of Lester Lynch. I met and worked with Lester back in 2001, and have been an inspired fan ever since. One of my early opera gigs was working at Opera Columbus on The Marriage of Figaro. Lester played Count Almaviva. Before the cast arrived, people were already excited for his return; he had made a huge impression a few years earlier in a production of Venqui, so going into the rehearsal room, there was already a buzz surrounding him. I remember observing Lester during rehearsal and feeling the power of his voice. I could literally feel his voice resonating in my chest while I sat across from him on the other side of the tape line. As an assistant stage manager, you get the opportunity to know the cast members. Lester and Sari Gruber, who played Susanna, were the two artists I interacted with most during Figaro. Both singers were so kind to me early on in my career. I remember joking around with Lester as he would enter the stage, getting ready to burst through the upstage center doors in Act II. Lester is not only a gifted artist, he is kind. He is genuine. I have so enjoyed having Lester in Seattle as a frequent member of our casts the past few years." —Doug Provost, Set Designer

Lester Lynch as the title character in Rigoletto. Sunny Martini photo

"One of my soprano heroes is the incredible Jessye Norman. In particular, her recordings of Strauss and Mozart. As an artist, she brought a visceral elegance and beauty to everything she sang and the quality of her voice is always recognizable. The focus and drive with which she carefully and methodically built her career is nothing short of inspiring. She sang a vastly wide variety of repertoire at a singular level and is always one of the first voices I look to when learning new repertoire." —Laura Wilde, Donna Elvira

The late Jessye Norma, courtesy of The New York Times. 

"There are so many Black artists and creatives I admire. The first who come to mind are Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry and Simon Estesall of them legends, fabulous singers, and exceptional performers. Grace and Simon were the first Black artists to sing leading roles at the Wagner Festival Bayreuth. I'm also thinking of the present generation, stars and rising stars, in addition to historic singers. More recently: Angel Blue, Gordon Hawkins, Larry Brownlee, Pretty Yende, Will Liverman, Solomon Howard and many others, as well as conductors, who enrich the art form so much!"  — Christina Scheppelmann, Seattle Opera General Director 

Portrait of mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry as Eboli in Verdi's opera "Don Carlo." Printed on front: "Louis Melancon, Metropolitan Opera House, New York City."

No comments:

Post a Comment