Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Creation Lab 2023: Final Projects

Creation Lab rehearsal © David Jaewon Oh

Hello World is set in the not too-distant future. Fives, a broken-down service robot, and Vista, a sophisticated android, find refuge in a dark basement. While taking shelter from an indifferent world that sees them as disposable machines, the artificial lifeforms consider sacrificing everything in a desperate bid for freedom. Hello World is one of six short operas recently showcased at the 2023 Jane Lang Davis Creation Lab Performances in the Opera Center.

Launched two years ago, Creation Lab cultivates the next generation of opera storytellers, focusing on Washington State composers and librettists ages 18-30 through a months-long development process that includes table readings, music workshops, and mentoring and coaching from established opera professionals, like librettist Kelley Rourke and composer Damien Geter.

“Creation Lab was an opportunity for me to redirect my music career,” explained Kassey Castro, a former K-12 music educator who has also conducted community ensembles throughout the region. Working with librettist Hannah Schoettmer, Castro tapped into his love of video games to guide the score for Hello World. “I’m really inspired by the music of Nobuo Uematsu, who wrote the music for the “Final Fantasy” game series. That sound influenced some of the music I wrote for this opera.”

Other works created this year are Shaat kot draa blod, a story based on a Jamaican tale of the Cat Woman; Chop Chop! a story about a mother and her two children preparing dinner for her husband’s boss; and Everything After, which follows Roe, a thirty something Seattleite wondering what they want to be when they grow up.

“This year's creators worked tremendously hard to bring some amazing stories to Seattle Opera,” said Dennis Robinson, Jr, Seattle Opera’s Director of Programs and Partnerships. “Stories that make you cry, stories that make you laugh, you may even enjoy a fright or two! This impressive and diverse group of musicians and wordsmiths continue to wow me as they begin their journeys in the world of creating opera.”

Creation Lab rehearsal © David Jaewon Oh

The collaborative nature of Creation Lab—the chance to work with a partner from start to finish—was an important aspect for many of this year’s participants. “I often work solo,” said Chop Chop! composer Grace Oberhofer. “But I find that I need to have somebody else in the room to really understand a piece. So, I was excited about meeting other collaborators from the Pacific Northwest.” To produce this new piece, Oberhofer partnered with librettist Hannah Nikka Odsinada, a two-time participant of Creation Lab.

What’s more, the artists benefited from the experiences of industry professionals. “Our mentor helped push the storyline through,” said librettist and poet Elizabeth Howell, whose opera, Everything After, was created with composer Spencer Edgers. “He [librettist Jerre Dye] saw holes in our story and was very helpful making it complete.”

For Castro, Creation Lab launched a different phase of his musical journey. “When I left teaching, my family and friends thought my life as a musician was over. But it was just the beginning. I’m excited that I had the chance to restart it with this program,” he said.

In 2020, a $1 million gift established the Jane Lang Davis Creation Fund, an endowed fund to support the initiative’s annual programming. Creation Lab is named in honor of Jane Lang Davis, a member of Seattle Opera’s Board of Directors for nine years and a longtime member of the Seattle Opera Advisory Board. A subscriber for more than 50 years, she introduced many of her close friends and family to opera.

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