MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Opera Announces Its 2021-22 Season

Seattle Opera has announced its return to live, in-person performances on 16 October, when it launches its 2021-22 season.

The lineup includes La bohèmeThe Marriage of Figaro, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Blue. In addition to the mainstage productions, tenor Lawrence Brownlee will give a recital on 29 April 2022 at McCaw Hall with pianist John Keene.

General Director Christina Scheppelmann: ““The theater, where music, storytelling, lights, performers, and audiences meet, is a space of magic and impact. This past year has been difficult and challenging on so many levels. As we process all that we’ve been through, we can come here to enjoy ourselves. We can rediscover the positive moment and outlook we are seeking. Through opera, we can reconnect with our deepest emotions and our shared humanity.” 

Production info:

This season begins with a long-awaited La bohème (Oct. 16–30, 2021, at McCaw Hall) featuring Seattle Opera favorites, debuts, and artists who had been scheduled to sing in the cancelled 2020 bohème. Performers include Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen ‘19, Cinderella ‘19), John Moore (Eugene Onegin ‘20, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs ‘19), Brandie Sutton (Porgy and Bess ‘18), Michael ChioldiTheo HoffmanBarry JohnsonYosep KangFederico De MichelisAshraf SewailamTalise TrevigneEugene Villanueva, and Kang Wang. An audience favorite for more than a century, this tale of young Bohemians who dedicate their lives to art and love is told through Giacomo Puccini’s lush, romantic score. For the full cast and creative team list—and to purchase tickets—go to seattleopera.org/boheme.  

Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (Jan. 12–30, 2022, at Tagney Jones Hall, The Opera Center) will blur the line between fantasy and reality. Set in the company’s intimate glass-box theater, audiences will have a front-row seat to the action as Orpheus descends into the underworld to rescue his beloved wife Eurydice. Chía Patiño, former head of Ecuador’s National Theatre, creates an all-new production with three principal singers and a small orchestra. Returning artists include Stephen Stubbs, a Grammy-winning conductor and respected authority on early music, plus Sharleen Joynt, whose recent performance as The Controller in Flight was praisedby Bachtrack: “We know we’re in for an acting treat when we see Joynt’s impeccably turned-out Controller … we see her arched eyebrows and penetrating stare in close-up as she delivers stratospheric coloratura.” Two countertenors make their debuts: Christopher Ainslie “A Rockstar of Baroque Opera” (New York Times) and Key’mon W. Murrah, an artist with “unreal,” “expressive,” and “effulgent vocal acrobatics” (Schmopera). Full production details and ticket information is available at seattleopera.org/orpheus.  

The season continues in February with Blue, (Feb. 26 – March 12, 2022, in McCaw Hall) the 2020 winner of Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. This portrait of contemporary African American life is the creation of librettist Tazewell Thompson (five NAACP Awards, plus two Emmy nominations) and composer Jeanine Tesori (Tony-winner known for Fun Home). A story of love, loss, church, and sisterhood, Blue depictsa young couple celebrating the joy of family with the birth of their son. Later they lean on close-knit community in the wake of their son’s death at the hands of a police officer.

”Unfortunately, the themes in Blue have no expiration date,” wrote Thompson in The New York Times. “I add my voice to those of the characters singing in the opera, and to those of the real families suffering great losses. Our eyes will never be free of tears.” 

The opera will include three cast members from the original, 2019 Glimmerglass festival production: Seattle Opera veterans Gordon Hawkins (Aida ’18, Nabucco ‘15) and Kenneth Kellogg (Don Giovanni ‘21), plus mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter in her company debut. Seattle Opera will center the voices of its Black American community partners to guide conversations surrounding the work. More information is available at seattleopera.org/blue.    

Rounding out the season is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (May 7‒21, 2022, in McCaw Hall). From exuberant overture to uplifting finale, this beloved comedy based on the radical Beaumarchais play comes alive with rich commentary on social class and gender roles. The first woman to lead St. Petersburg’s historic Mikhailovsky Theatre, Maestro Alevtina Ioffe makes her company debut with this traditional production, to be directed by Peter Kazaras (The Turn of the Screw ’18, An American Dream ’15 and ’17), leader of Opera UCLA. In the title role stars Grammy-winning bass-baritone Ryan McKinny whose “powerful voice drips with gold” (Opera News) and Michael Sumuel, whose vocals are “smooth and ingratiating” (Daily Camera). Complete cast, creative team, and ticket information is at seattleopera.org/figaro.

Filed under: Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera Meets the Museum of Flight

Seattle Opera at the Museum of Flight, producing “Flight.” (Ted Huetter / The Museum of Flight)
 Seattle Opera at the Museum of Flight, producing “Flight.” (Ted Huetter / The Museum of Flight)

My latest story for The Seattle Times:

We’ve all been there.

The familiar dread that accompanies air travel — Will my flight be delayed? Will I end up stranded? — has only become aggravated in the time of the coronavirus. But the reverse side to such anxieties is the promise of escape, which leads us ever onward. The resulting ambiguity gives airports their tremendous symbolic power.

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The company premiere of Jonathan Dove and April De Angelis’s Flight will be streamed on the Seattle Opera website from April 23-25; tickets $35.

Filed under: Seattle Opera, Seattle Times

Seattle Opera’s Elixir of Love Beams with the Joy of Singing

Seattle Opera films its production of “The Elixir of Love” on the McCaw Hall stage. (Philip Newton)
  Seattle Opera films its production of “The Elixir of Love” on the McCaw Hall stage. (Philip Newton)

My review of Seattle Opera’s new Elixir of Love.

While the world pins its hope on a coronavirus vaccine, another elixir is getting top billing at Seattle Opera…

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Filed under: review, Seattle Opera

How Do You Stage an Opera During a Pandemic?

My latest story for Seattle Times, on a new, COVID-era staging of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore by Seattle Opera:

The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Shakespeare’s observation applies as much to effective artistic strategy as to human psychology. Even the sunniest of love stories needs complications to get the audience to invest its attention. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made Seattle Opera confront some unprecedented curveballs in order to realize its new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s lighthearted, seductively tuneful opera The Elixir of Love….

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Filed under: directors, Donizetti, Seattle Opera

Eugene Onegin at Seattle Opera

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Marjukka Tepponen (Tatyana) and John Moore (Onegin); (c) Sunny Martini

Just what is Onegin’s problem? The alienation embodied by Pushkin’s anti-hero obviously struck a powerful chord for Tchaikovsky – he wrote an immense symphony, after all, based on Byron’s version of the character type (Manfred) – yet it’s not until Tatyana’s name-day party at the beginning of the second act in Seattle Opera’s new production that we start to get a concrete sense of his identity…

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Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Tchaikovsky

Timelessly Timely: A Dark and Damning Rigoletto at Seattle Opera

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Madison Leonard (Gilda) and Lester Lynch (Rigoletto); (c) Sunny Martini

Seattle Opera has just launched its new season under incoming General Director Christina Scheppelmann with a new Rigoletto production. Here’s my review:

Recounting one of the bleakest, cruelest narratives in the core repertoire, Rigoletto depicts a noirish world of sexual predation, misogyny, despotism, revenge, murder, and… horrifically bad luck. Should all this be approached as timeless tragedy, timely social commentary – or merely as a guilty pleasure akin to consuming a thriller?

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Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Verdi

Gramophone 2019: A Letter from Seattle

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Here’s a little contribution from me to this month’s Gramophone magazine:

Across the United States, the pressure is on to redefine longstanding classical music institutions that otherwise face potential extinction….

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Filed under: Gramophone, music news, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony

Aidan Lang to Leave Seattle Opera for Welsh National Opera

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Aidan Lang announced today that he will leave Seattle Opera in June 2019 to become general director of Welsh National Opera.

That means he’ll be departing just when Ludovic Morlot ends his tenure with the Seattle Symphony — although of course Morlot’s successor is already familiar to Seattle, the much-admired Thomas Dausgaard. The SSO also has a brand-new president, Krishna Thiagarajan, who replaced Simon Woods (now helming the Los Angeles Philharmonic), began his post this month.

Aidan Lang began his statement as follows:

“I am writing to share some bittersweet news. My time with you in Seattle will come to an end this June 2019, as I have been appointed as General Director of Welsh National Opera. This decision has not come lightly as I love dearly both this community and opera company. Coming to Seattle Opera was one of the greatest honors of my life and I am still absolutely thrilled to have had created opera with you. Seattle Opera is known around the world for its enthusiastic and generous opera community, for its warmth and welcoming atmosphere for artists, and more recently, for our commitment to racial equity.”

Lang’s complete statement is here.

Filed under: music news, Seattle Opera

Porgy and Bess in Seattle

An unforgiving work overload is keeping me from covering Seattle Opera’s just-opened Francesca Zambello production of Porgy and Bess, an opera I love. I did cover it the last time the company presented Gershwin’s work, in 2011, in a version directed by Chris Alexander — well before I had launched this blog, so I hope you will forgive me for posting that
piece here. Two of the singers cast in 2011 are back onstage for the current production: Mary Elizabeth Williams and Jermaine Smith):

Seattle’s version admirably digs beneath the surface of this elusive classic of American identity. It avoids sentimentalizing Porgy into a saint and brings more human focus to characters who can often become caricatures. But some pivotal moments are under-emphasized….

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Filed under: George Gershwin, review, Seattle Opera

Trying to rethink Madame Butterfly at Seattle Opera

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Alexey Dolgov (Pinkerton) and Lianna Haroutounian (Cio-Cio-San); photo by Jacob Lucas

My review for Bachtrack of the new Madame Butterfly production opening Seattle Opera’s season:

How well do we really know Madame Butterfly? So iconic that, for some, it’s the archetype of the art form itself, Puccini’s mega-popular opera has recently been coming in for renewed scrutiny.

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Filed under: Puccini, review, Seattle Opera

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