MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Opera Announces 60th-Anniversary Season

Das Rheingold, Brian Staufenfels production; image (c) Cory Weaver

I’m delighted by the mix Seattle Opera has come up with for the 2023-24 season. Along with the first bit of Wagner’s Ring to be staged here in a decade (setting aside an abridged concert Walküre performed a couple years ago), the company makes a rare outing with Handel in its first-ever production of Alcina, directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Christine Brandes, with Vanessa Goikoetxea as Alcina, Randall Scotting as Ruggiero, Sharleen Joynt as Morgana, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Bradamante.

Malcolm X, the milestone debut opera by Anthony Davis from 1984, to a libretto by Thulani Davis, also promises to be a highlight. Presented in co-production with Detroit Opera, Opera Omaha, the Metropolitan Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, it will be directed by Robert O’Hara, with a cast including Kevin Kellogg as the civil rights icon, Joshua Stewart as Street/Elijah Muhammad, and Leah Hawkins in her compay debut as Louise Little/Betty Shabazz. Kazem Abdullah conducts.

And even another go at Rossini’s Barber of Seville (directed by Lindy Hume, new head of Opera San José) gets an interesting new angle with the wonderful young conductor Valentina Peleggi making her Seattle Opera debut.

Das Rheingold kicks the season off in August, in Brian Staufenbiel’s production first introduced at Minnesota Opera in 2016. It will be a homecoming for Seattle Opera’s beloved Wotan of Rings past, Greer Grimsley, heading a mostly American cast that includes Michael Mayes as Alberich, Melody Wilson as Fricka, Frederick Ballentine as Loge, Kenneth Kellogg as Fafner, Peixin Chen in his company debut as Fasolt, and Denyce Graves as Erda. Ludovic Morlot will conduct.

As to whether this presages the beginning of a new complete Ring, Seattle Opera tweeted: “We have no plans to produce the full Ring in the near future, but Wagner will continue to be a regular part of our seasons.”

“I am thrilled to be able to celebrate 60 years of Seattle Opera with this first-rate lineup of artists and titles,” said Christina Scheppelmann. “60 years is a significant milestone for any American opera company, and it’s a testament to the strong tradition of opera and the performing arts in this city. This season will be both a reminder of that history and a promise of many more years to come.”

Performance information

Das Rheingold

·         Music and libretto by Richard Wagner

·         August 12, 16, 18, & 20, 2023

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

·         seattleopera.org/rheingold

Alcina

·         Music by George Frideric Handel, libretto by an unidentified poet

·         October 14, 15, 20, 22, 25, & 28, 2023

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

·         seattleopera.org/alcina

Holiday Chorus Concert

·         December 8, 9, & 10, 2023

·         Tagney Jones Hall at the Opera Center (363 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X

·         Music by Anthony Davis, libretto by Thulani Davis, story by Christopher Davis

·         February 24 & 25, March 1, 3, 6, & 9, 2024

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

·         seattleopera.org/x

The Barber of Seville

·         Music by Gioachino Rossini, libretto by Cesare Sterbini

·         May 4, 5, 10, 12, 15, & 18, 2024

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

·         seattleopera.org/barber

60th Anniversary Concert & Gala

·         May 11, 2024

·         McCaw Hall

Filed under: music news, Ring cycle, Seattle Opera

A Homecoming for J’Nai Bridges

J’Nai Bridges stars as Delilah in Seattle Opera’s “Samson and Delilah in Concert.” (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

I spoke with J’Nai Bridges for the Seattle Times about her upcoming, long-awaited Seattle Opera debut. She will sing Delilah in two concert performances of Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila.

This is where it all started.

J’Nai Bridges treasures the memories of her youth in Lakewood just outside Tacoma. Growing up in a close-knit, supportive family, she was encouraged to pursue her exceptional musical talents early on. Even today, she can count on her parents and siblings to travel far and wide to see her perform on the world’s leading opera stages — whether at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or in Munich, where she made her European debut in 2017.

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Filed under: Seattle Opera, Seattle Times

An International Collaboration Brings Wagner back to Seattle Opera with Tristan and Isolde

Teatro Argentino de la Plata’s production of Tristan and Isolde. (Courtesy of Guillermo Genitti / Teatro Argentino de la Plata)

My Seattle Times story on the Tristan und Isolde production by Argentine director Marcelo Lombardero and colleagues, which opens Saturday at Seattle Opera:

Christina Scheppelmann, Seattle Opera’s general director, fervently believes that cross-cultural exchange is vital for the health of the art form. So she invited the prominent Argentinian stage director Marcelo Lombardero and his creative team to bring their vision to Seattle in a production of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” opening Oct. 15.

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Filed under: directors, Seattle Opera, Seattle Times, Wagner

Donizetti’s Elixir of Love at Seattle Opera

Andres Acosta as Nemorino in Seattle Opera’s production of “The Elixir of Love.” (Sunny Martini)

Seattle Opera’s new season has opened with a production of The Elixir of Love, Donizetti’s melodramma giocoso from 1832. Although I have to miss these performances, I reviewed the company’s production directed by David Gately when it was presented at the height of the pandemic virtually, as a film (with a different cast and a very small ensemble):

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

A New Figaro at Seattle Opera

Ryan McKinny (Figaro) and Soraya Mafi (Susanna)

I reviewed the Figaro production that just opened at Seattle Opera for Bachtrack:

There’s a moment in Seattle Opera’s end-of-season production, as the threads are being steadily pulled ever tighter in the final act, when Figaro reaches out from his hiding place behind a tree, trying to make contact with Susanna…

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Filed under: Mozart, review, Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera Announces Its New Season

Seattle Opera today announced the program for its 2022-23 season. Of special note are the world premiere of A Thousand Splendid Suns, an opera by composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kisakos based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel and the return of Wagner (for the first time since 2016) with Tristan und Isolde staged by Argentinian director Marcelo Lombardero, with conductor Jordan de Souza. Mary Elizabeth Williams will sing Isolde to Stefan Vinke’s Tristan, and Amber Wagner makes her Seattle Opera debut as Brangäne.

The rest of the season will include a concert version of Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah conducted by Ludovic Morlot and starring soprano J’Nai Bridges, as well as full productions of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (the Stephen Lawless staging) and Verdi’s La traviata directed by Francesca Zambello.

“Next season is a reminder of all that live opera can be,” says General Director Christina Scheppelmann. “After an extended period of restrictions, we are thrilled to offer an expansive vision of the operatic universe that encompasses a remarkable breadth of stories and operatic styles. Music is a window to the world, and we cannot wait to show that in full force once again.”

Overview of the 2022-23 season

Filed under: music news, Seattle Opera

Christina Scheppelmann Makes the List

Congratulations to Seattle Opera’s Christina Scheppelmann for being ranked among Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year:

“In January 2020, when Seattle Opera announced its next season, it was the first to be programmed by the company’s new general director, Christina Scheppelmann. She had arrived eight months earlier as one of only a few women to lead a major opera company, but after the pandemic lockdown set in, the season might have been lost entirely if not for her determination. ‘I don’t like to stick my head in the sand,’ said Scheppelmann, previously artistic director of Barcelona’s Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu. ‘Doing nothing and waiting out the pandemic was not an option. I wanted to deliver the season we promised, and I saw an opportunity to get it done within public health restrictions we needed to follow.'”

Filed under: music news, Musical America, Seattle Opera

Seattle Opera Returns with an Abridged Concert Walküre

Saturday evening, 28 August, at Seattle Center, starting at 7pm, Seattle Opera returns to performance with a live audience with a “Welcome Back Concert” consisting of highlights from Die Walküre. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend this special outdoor opera performance, which I’m chagrined I will have to miss.

It’s sold out but jumbo screens will allow anyone who strolls down to the Seattle Center Campus to enjoy the performance at various non-ticketed areas.

The cast: Angela MeadeEric OwensAlexandra LoBianco (most recently Seattle Opera’s Tosca), Raymond Aceto, and Brandon Jovanovich. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra will be led by the group’s former leader Maestro Ludovic Morlot.

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, music news, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony

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

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