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Seattle Opera is an opera company located in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1963 by Glynn Ross, who served as the company's first general director through 1983, Seattle Opera's season runs from August to late May, with five or six operas offered and with eight to ten performances each, often with double casts in major roles to allow for successive evening presentations.
Since August 2003, the company has presented operas in the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, built on the site of the old Seattle Opera House at Seattle Center. The company does not have a full-time music director. In October 2007, Seattle Opera announced the appointment of Asher Fisch as the company's principal guest conductor.
The Ross years
From the outset, Ross saw opera as something that had to be sold using similar techniques to those used to sell popular entertainment. "To sell opera…you have to get their attention with a little razzle-dazzle. You've got to be simpatico. You have to be able to communicate, and you have to deliver your message with the best possible product you can manage." In 1970, H. C. Schonberg of the New York Times contrasted Seattle Opera's approach to marketing to the then still staid marketing of New York's Metropolitan Opera: "Out there, you see campaign buttons with the legend Opera Lives. It is in Seattle where you can look at the sky and find an airplane skywriting the virtues of Seattle Opera. There are even auto bumper stickers about opera." Further, Schonberg remarked favorably on the "air of freshness and experimentation that contrasts vividly with the dull, tried and true, tired professionalism in other opera houses one could mention."
Richard Wagner at Seattle Opera
The company is noted for its performances of the works of Richard Wagner, including the Ring cycle. In 1975, it was the first American company to perform the cycle in its entirety over the space of a week since the Metropolitan Opera did it in 1939.
"Ring 1," 1975 to 1984
Beginning with a production of Die Walküre one year, and following successively each year with Siegfried and, finally, Götterdämmerung, Ross announced in 1975 that Das Rheingold would precede the others to make up the first consecutive Ring Cycle over six days in July. In spite of the modernization of the opera productions which Ross found at the Bayreuth Festival, Seattle's were to be traditional productions and appeal to the lovers of the traditional.
Two back-to-back cycles of the Ring, one each in German and English, were presented annually between 1975 and 1983. Andrew Porter's English adaptation which was prepared for the English National Opera and which was priced below the German language cycle, introduced many new listeners to Wagner. Originally directed by George London with designer John Naccarato, later presentations were directed by Lincoln Clark between 1976 and 1983, and by the tenor, Ragnar Ulfung in 1984. Henry Holt conducted all the cycles. The performances were well attended and received good press.
By 1982, the cycle was drawing opera lovers from all over the United States, as well as many other countries of the world, and Seattle appeared to be a serious rival to Bayreuth.
"Ring 2," 1985-1995
Speight Jenkins was appointed General Director in 1983, and immediately set about creating a new Ring production. Die Walküre appeared first, in 1985, followed by complete cycles in 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1995. (Jenkins determined that the company could achieve higher quality performances by presenting the Ring every four years.) The new production was directed by Francois Rochaix, with sets and costumes designed by Robert Israel, lighting designed by Joan Sullivan, and supertitles (the first ever created for the Ring) by Sonya Friedman. The production set the action in a world of nineteenth-century theatricality. Initially controversial, it sold out in 1995. Conductors included Armin Jordan (Die Walküre in 1985), Manuel Rosenthal (1986), and Hermann Michael (1987, 1991, and 1995).
"Ring 3," 2000-2013
Jenkins engaged a new creative team to conceive Seattle Opera's third Ring production, which was unveiled in 2000 (Das Rheingold and Die Walküre) and 2001 (full cycle) and returned in 2005, 2009, and 2013. Director Stephen Wadsworth, Set Designer Thomas Lynch, Costume Designer Martin Pakledinaz, Lighting Designer Peter Kaczorowski created a production which became known as the "Green" Ring, inspired in part by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Armin Jordan returned to conduct in 2000, Franz Vote in 2001, and Robert Spano in 2005 and 2009. The 2013 production, conducted by Asher Fisch, was released as a commercial recording on compact disc and on iTunes. The productions starred singers such as Greer Grimsley, Stephanie Blythe, Ewa Podles, Jane Eaglen, Richard Paul Fink, Margaret Jane Wray, and Stephen Milling.
Speight Jenkins and Wagner
Upon taking leadership of Seattle Opera in 1983 Speight Jenkins stated a goal of producing all ten of the major Wagner works in Seattle. Beginning with Tannhäuser in 1984 (the first Seattle Opera production with supertitles), Jenkins finally achieved his goal with the August 2003 production of Parsifal that opened McCaw Hall.
Seattle Opera draws some of the world's best opera singers to its stage. Some of the notable performers who have appeared in productions include:
- Harolyn Blackwell - a regular figure on the Seattle Opera stage during the 1990s and 2000s, her credits with the company include the title roles in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Delibes's Lakmé.
- Lawrence Brownlee - was a participant in Seattle Opera's Young Artist program. Since then, he has appeared with the company as Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Arcadio in Catan's Florencia en el Amazonas, Arturo in Bellini's I puritani, Almaviva in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, Tonio in Donizetti's La fille du régiment, Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Count Ory in Rossini's Count Ory.
- Kevin Burdette - debuted with the company in 2006 as Mustafà in Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri.
- Richard Cassilly - made his debut with the company as Manrico in April 1967 opposite Eileen Farrell's Leonora and Sherrill Milnes's Count DiLuna.
- Diane Curry -From 1981-1986 Curry performed annually in Seattle Opera's Wagner's The Ring Cycle under director Speight Jenkins, portraying Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and Waltraute/Second Norn in Götterdämmerung.
- Geraldine Decker- From 1974-1987 Decker performed annually in Seattle Opera's Wagner's The Ring Cycle under director Speight Jenkins, as Erda in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried, Schwertleite in Die Walküre, and the First Norn Götterdämmerung.
- Jane Eaglen - made her American debut as well as her Seattle Opera debut in the company's 1994 production of Bellini's Norma. A previous unknown, she was cast personally by Speight Jenkins to replace Carol Vaness when the latter was unable to sing due to medical issues. She went on to sing Turandot, Isolde, Brünnhilde, Ariadne, Ortrud, Senta, and other roles with the company.
- Joyce El-Khoury - sang all the 2016 performances of Maria Stuarda due to a colleague's indisposition.
- Renée Fleming - made her debut with the company singing the title role in the 1990 production of Dvořák's Rusalka.
- Nuccia Focile - has appeared in many productions, including the title role in the 2007 production of Gluck's Iphigenia in Tauris and Susanna in 2016's Le nozze di Figaro. The company named her "Artist of the Year" for her 2013 performances of La voix humaine.
- Greer Grimsley - made his debut as Telramund in Lohengrin in 1994 (revived 2004), then returned for Escamillo (1995), Mephistopheles (1997), Kurwenal (1998 and 2010), Scarpia (2001, 2007, and 2015), Donner and Gunther (2001), Amfortas (2003), Jack Rance (2004), Wotan (2005, 2009, and 2013), the Flying Dutchman (2007 and 2016), and Don Pizarro (2012).
- Andrea Gruber - has sung numerous roles with the company including the title role in Verdi's Aida
- Ben Heppner - performed his first ever Tristan in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with Seattle Opera in 1998. Other roles in Seattle include Walther von Stolzing, Lohengrin, and Andrea Chenier.
- Bette Midler- played the Acid Queen in Seattle Opera's production of The Who's Tommy, the first time it was ever performed in a theater format.
- Brett Polegato - made his debut with the company as Henry Miles in the 2005 production of Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair.
- Alberto Remedios - who appeared as Siegfried in The Ring Cycle with the company in the 1970s.
- Gidon Saks - has appeared in several Wagner productions with the company.
- Beverly Sills - made her debut with the company in 1965 as Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme. It was the only time she ever sang that role on stage.
- Joan Sutherland - portrayed Lakmé for the company in 1967, then returned as Donna Anna, the three heroines in Les contes d'Hoffmann, and Sita in Le roi de Lahore.
- Carol Vaness - performed frequently with the company in the 1980s and 1990s.
Conductors and directors
Seattle Opera often invites guest directors and conductors to take part in its productions. Notable conductors and directors include:
- Christopher Alden - made his debut with the company in 1990 directing Mozart's Don Giovanni.
- Asher Fisch - made his debut opening McCaw Hall with Parsifal, and returned to conduct Lohengrin, Der fliegende Hollander, Tristan und Isolde, Fidelio, and Der Ring des Nibelungen (released as a commercial CD recording). He won "Artist of the Year" for conducting both Der Rosenkavalier (2006) and Turandot (2012).
- Richard Pearlman - conducted the first professional theatrical production of The Who's rock opera Tommy featuring Bette Midler with the company in 1971.
- Bartlett Sher - made his opera directing debut with the company's production of Marvin David Levy's Mourning Becomes Electra.[when?]
- Robert Spano - conducted the 2005 and 2009 productions of The Ring Cycle.
- Werner Torkanowsky - conducted the 1974 production of Boito's Mefistofele.
Seattle Opera supports the creation of new operas and has commissioned several works throughout its history. New operas performed by the company include:
- Matthew Westphal (16 October 2007). "Seattle Opera Appoints Asher Fisch Principal Guest Conductor". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-10-18.
- Quoted in Jones 1972, p. 254.
- "Diane Curry". Seattle Opera Performance Archives. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
- F. Paul Driscoll (October 2013). "Obituary: Geraldine Decker". Opera News. 78 (4).
- List of productions on Christopher Alden's website
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