Musicologist, writer, and opera-lover Naomi André has been appointed Seattle Opera’s inaugural Scholar in Residence. She is the author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement, which The New York Times describes as “A necessary exploration of how race has shaped the opera landscape in the United States and South Africa.” Additionally, André works as a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching Women’s Studies, Afroamerican/African Studies, and more.
“Professor André’s research and commentary places this art form in the middle of some of today’s most challenging social issues, like racial equity and gender representation,” said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera Director of Programs and Partnerships. “We are honored to formalize our relationship with her. Naomi’s deep knowledge of the art form and social perspective will help us broaden our storytelling and create an inclusive space for diverse communities at the opera.” In her role, André will advise staff and leadership on matters of race and gender in opera; consult in artistic planning as it relates to representation of race and gender; and participate in company panel discussions, podcast recordings with dramaturg Jonathan Dean, and contribute essays to opera programs.
A recent example of André’s work includes an article for CNN on what the opera world has to glean from Beyoncé’s Homecoming performance at Coachella and subsequent Netflix film (both the pop diva and opera “rely on spectacle, pageantry, and exploding boundaries.”) André questioned how opera—an art form developed at the end of the 16th century—can remain relevant today. Helping People of Color feel a “homecoming” in the opera house, is just one idea, she suggested.
A still from Beyoncé’s Homecoming performance filmed at Coachella.
Last season, André was a speaker on the forum “Breaking Glass: Hyperlinking Opera and Issues,” co-presented by Seattle Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. That conversation explored racial representation, casting, and what it means to support storytellers of color. She also served as a moderator of Seattle Opera’s April 2019 event “Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation,” which unpacked themes of patriarchy and white-dominated culture in Western art and entertainment. “Decolonizing Allure” was presented in tandem with the company’s mainstage performance of Carmen.
“Opera has always dealt with human emotion and experience: love, honor, jealousy, revenge, to name just a few,” André said. “A key to the genre’s success is to help current audiences see that opera is relevant to our lives today. Putting care into productions and educational materials that reflect the broader issues goes a long way to help audiences today.”
As a speaker, writer, and thought leader, André has been in high demand, participating in conversations at Long Beach Opera and Cincinnati Opera, most recently. A classically trained singer, she earned a bachelor’s in music from Barnard College and a master’s and PhD in musicology from Harvard University.
Dr. André was a moderator of the panel "Decolonizing Allure," which included panelists Perri Rhoden, Aramis O. Hamer, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and Sara Porkalob. Sunny Martini photo
“In my work, I have seen how opera speaks to a wide range of people,” André said. “Seattle Opera is a leader in opening up this art form to a new generation. It has done this by having a diverse group of people making important decisions behind the scenes, on the Board, and in the administrative staff. I am impressed with the support that both seasoned and newer audiences give this company in its conversations with the community. This is a happening place with a dynamic vibe; Yes—I’m very excited to join this team!”
Feminist director Lindy Hume offers no mercy for powerful men who abuse women and confronts newsmakers of today with her interpretation of Verdi's classic.
For years, Lindy Hume, stage director of Seattle Opera’s August production of Rigoletto, has been frustrated by the way opera celebrates misogyny through its “bad boy” characters. In beloved works such as Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Tosca, sopranos must rehearse how to fall, how to be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life.
“In 2019, if opera aspires to be a future-focused art form, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society,” Hume says. “This history of telling stories about women being raped, murdered, and abused in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore.”
Hume’s passion and hunger for more women’s perspectives in opera inspires her contemporary Rigoletto, which plays Aug. 10–28 at McCaw Hall. Under the baton of Maestro Carlo Montanaro, the company’s beloved Verdi conductor, the production will include the return of celebrated Seattle Opera artists including:
Lester Lynch (Di Luna, Il trovatore; Crown, Porgy and Bess) in the title role,
Emily Fons (Laurene Powell Jobs, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs) as Maddalena,
and Ante Jerkunica (Sarastro, The Magic Flute) as Sparafucile.
Madison Leonard (Frasquita, Carmen and Chrisann Brennan, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs) and Soraya Mafi (Flora, The Turn of the Screw) alternate as Gilda.
The performance also includes the debuts of Giuseppe Altomare (Rigoletto), and the two tenors who alternate as the Duke: Liparit Avetisyan and Yongzhao Yu.
Nerys Jones (Giovanna), Clayton Brainerd (Count Monterone), Jonathan Silvia (Count Ceprano), Bernard Holcomb (Borsa), and Barry Johnson (Marullo) will also perform.
Top row: Lester Lynch, left, and Giuseppe Altomare alternate as Rigoletto. Middle row: Madison Leonard, left, and Soraya Mafi alternate as Gilda. Bottom row: Liparit Avetisyan and Yongzhao Yu alternate
In this story, Rigoletto is court jester to the Duke of Mantua, a notorious sexual abuser. After the Duke harms a young woman, Rigoletto mocks the victim’s father, Monterone, who then curses the jester for being so heartless. Later, the Duke rapes Rigoletto’s own daughter Gilda and the cruel joke falls on Rigoletto, whose story ends in tragedy. Basing his opera off Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse, Giuseppe Verdi composed Rigoletto as a confrontation to authority and as a means of illuminating abuse of power. Ironically, this dark tale includes one of the brightest, most beloved arias in the entire art form, “La donna è mobile,” which even non-opera fans will know from “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” Doritos Super Bowl commercials, or a variety of other uses in popular culture.
Unfortunately, Hume says, Rigoletto isn’t a story of long ago and faraway. It remains eerily relevant. When the stage director created this production for New Zealand Opera in 2012, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was breezing through a high-profile sex trial. Back then, Hume found inspiration in the controversial billionaire and politician for the Duke of Mantua; Hume’s production is in fact set at the “presidential palace” on election night. Now, presenting this piece for American audiences in Seattle, Hume acknowledges some may find a similarity between the Duke and President Donald Trump:
“[This production] is not explicitly Trump’s America, or Berlusconi’s Italy, but a modern, highly recognizable version of the dystopian, brutal, corrupt society Victor Hugo and Verdi imagined. As a feminist and a fan of Verdi’s wonderful observation of human behavior, how could I resist bringing these worlds together in an imagined scenario where the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, the moral void of the court, all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence, misogyny, and criminality? This is the world of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and our own.”
Seattle Opera will further explore the themes in Rigoletto and Hume’s production at two community events. On July 23, “A Feminist Director Takes on Rigoletto” will include Hume in conversation with Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean. And on August 23, the panel discussion “Feminist Storytelling in the #MeToo Age” will include two professional theater artists Kathy Hsieh, and Kelly Kitchens, as well as Judy Tsou—a musicologist who focuses on the role of gender and race in opera. For more information, go to seattleopera.org/communityconversations. Seattle Opera's Rigoletto plays Aug. 10-28, 2019 at McCaw Hall. Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/rigoletto
Seattle Opera sits down with stage director Lindy Hume to learn more abut her interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto coming to McCaw Hall this August. Hume's production begins on Election Night at the Presidential Palace and the Duke of Mantua is holding court. Contrasting the bawdy ostentation of the privileged and powerful with the gritty squalor of Rigoletto’s working class struggles, Hume pulls no punches drawing comparisons to newsmakers of today.
Why did you update Rigoletto? "The problem with NOT updating Rigoletto is that a Renaissance-era codpiece-cloak-and-hose setting in a fictional court of Mantua lets the licentious Duke of Mantua off the hook for his appalling treatment of women. Verdi turned a famous philanderer into a rock-star by giving him some of the best music to the most misogynistic lines ever written (Act 1 it’s 'this girl or that girl, they’re all the same to me …' and in Act 3 'women are unreliable …'). These are two of the most-jaunty, charming, popular tunes in the entire operatic repertoire, with a bravado that’s guaranteed to win the audience over. Even contemporary audiences in a post #metoo world, who can’t help but gasp at his shameless audacity and brazenness, adore those arias – which is what makes them so brilliant!
I created this production for New Zealand Opera in 2012. I found inspiration for the spirit of this bad boy Duke of Mantua in Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, who at that time was breezing through his 'bunga bunga sex trial with his signature blend of political incorrectness, immaculate tailoring and dazzling—if cosmetically enhanced—smile. Where better to set the debauched action of Rigoletto than the colorful, charismatic, spectacularly excessive 'Berlusconi Court?' Even now that Silvio has retreated from public life his reputation is the stuff of legend."
So this interpretation isn't about Donald Trump?
"It’s not explicitly Trump’s America, or Berlusconi’s Italy, but a modern, highly recognizable version of the dystopian, brutal, corrupt society Victor Hugo and Verdi imagined as the background for the tragedy of Gilda and her father. The court’s treatment of Monterone, the heartbroken father of a girl whose reputation the Duke has publicly ruined, quickly descends from boredom to murder. Tired of the old man ranting, the Duke sentences him to death in a state-sanctioned execution.
As a feminist and a fan of Verdi’s wonderful observation of human behavior, how could I resist bringing these worlds together in an imagined scenario where the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, the moral void of the court, all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence, misogyny, and criminality? This is the world of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and our own."
Why do you choose to explore sexual assault in the theater?
"As we have seen in recent years, particularly through the #metoo movement, sexual assault is an issue across society that women have been living with for centuries, and increasingly have decided to confront wholesale. My response is not only from the perspective of a feminist woman director, but from that of an average audience member (opera audiences are mostly women, as you know). For years, I’ve been frustrated that this art form, has not CALLED OUT sexual assault and violence, but often celebrated it. For example, Wikipedia says: 'the Duke sings of a life of pleasure with as many women as possible,' and mentions that 'he particularly enjoys cuckolding his courtiers: "Questa o quella" ("This woman or that")' and Don Juan, 'makes a move on any woman, and jilts his lovers.' In the most famous and beloved operas—Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, Tosca, The Rape of Lucretia, Madama Butterfly, Lucia, the 'tragic heroine' is part of the vernacular. Sopranos must rehearse how to fall, be stabbed, brutalized, and thrown across the room, behaviors they would never accept in real life. In 2019, if opera aspires to be a progressive, a future-focused art form with relevance in contemporary society, then it must evolve and be responsive to a changing society. The topic of sexual assault and violence against women in opera is right there in front of us, either to explore, or to ignore."
Lindy Hume made her Seattle Opera debut directing The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory in 2017 (starring Lawrence Brownlee, right) and returns to Seattle Opera in the 2019/20 season to direct Rigoletto and Cinderella. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway
How would you best describe the world of this story? "The word that best describes this world would be 'heartless.' Victor Hugo and Verdi imagined a cold place where those with power own those without. To survive, the powerless must adopt high-risk survival strategies: the hired assassin Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena are in the sex and violence game, while as a servant living with a physical disability, Rigoletto has learned other skills. He’s a fast-talking comedian or joker who has cultivated a cruel wit and alliances with men he detests. He stays close to the Duke, whom he amuses in the manner of a performing dog. In public he is repulsive yet brilliant, but in private he is crippled by profound misery and self-loathing. His 'deformity' is greater in his own mind than anywhere else."
Is there anything redeemable about Rigoletto? "There is something to admire in Rigoletto’s incisive and furious (if impotent) raging against the machinery of corrupt power. The men he works for disgust him, yet he is powerless to rebel, and he hates himself for it. Understandably, Rigoletto himself feels that the only thing that redeems him is his love for his daughter. Returning from the Court to his home with Gilda he describes himself as a vile creature, created so by both man and nature. Yet with Gilda he feels himself transformed. His daughter is a shining light in the darkness, representing for him the possibility of a better existence, reminding him of the love he once had with her mother, of a world untouched by the filth that surrounds him at court. It is far too great a moral load for a teenage girl to carry, of course. The fact that he seeks to protect her is admirable and born of love; but locking his daughter up and his obsessive secrecy have become creepy, downright pathological behaviors. His love for his daughter makes him ferocious and fearless. Even though it’s ultimately futile, we can’t help but admire Rigoletto’s David-against-Goliath attempt to take down the Duke himself—hiring a hit man, arranging all the details, even planning his escape. Finally, his love for his daughter is expressed in the, most heart-rending final scene imaginable. So yes, Rigoletto is both redeemed and abandoned by love.
Members of the Seattle Opera staff share funny stories, fond memories, and words of gratitude for a man who's been a truly awesome boss, friend, mentor, listener, fearless leader, and innovative thinker. Tomorrow, June 21, is Lang's last day at Seattle Opera before departing to become the next leader of Welsh National Opera. ( "Some of you know that Welsh National Opera holds a special place in my heart. It is where my career in opera began. I consider WNO to be my artistic home—the only company for which I would even consider departing the Pacific Northwest."). During Aidan's six years here, Seattle Opera increased its audiences, particularly, young people, created a new civic home for opera at Seattle Center, introduced new chamber opera productions in locations around the city, and spurred complex conversations surrounding race, justice, and representation.
"Aidan Lang is a gentleman of the truest sense. From the day I started working at Seattle Opera, he always made sure to have a personal presence within our organization. He was always approachable and welcomed feedback from everyone. One of the most impressive examples of his work ethic and philosophy is the fact that he makes it a point to know everyone’s name. I have worked for quite a few companies where I was just a face in a crowd, never with Aidan. His intentions are genuine and from an altruistic perspective with his dealings both inside Seattle Opera and in our community as a whole. I know we all wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors and welcome him back for a visit anytime he would like to see his old stomping grounds." - Greg Schell, Ticket Operations Manager
"I will miss Aidan’s sunny disposition, his ready smile, our collaboration over the dressing room assignements, and our friendly debates about which is better, a flat white or the more reasonably priced, single shot 1% latte." - Paula Podemski, Company Manager
"Aidan has developed steadfast fan base at Seattle Opera. He seamlessly leads with those who join in the talk backs after each production opening dialogues that further the experience. If I’m not paying attention, the talk back could continue for hours, so giving him nonverbal cues to wrap it up has turned into an art. I will 'miss' his knowing smile, when I’ve been giving him the 'Aidan, shut it down' cue, which is different from the 'Dude! Stop talking now' cue, while he continues to pass the mic for another 3-5 minutes. But this does result in getting the best closing comments to a deep insightful discussion. Once the talk has ended, we have had to developed code words to foster his expedited exit, so we can clear the building for lockup. Once again, if I just left, conversations would still be happening when I arrive at the theatre the next day. I will also 'miss' my trying to get the lobby cleared at the end of an intermission when he is chatting up McCaw Hall staff while the orchestra is tuning. He would just mosey down aisle E, as Maestro steps on the podium. His timing was always mix of a perfect last second suave, while simultaneously annoying the house manager. I will also 'miss' the look on his face when he sees me drinking an iced chai. A mix of disappointment and icky. It has been a treat working with Aidan." - Corrie Yadon, Patron Experience Manager
Backstage during Nabucco, Lang backstage with members of the Seattle Opera Chorus: YeonSoo Lee, German Mendoza and Karl Reyes.
"I appreciate many things about Aidan. For example, in our new home, he was responsible for giving us a Hair and Makeup studio, a space which hadn't existed in our old building. This has led to more jobs and better production quality in our performances. Thank you, Aidan." - "Liesl Alice Gatcheco, Hair and Makeup Manager
"There are many things I will miss about Aidan. How he personally introduces himself to every new person who joins the team—no intern has ever worked at Seattle Opera without meeting him by their second day. How he refuses to acknowledge that he’s my boss (or my boss’ boss’ boss) and prefers to go by 'colleague' and that he gets modest when you argue. How literally any question about opera ends with a fascinating story from his career—you mention bringing animals onto the stage, and you end up with an epic saga of doves, an insane Yorkshire woman with a gun, and Princess Diana. With Aidan, you can bring him a drink at the Big Opera Party, and he’ll end up behind the table with the mixologist mixing drinks for Seattle Opera staff. You can try doing work at a Piano Tech Rehearsal, but by Act II, he’ll be sitting next to you, singing Carmen, and you’ll eventually get so distracted that you teach him how to use Instagram instead (he’s an influencer now – follow him @aidanlang!). I’ll miss keeping track of his jumper (read: sweater) when he loses it at McCaw Hall. I will miss him offering you an espresso whenever you visit his office, and that if you can’t find him at the Opera Center, you can call any local coffee shop and ask for the British man ordering the flat white. However, I won’t miss when he promises to go to SoulCycle and never does (and then chooses to mock us on Instagram for it instead – I told you to follow him! He’s funny!)." - Caroline Webb, Stewardship & Events Manager
General Director Aidan Lang brought his acclaimed production of "The Marriage of Figaro" to Seattle in 2016. A longtime freelance stage director, this was the only show that Lang directed at Seattle Opera. Photo by Philip Newton
"Toni Zeigler and I were eating our dinner in the old building one evening. For us this was about 6 or so and we often got the opportunity to talk to Aidan as he grabbed a soda to drink on the way home. This evening, we told him that we were concerned about the upcoming production of Traviata, because it had no intermission and patrons were fearful that they would need to use the restroom during the production. Aidan met this with some disbelief, reminding us that the Lord of the Rings movies were three of the longest movies ever. I told him I had never managed to sit through one of them without running to the restroom. He whipped out his cell phone and showed us the U pee app, which tells you when you can go to the bathroom and not miss anything important in the movie. It was a very amusing reaction to us, and especially when we told Dan, our manager at the time, about this conversation, he looked at us as though we were crazy, and we had to call it up on our cell phones. Aidan to the rescue."- Mary Hobbs, Senior Account Representative
"In August of 2018, upon the sad passing of Aretha Franklin, Angel Blue, then in Seattle to sing a lead role in Porgy and Bess, helped Seattle Opera pay tribute to Aretha Franklin’s legacy by singing 'Natural Woman' for us to record and share online. Listening to a voice as powerful as Angel Blue’s sing that song gave me something of an epiphany; it fleetingly crystallized some of the concepts I’ve long understood emotionally to be true about the importance of art in the human condition. The emotional connection that the work of Aretha Franklin made with so many millions of us has changed us, whether profoundly or only slightly. That so many of us were changed by her work was how she changed the world.
Aidan Lang has always clearly understood this relationship of art to life. One of his first acts upon arriving at Seattle Opera was to elucidate for all of us, at a staff meeting, that art should always strive to create this emotional experience, and that we can trust the emotional experience to change the viewer. He is also very clear on the responsibility of art to serve life, society, and community. To serve in this way, it is not enough that the quality costumes or artistry of the singing or the beauty of the sets are enjoyable in themselves. Those elements are essential, but their importance is in how they serve the story and the experience. The experience is our responsibility. His vision for Seattle Opera placed us firmly in the context of service to our community—community in the widest possible sense. Over his tenure he has never wavered from this imperative.
Seattle is blessed with a rich theatre ecosystem, which is diversifying and expanding every year. There is profound, electrifying work being done every day in this city at all levels of professionalism and at all budgets. Seattle Opera represents the art of stagecraft and musicianship at its zenith, but thanks to Aidan, Seattle Opera is fully committed to honoring the high expectations of our audience members, new and veteran, in that the art experiences we provide will strive to be a resource for our audiences in striving to live courageous and intentional lives. " - Lindsey O'Connor, Senior Accountant
Gala Co-Chair Linda Kitchen and husband Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang. Philip Newton photo
THE BALLAD OF AIDAN LANG
Inspired by music from the musical Sweeney Todd (M. Brazeau, J. Dean, and E. Hawkins - with apologies to S. Sondheim)
Attend the tale of Aidan Lang! He put on operas where singers sang. A shining future he steered us toward, Inspiring staff and coralling the board, Our Aidan, our Aidan Lang, The man who saved us from John Street
In twenty fourteen, a clever hire Brought him up here from a distant Shire. So learned, friendly, and quite polite, He thawed out our freeze with a hot flat white, did Aidan, did Aidan Lang, The man who saved us from John Street
His means were few and his stage was bare: A big red drape and a single chair. They wrote, they called, and they emailed too: “This Eurotrash, it will not do! O Aidan, O Aidan Lang!” The man who saved us from John St.
And in the face of that blue-haired rage He knew the secret was to engage With talkbacks, forums, a chamber show He gave them the tools that would help them to grow With Aidan, with Aidan Lang, The man who saved us from John Street
Time to say good-bye, Rogers, Leave that dump behind! Hear the news: We’ve Needle Views At SOATC!
A slate of operas unseen before Nabucco, Katya, Wick-ed Count “Or” And since he loves a Mac for the job We also did one on that Silicon slob! Thanks, Aidan, thanks, Aidan Lang, The man who saved us from John Street
And now he leaves us for distant Wales To find a way he can boost their sales A life in operas’s a crazy quilt, And we’ll always love him for what he built dear Aidan, dear Aidan Lang, The man who saved us from John Street
KING FM announcers, Lisa Bergman host of Explore Music, and Mike Brooks, host of Musical Chairs, pose in front of their future work space — The Opera Center, Seattle Opera's civic home. Both opera company and classical music radio station will remain separate organizations while sharing the same building. Shane Welch photo
KING FM 98.1 leases 4,000-square-feet in Seattle Opera’s new civic home In a time when many arts organizations are struggling to stay afloat, two companies dedicated to classical music have found a way not only to survive, but to thrive. Beginning in early 2020, Seattle Opera and KING FM 98.1 will be housed under one roof: the opera’s civic home on the Seattle Center campus. While the Opera Center was completed in December 2018, the second-floor office has remained intentionally vacant. Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang said the company was looking for an organization to rent the space who shared a similar vision and mission. With a long history of working together, (such as broadcasts of McCaw Hall performances), KING FM was the ideal match, Lang said. This fall, a new radio broadcast facility will be constructed on the opera’s second floor. “We have worked closely with Seattle Opera for years, and look forward to finding more opportunities to collaborate once we are only a floor apart,” said KING FM CEO Brenda Barnes. “We are thrilled to be moving into this beautiful space, and to be in such close proximity to one of our most important partners.”
One example of a future collaboration will include live, Friday-night broadcasts from one of the opera’s rehearsal studios.
Through this new agreement, Seattle Opera is helping to secure its future through rental income that will fund the ongoing costs of operating its $60 million building.
The opera is providing higher quality space than KING FM could construct on its own, helping KING continue to build audience for the art form.
With no need to purchase a ticket, figure out what to wear, travel to the performance venue, or worry about when to clap, classical radio stations are the easiest way for people to give classical music a try. (In fact, only 15 percent of the KING FM audience has ever attended a classical concert). Additionally, the station includes 46,000 listeners under 35 and 7,600 listeners under 11. People of Color also make up a significant demographic of who tunes in each week. (For example, KING FM could fill McCaw Hall seven times over with listeners who identify as African-American and Latinx). In terms of socioeconomic diversity, 30,000 listeners are people with annual incomes under $35,000.
“Seattle Opera and KING FM believe that stronger collaboration is critical to the success and sustainability of the major arts institutions in Seattle,” Lang said. “With this agreement, we are creating a more viable future for performance, music, and civic engagement in this community.”
It is arguably the most misogynistic piece in all of opera, its text essentially calls women “fickle” and “small-minded.” And yet everyone revels in its sumptuous melody that has become opera’s most iconic number.
When Verdi first composed "La donna è mobile” for his Rigoletto, which premiered on March 11, 1851, he hid it for tenor Raffaele Mirate because he knew that if he did, the tenor would be humming it out in the open, ruining the surprise before the opera’s premiere. It isn’t hard to see why. With its bright tune and dynamic rhythmic figures, the melody just puts a smile on your face. Pleasure is quite the apt word for this aria.
And it is this idea of pleasure that has facilitated its transcendence into popular culture where adaptations have been used to directly associate it with positive energy or simply to poke fun at it.
So where have we heard "La donna è mobile” in the mainstream? Here are a few of those “adaptations.”
The Doritos Commercial
Doritos_A_Night_At_The_Opera - YouTube
Doritos put together a few Super Bowl ads using the famed aria as a backdrop. One takes place in a theater, the singer on stage clearly out of his depth while the rest of the audience munches on the snack.
Doritos Super Bowl Commercial - Sling Baby - YouTube
The latter is far more interesting, showcasing a child and his grandmother locked in a feud.
Leggo’s Tomato Paste In this commercial for tomato paste, there is something to be said for how the music’s brightness matches the expressive and artistic act of cooking with the product in question. It is quite fanciful, elegant and certainly appetizing.
Simplot Leggo's Tomato Paste - Rhapsody in Red - YouTube
Dancing With the Stars Utilized as the backdrop for the Viennese Waltz, this is the aria in its original form sung by none other than Vittorio Grigolo. It is rather ironic to see such a romantic waltz danced to this very piece.
Nestle Choco Crossies Food also becomes the central focus in this commercial, the joy of the aria coalescing with the pleasure of sharing cookies on a cramped elevator of all places.
Nestlé Choco Crossies Werbung 1992 - YouTube
AXE Random Commercial Taking the text at its word, this soft rock adaptation of the Verdi aria focuses on the turbulence of male and female relationships, with a twist as Women wind up being the aggressors. But when all is said and done, it has a happy ending. Seattle Opera's Rigoletto plays Aug. 10-28, 2019 at McCaw Hall. Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/rigoletto
Seattle Opera presents Carmen. Sunny Martini photo
"All in all, it’s Seattle Opera’s most thoroughly successful show since last summer’s dazzling Porgy and Bess, and I encourage you not to miss it." - Seattle Magazine
"...in Ginger Costa-Jackson and Frederick Ballentine, Seattle Opera has the most real, most convincing Carmen and Jose I’ve ever seen. (Zanda Švēde and Adam Smith takes the roles in the production’s alternate cast, and Ballentine, unbelievably, stepped in for ailing tenor Scott Quinn on just a few days’ notice.) - Seattle Magazine
Carmen offers "three acts of exquisite earworms and engaging action scattered with visual pop-culture references, followed by a final act — still beautifully sung — that is horrifyingly effective." - The Seattle Times
Ginger Costa-Jackson (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 4, 8, 12, 17, & 19. Sunny Martini photo
"Ginger Costa-Jackson's Carmen rivets the attention whenever she is on stage. She looks the part and acts it like a second skin – a come-hither, sultry, sensuous siren. Every movement she makes: hips, shoulders, even the way she regards people from under her eyelids, signal who she is and that she’s beautiful ... And Costa-Jackson can sing, superbly." - Bachtrack
"And in Seattle Opera's current staging (Carmen) is also highly entertaining. Director Paul Curran has wisely focused on the comic aspects of the opera. The production is bright, colorful, at times even boisterous. It is a lot of fun. If there’s a children’s chorus in this opera - and there is - then it will be an adorable bunch of scamps singing and marching around the stage." -Andy Nicastro
"Tenor Frederick Ballentine deserves all kinds of kudos for his performance. He has sung the role previously and has a beautiful, expressive voice, but this new production is extremely active, and José’s role runs the gamut from quiet bystander to smoldering, passionate lover and self-doubter, to jealous, violent, out-of-control killer. Ballentine, who might have had one run through of the staging earlier, nailed the role both vocally and as an actor." - Bachtrack
Zanda Švēde (Carmen)'s performance dates include May 5, 11, 15, & 18. Pictured here with Rodion Pogossov as Escamillo. Sunny Martini photo
"The performers, as to be expected in opera, where world-class is a descriptor to which every singer has to live up, are chin-to-the-ground good. Švēde, who was the lead on the day I saw 'Carmen,' almost vibrates in her intensity, her honeyed mezzo-soprano lithely moving back and forth between alluring and penetrative. In his Seattle debut, the opera’s director, Paul Curran, accentuates the intensity." - The UW Daily
"It’s a gorgeous production, too. Gary McCann’s costumes and billboard-dominated set seem to place the action around 1950 and possibly in Cuba." - Seattle Magazine
"Rodion Pogossov’s Escamillo is energetic and lively. His clowning around during the “Toreador Song” - I believe he steals a move or two from Chuck Berry - fit in nicely with the production's light-hearted tone." -Andy Nicastro
Vanessa Goikoetxea (Micaëla). Philip Newton photo
"As Don José’s commanding officer and a rejected suitor of Carmen, bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi’s Zuniga channeled Alan Rickman with a mixture of chronic irritation and vague menace." - The Seattle Times
"The effective lighting of the sets, by Paul Hackenmueller, was well nuanced, such as the shadowy tavern corners with spotlights just on the action itself and the important characters." - Bachtrack
"Vanessa Goikoetxea deployed her strong soprano to reveal what’s really under Micaela’s timid exterior, and, after her Act 3 aria, earned the night’s loudest ovation for it." - Seattle Magazine
Sarah Coit (Mercédès), Rodion Pogossov (Escamillo), and Madison Leonard (Frasquita). Philip Newton photo
"Don José’s intended fiancée, Micaëla, exists solely to counterbalance Carmen as a wholesome example of femininity; it’s a shallowly written role. But soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea (Emily Dorn on alternate nights) gives it such depth of character that, while we love to watch Carmen, in real life, we’d rather know Goikoetxea’s Micaëla." - The Seattle Times
"Stage director Paul Curran’s coherent concept succeeded seamlessly. Bringing Carmen into a different era lost none of the opera’s impact. Lastly, none of this would have been as successful without the music so ably played by Seattle Symphony members under Giacomo Sagripanti." - Bachtrack
Adam Smith (Don José) and Zanda Švēde (Carmen). Sunny Martini photo
Panelists from left to right: Perri Rhoden, Sara Porkalob, Aramis O. Hamer, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and Naomi André. Sunny Martini photo
By Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor
When Georges Bizet created Carmen in 1875, his home country, France, was obsessed with conquering the-so-called “Orient” (which, at the time, French people lumped the Middle East and Africa into, as well as Asia). Carmen herself is a sort of embodiment of these “faraway” cultures that France wanted to dominate. As a Roma woman—an ethnic minority in white European society—Carmen brought an exotic element to the opera that French people could build fantasies upon. And like the “the Orient,” Carmen could not be fully tamed; in the end of the opera, she pays the ultimate price at the hands of Don José.
“While [Carmen] is entertaining and wonderful—and I love Carmen, and I love that she’s bold and can say, ‘I’m interested in you. And now I’m not interested in you’—remember that she’s punished at the end. She’s died at the end. It’s as if this voice is way too powerful and it has to be snuffed out.”
A scholar of Blackness in opera among other topics, Dr. André moderated “Decolonizing Allure,” which featured four additional speakers. For this Asian American woman writer, the evening offered a radical and transcendent evening of idea-sharing, activism, and storytelling.
Perri Rhoden poses in front of a wall of her artwork.
The panel included visual artist Perri Rhoden, who shared her experience of first growing up as a Black woman in predominantly white Seattle, and then going to study at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington D.C.
“Howard was maybe 80 percent women. It was so incredible being in these art classes was surrounded by black women, some who were majoring in a creative field. Other’s who were wanting to be a scientist but just wanted to try something else. But it was incredible seeing the talent that flowed out of the brushes and onto the canvas.”
Rhoden proposed that perhaps one reason that Carmen remains so popular today is because of Bizet’s power as a white, European male storyteller in an art form that tends to uphold similar storytellers.
“I wonder, if we stopped talking about how this man has incorrectly depicted this Woman of Color, would these [inaccurate depictions] stop?” she said.
Nona Hendryx, left, is one of the founding members of the doo-wop girl group, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. The group was inducted in the R&B Hall of Fame in 1999. Later, the members reinvented themselves into the iconic funk-rock group, Labelle, seeing huge success throughout the 70s, racking up three gold albums and a #1 worldwide platinum hit with the single “Lady Marmalade.” Linda Ronstadt, right, became one of the most popular interpretive singers of the '70s, earning a string of platinum-selling albums and Top 40 singles. Throughout the '70s, her laid-back pop never lost sight of her folky roots, yet as she moved into the '80s, she began to change her sound with the times, adding new wave influences. After a brief flirtation with pre-rock pop, Ronstadt settled into a pattern of adult contemporary pop and Latin albums, sustaining her popularity in both fields.
Dr. Michelle Habell-Pallán, a UW professor who teaches music, women’s studies, Latinx studies, and more, said that even though Carmen was written 150 years ago, we still live in a patriarchal society where women's power and creativity is constantly under containment. With that said, she pointed out that Latinx and Black women, have found ways to rewrite patriarchal narratives like Carmen in a way that serves them. The rock genre is a great place to find this.
“If we think of Nona Hendryx, and also someone like Linda Ronstadt, who’s Mexican American—she brought the bel canto from ranchera music into rock. She was the best-selling rock singer through the 70s, and she brought this big voice to the rock scene. She was in deep dialogue with soul music and rhythm and blues. She knew who she was in dialogue with, and also who to credit. Linda Ronstadt lived that life as a ‘free bird’...embodying a spirit that was not contained.”
Carmen’s death at the end of the opera isn’t the only problem from an intersectional feminist perspective. Sara Porkalob, a theater artist and activist and dismantler of white supremacist culture, said that Carmen is always depicted in the opera in some sort of relationship to men. When asked how Porkalob would rewrite Carmen, she said:
"I’d say take away the men. Then see what happens. If you took away the men, what would she sing about when she came out into the plaza smoking a cigarillo. I don’t know if she’d singing about love. Maybe she’d be singing about her dreams.”
Porkalob with her grandmother--her co-star in Porkalob's play Dragon Lady.
Porkalob joined the panel just months after presenting her series of plays about her Filipinx family at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
“I have the wonderful privilege of coming from generations of Asian Pacific Islander, Black, Queer women, who, from the moment that I was born taught me that stereotypes (about Asian and Pacific Islander women) are not real,” she said.
Finally, Aramis O. Hamer, a painter who’s inspired by radical notions of self-care and self-love, as well as divine femininity and Black culture, shared her thoughts about whether or not we should continue to present this opera, despite the problems with it:
“The thought of not showing Carmen almost hurts me as an artist,” Hamer said. “As an artist, I feel that my purpose on this planet is to express myself. I happen to be housing the vessel of a black woman, and so I express myself by painting purple, galactic goddesses. Bizet decided to write this story that was beautiful in 1875, but now its 2019, and the climate has changed. It’s important to look at different times that we’re in. With that said, we’re also in a new time, and we do need new art, too. There are playwrights out here from various cultures, including from marginalized backgrounds. But we’re not always hearing their story, their opera."
Panelists, back left: Perri Rhoden, Aramis O. Hamer, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and moderator Naomi André. Front: Sara Porkalob. Sunny Martini photo
By Julie HubbertA Seattle native who grew up attending Seattle Opera, Hubert is an associate professor of music history at the School of Music at the University of South Carolina where she also teaches in the Film and Media Studies Department. This fall, with the help of a NEH Fellowship, she will complete a book on music in films from the New Hollywood Era.
What do Nietzsche and Bart Simpson have in common? It’s not a trick question. In fact, the answer reveals a hidden collaboration that has shaped the reception of this opera for over a century. The answer is Carmen. Nietzsche loved Carmen, although this admiration was certainly colored by misogyny and his growing contempt for Wagner. Bart Simpson’s connection to Carmen, however, is equally compelling and perhaps even more complex. In the second episode of the animated series, after Bart cheats on an IQ test, his mother Marge rewards him with a night at the opera. While there, Bart and his father Homer delightfully skewer opera conventions (a soprano with a healthy appetite does end the opera), but they also display an intimate knowledge of the music, especially when Bart sings the time-honored contrafactum of the Toreador’s Song: “Toreador, please don’t spit on the floor. Please use a cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.”
Early 1900s: The Silent Films The International Movie Database (IMDb) counts 47 film versions of Carmen, but scholars, who include French, Spanish, and African language productions, put the number well over 80. Bart’s sing-a-long in The Simpsons, in fact, is a delightful reprise of one of the earliest Carmen films, Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen (1916). If one prizes parody, and I do, Chaplin’s film is terrific for the way it recasts Carmen as a screen vamp, but also for the way it satirizes the witlessness of men who fall for such seductresses. Chaplin’s Don José (hilariously renamed Darn Hosiery) reminds us of how essential the so-called virtuous man is to the construction of the unvirtuous woman and raises the question: if men could just keep their pants zipped, would there be a Carmen?
Chaplin’s parody, however, is also a thoughtful homage, a shot-for-shot remake at times, of Cecil B. DeMille’s Carmen (1915) of the year before. Both were part of the first “battle of the Carmens,” with DeMille’s production claiming the high ground by casting Metropolitan Opera star Geraldine Farrar in the title role. A month later director Raoul Walsh sought a steamier performance and gave the role to legendary stage actress Theda Bera. DeMille was not the first to try to elevate film by connecting it to opera or to enriching the silent screen with the implied sound of an opera singer. Surviving scores for the live accompaniment for both films relied on Bizet’s music, but Ernst Lubitsch had the final word. His Carmen (1918), arguably the first fully cinematic version, featured neither singer nor thespian, but one of the greatest movie stars of silent era, Pola Negri.
The 1940s: Post-War Tensions The silent Carmens were only the beginning of a very long conversation that has existed between Mérimée’s novella, Bizet’s opera, and film. Film Carmens were made sporadically throughout the 1930s, but a cluster of post-war Carmens made the femme fatale popular again. Or rather, post-war politics and issues of racial equality in the U.S. made Carmen relevant again. Here Carmen’s sexuality is explained not as an excess of personality but as a feature of ethnicity. In both Mérimée’s and Bizet’s works, Carmen is an exotic outsider, a "gypsy" whose coupling with the Basque Don José is very near an act of miscegenation. This is not exactly Oscar Hammerstein’s reading. In fact, one of the criticisms of his remake of Bizet’s opera into the Broadway musical Carmen Jones in 1943 for an all-Black cast is that it erased the ethnic and racial tension in Mérimée’s original. Although some of that tension is preserved in the linguistic colloquialisms, the “dis” and “dat” that Hammerstein carefully inserted only into the songs and nowhere else in the dialogue. These fissures were uncomfortable in 1943 and, even more so, in 1954, the year of Brown v. Board of Education and Otto Preminger’s film version of the musical.
Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, as film historian Jeff Smith points out, the all-Black cast oddly maintained the fantasy of “separate but equal” and was a strange throwback to the segregated race films of the 1920s and 30s. But it starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte and broke racial barriers when Dandridge became the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her Carmen. Racial politics also colored the reception of the film not only because Preminger was having an affair with Dandridge but because he insisted on re-voicing both leads. Dandridge and Belafonte were established popular singers, but because of the range and vocal demands of Bizet’s music, Preminger dubbed them with opera singers, Belafonte with the young, African-American tenor LeVern Hutcherson, but Dandridge controversially with a young white opera student named Marilyn Horne.
The film is often credited with helping to desegregate not only Hollywood but the opera house as well. As opera scholar Susan McClary noted, Dandridge inspired the rise of the Black Carmen which propelled Leontyne Price to fame in the 1964 with a recording of Carmen and Grace Bumbry to acclaim in Karajan’s filmed Carmen in 1967.
A still from the 1954 film
The 1980s: The Feminist Carmen Bizet’s heirs never liked Hammerstein’s musical version of the opera and blocked screenings of Preminger’s Carmen Jones in France until 1981 when Bizet’s opera finally entered public domain. That event may have triggered another rash of Carmen films, although the pressing political issue of feminism, which in the U.S. peaked with the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982, might also have also prompted it. In 1983 and 1984 no less than four film Carmens appeared, including Carlos Saura’s flamenco Carmen, Francesco Rosi’s Carmen, Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen, and Jean-Luc Goddard’s Prenom: Carmen. Within this group, Rosi’s Carmen stands out for offering a literal reading of Bizet’s opera and one of the most influential recontextualizations of Carmen. Rosi's is not the only film to reclaim Carmen as Spanish rather than French, but it is one of the few to authenticate Carmen within a community. Some of this, Dr. McClary rightfully points out, is accomplished by casting American Julia Migenes Johnson in the title role. Her light soprano has very little of the deep throated sultriness that most mezzos bring to the role. But Rosi also recasts Carmen not as a monstrous seductress, but as a daughter, a part of a community where athletic dancing and sharp verbal skills among women are prized, even commonplace. This Carmen dances with one of the neighborhood’s grandfathers, whose elegantly nimble and economical flamenco skills are a better and more enjoyable match for her than the stiff yet passionately-voiced Don José (Placido Domingo). Within this film’s community Carmen is not the monstrous, exotic outsider; Don José is.
A poster for Carmen: A Hip Hopera.
The 2000s: MTV and More
In today’s mashup culture, Kip Collin’s MTV Carmen: A Hip Hopera starring Beyoncé Knowles and Mekhi Phifer from 2001 is noteworthy for its attempt to update not just Carmen but Carmen Jones. Beyoncé’s ability to command our attention visually as well as sonically, and to suggest the feminism that would eventually dominate her stunning visual album Lemonade (2016), make for compelling viewing. The two prominent post-colonial films of Carmen are staged in Africa. Mark Dornford-May’s 2005 production U-Carmen eKahayelitsha, set in the slums of Cape Town, South Africa with the libretto rewritten in the Bantu language of Xhosa, and Joseph Gaye Ramaka’s 2001 production Karmen Gei set in Senegal, are also striking. These all-black productions root Carmen in an authentic community where centuries of colonial oppression still shape concepts of political freedom and identity. But while Dornford-May’s radically preserves Bizet’s music, with Pauline Malefance purportedly singing her arias live on-set, in Karmen Gei the mesmerizing Djeinaba Diop Gai embodies Carmen more through dance than song, her seduction backed by the powerful sound of 40 Senegalese sabar dummers.
These 21st century African Carmens point back to Nietzsche’s 19th century observation that Carmen’s music is cheerful, “not in a French or German… but in an African way.” Perhaps Carmen is resilient to dislocations of geography, race, and politics because at heart it is a misunderstanding of all of these things. The character is always unreal, unfamiliar, or exotic to someone. What neither Nietzsche, nor anyone else could have predicted, however, is how essential the cinema has become in constructing Carmen, for seeing and hearing the exotic, and for both understanding and misunderstanding ourselves. So how will Carmen be revealed next? How will Paul Curran’s Carmen contribute to this inter-medial conversation? Let’s see!
A still from the South African film U-Carmen eKahayelitsha.
Seattle Opera interviewed our two Carmens: Zanda Švēde, left, and Ginger Costa-Jackson, right.
“As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.” ― Georges BizetCarmen, Bizet’s heroine, attracts a variety of labels. Some view her as a powerful sexual being or even as a feminist. Others see her as a Roma stereotype, or as a woman who must be punished for daring to do what she wants in a patriarchal society. Seattle Opera sat down with our two Carmens: Ginger Costa-Jackson and Zanda Švēde. We learned more about what it's like to sing this role, and what to make of the work's famous and brutal ending in 2019. Neither of the two mezzo-sopranos would probably encounter Carmen in real life. (Carmen would likely be more into dancing the night away, singing karaoke, and being the life of the party, whereas the two singers are more quiet, homebody-types). But both Costa-Jackson and Švēde describeda deep admiration for how Carmen inhabits her own body, how she is brave and un-apologetically herself, and how her ferocity resonates with audiences long after the curtain has come down.
Tell me about your character Carmen.
“I see Carmen as a woman who stands for freedom. This is what she sings about. She doesn't want anyone to tell her what to do, in life, and in her relationships. I think that’s where Paul Curran’s vision enters this conversation. As a director, he’s interested in having a discussion about how women are restricted and at times oppressed by society.”
- Zanda Švēde
"Bizet based Carmen on the popular novella written in 1845 by Prosper Mérimée. At the time it would have been our equivalent of a best-seller. Translating the Mérimée text we read 'When that girl begins to laugh, sir, it was hopeless for anybody to try and talk sense. Everybody laughed with her.' Carmen for me is an inspiring anti-hero. She embodies joie de vivre, the personification of optimism despite difficult circumstances. A person who rises above societal norms and excels only to be pulled back down in the world of violent men who surround her and attempt to end her freedom. I love how Carmen fights for that freedom with honesty and courage until the end."
- Ginger Costa-Jackson
Zanda Švēde stars in Lyric Opera of Kansas's Carmen. Photos by Julie Denesha.
Why does Carmen have to die in this story? (Or does she?).
"Carmen is larger-than-life. But the society she lives in is small-minded. I think she wants an out, because the truth is, she’s not happy. I don’t think she wishes to harm herself. But at the same time, when the opportunity presents itself to leave this oppressive place, I think it’s an exciting and thrilling idea for this woman who has endured so much.” - Zanda Švēde
“She didn't have to die, and she shouldn't have had to die—that is the timeless message and tragedy of Carmen. Don José ended a beautiful, wild, and reckless life because he couldn't take no for an answer. I believe Carmen's enduring strength is that she never lies to escape fate. It doesn't mean she doesn't fear, in my view she was terrified, but she was true to her convictions in the face of danger." - Ginger Costa-Jackson
Ginger Costa-Jackson as Carmen with San Diego Opera, 2019. Photo by J. Kat Woronowicz
What’s the most challenging thing about performing the title role in Carmen?
“It’s a long opera. It takes a lot of endurance. But at the same time, it’s such a delicious role. I forget about how hard I'm working and how difficult it is.”
- Zanda Švēde
What’s the most fun or enjoyable thing about performing Carmen?
"Bizet really bestowed a treasure for the ages with this masterpiece. The energy is the most enjoyable aspect of Carmen. Bullfighters, soldiers, villagers, and the rich diversity of the scenes sets the stage. Dancing, singing, playing castanets, and living the gypsy life for a night is why performing Carmen is so fun.”
- Ginger Costa-Jackson
Zanda Švēde stars in Lyric Opera of Kansas's Carmen. Photos by Julie Denesha.
Do you think, in the 21st century, particularly in light of the #MeToo movement (and increasing representation of women’s power and sexual agency in popular media), that we will see other new takes on this opera—particularly, Carmen's murder? “I don’t see that happening. People know and love these operas, and they have strong feelings about what’s supposed to happen. They support these traditional endings. It’s hard for me to imagine a Carmen where everything changes in the end. But I guess, as an occasional experiment (such as the recent Carmen production in Florence where Carmen killed Don José) it’s probably pretty interesting to see what the reaction is. I think there’s something to be said for making operas resonate within a given community. In terms of future interpretations, I don't think this story necessarily needs to be about a man and a woman. It’s a story about two people, regardless of their gender: One person wants to be free. The other wants to dominate.” - Zanda Švēde
Ginger Costa-Jackson as Carmen with San Diego Opera, 2019. Photo by J. Kat Woronowicz
Any other Carmen thoughts?
"Carmen is a fantastic introduction to opera. It is consistently the most performed or one of the most-performed operas every year worldwide. Whether this is your hundredth opera or your first, you can't go wrong. Hopefully you will leave the performance moved, tapping your feet, and humming "Toreador" for several days.
- Ginger Costa-Jackson
"The music is so catchy and so full of life. You experience many grand, dramatic moments. It's such a pleasure to sing this work and to bring it to life."