Seattle Opera Confronts the Ugly Side of Madame Butterfly

Seattle Opera Panelists
“Asian Leaders Respond to Madame Butterfly”

I was excited to hear that Seattle Opera was performing Madame Butterfly because I love Puccini’s music and Butterfly is one of the most famous operas ever written. I didn’t know the opera was controversial for its racist depiction of the Japanese – especially its promulgation of the stereotype that Japanese women are suicidal, subservient sex puppets – until I heard about Seattle Opera’s free community panel discussion “Asian Arts Leaders Respond to Madame Butterfly,” moderated by Frank Abe, co-founder of Seattle’s Asian American Journalists Association. Continue reading

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Nabucco at Seattle Opera

Struck down by an angry god. © Philip Newton

Struck down by an angry god.
© Philip Newton

“Zeus isn’t real,” my daughter confided one day when she was four.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Yesterday I told a lie on purpose and swore by Zeus.” Swearing by Zeus was fashionable among her older sister’s Percy Jackson-obsessed friends. “And I didn’t get hit by lightning. Zeus isn’t real,” she concluded.

Fortunately, in a story that sounds apocryphal, Giuseppe Verdi’s lightning test led to a different conclusion regarding divine power. Continue reading

Ariadne auf Nauxos at Seattle Opera

The young emo Composer (Kate Lindsey). Alan Alabastro photo courtesy of Seattle Opera.

The young emo Composer (Kate Lindsey). Alan Alabastro photo courtesy of Seattle Opera.

Long story short: A rich man has commissioned a tragic opera, “Ariadne auf Naxos,” to be performed at his party. He has also hired a commedia dell’arte troupe. At the last minute, he decides the program is too long and the two performances must be merged. Hijinks ensue. Continue reading

Prepping for Ariadne auf Naxos

AriadneZerbinetta

Ariadne auf Naxos explores high/low art. The Prima Donna (Marcy Stonikas) with Zerbinetta (Rachele Gilmore). Elise Bakketun photo courtesy Seattle Opera

As I took my seat at the Seattle Public Library’s preview of Ariadne auf Naxos, I was reminded that in the opera world, 40 is young. Or maybe I’m just the only opera fan under 60 who is free to attend a lecture at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. Of course the library hosts opera preview lectures at a number of different times and locations, which is fortunate because the lectures are very good. Continue reading

Tosca Talk

ToscaBookletHow much should an audience member prepare for a performance? Some of my best memories come from the surprises, shows I stumbled into blindly only to be completely blown away. But most of the time, concerts are more fun when you already know the music. It’s no fun to see a David Mamet play without some idea of what you are in for. Anyone who attends The Marriage of Figaro, as I once did, without knowing that the song made famous by Bugs Bunny is actually in The Barber of Seville will be sorely disappointed. In theory, I like to be prepared, but I don’t always find the time for research ahead of time. Continue reading

Opera on Tap

OperaonTapOn a recent Wednesday night, while the rest of the family was upstairs reading bedtime stories, I snuck out of the house and met my friend who was waiting in her parked car on the corner. We drove to Ballard, where a meet-up of over a hundred motorcycle riders restored some of the neighborhood’s old, salty character. Drifting uncertainly through a sea of leather-clad riders and parked bikes, we found the warehouse with the letter H painted on the side.

“I think that’s it. Doesn’t the name of the bar start with H?”

“Yes, this is it. See, there’s a sign.”

Next to the door of the warehouse was a white homemade sandwich board. Stenciled in black block letters was the word, “Opera.”

Continue reading

La fille du régiment at Seattle Opera

LaFilleSeattle Opera kicked off its 50th season with Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. It seemed like a strange choice to me, because, well, it is not the best opera. In fact, it almost doesn’t seem like opera. It reminded me more of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance than a comedic bel canto like Così fan tutte.

Although there is some beautiful music and technical singing in La fille, the arias lack powerful, memorable melodies. Some parts are spoken instead of sung while other parts foreshadow Gilbert & Sullivan’s patter songs. It’s not uncommon for opera plots to be tissue-thin, but few operas have as little pretense to substance as the shamelessly silly La fille du régimentPerhaps after the rigors of producing The Ring this summer, the company was due for something light and fun. Daughter of the Regiment certainly fits that bill. Continue reading