From a Love Triangle...
Seattle Opera’s origin story starts with its own love triangle: a city, besotted by its shining new opera house, faced the dueling affections of two brand-new opera companies. One day in April 1963, Seattle Symphony’s opera committee (soon to be Seattle Opera) placed an ad in the Sunday Times for a production of La traviata with “world-famous stars” from the Metropolitan Opera in New York; just beneath it, Western Opera Company enticed with Broadway tenor Glenn Burris and Met soprano Jean Fenn in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Both shows ran the following month.
The companies struggled to play nice, squabbling over show selection, available singers, and dates of production—until a real-life tragedy occurred on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy had been shot. The world stood still. And no one cared much about opera tickets. By the new year, the two companies had joined forces under the Seattle Opera banner, and the city welcomed it with open ears.
...To a Love Duet
To close its 48th season, Seattle Opera will rely on the young love of 15-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San, the “delicate butterfly” who falls for a dashing U.S. Naval officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton, stationed in Japan. Inevitably, she learns he’s a cad, but only after they’ve married and bared their legs and souls in a wedding night duet to end act one of Madama Butterfly. “It’s one of the longest love duets in Italian opera,” says general director Speight Jenkins. “And Butterfly is possibly one of the most sentimental of all operas.” Puccini’s tragedy is still wildly popular—and a great introduction for opera neophytes. Seattle Opera plans to simulcast opening night of Madama Butterfly in HD at KeyArena, where roughly 15,000 people can view the production for free.
The broadcast will be the company’s first foray into simulcasting, which has proved to be a sort of modern miracle for high art. The Metropolitan Opera set the standard six years ago under its big-spending new general manager Peter Gelb, investing in costly HD cameras to broadcast live performances to movie theaters worldwide. By democratizing opera, The Met: Live in HD grossed $11 million at the box office in 2010. Seattle Opera doesn’t have simulcast plans beyond Butterfly, but representatives acknowledge it could expand its audience exponentially, especially after newcomers hear soprano Patricia Racette sing the title role. The Met regular makes her Seattle debut in a part she now owns; her Butterfly is more emotionally complex, less porcelain doll, the way Puccini intended her to be. “Cio-Cio-San is an Italian woman in a kimono…. Asian restraint has nothing to do with this character,” Jenkins says.
Seattle Opera isn’t quite showing restraint either in its final seasons under Jenkins, who will step down in 2014 after 30 years at the helm. Turandot and La bohème are slated for the coming months, followed by Wagner’s Ring cycle in August 2013 (marking the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth). As it was in the beginning of Seattle Opera (and to borrow shamelessly from Lord of the Rings), there’s still “one Ring to bring them all.” Madama Butterfly, May 5–19, McCaw Hall, 206-389-7676; seattleopera.org
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With a whirl of the matador’s cape and a clack of the castanets, in comes the U.S. premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Quixote, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s largest-ever production. Feb 3–12, McCaw Hall, 206-441-2424; pnb.org
Portland dance company Teeth dominated last year’s A.W.A.R.D. Show! with a beautiful interpretation of a long-term relationship, from lust to languish—a romp under the sheets to a gnashing of…er, teeth. They return to On the Boards with a multimedia piece about obsession and anxiety. Mar 1–3, On the Boards, 206-217-9886; ontheboards.org
Renée Flemming with Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony
After a winter spent performing the title role in Handel’s Rodelinda at the Met, the world-class soprano sings under the baton of SSO’s new conductor. Mar 16, Benaroya Hall, 206-215-4747; seattlesymphony.org
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra
Those übertalented twentysomethings return to Benaroya in March for Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and again in May for an assortment of Mozart, Haydn, Bach, and Mahler. Mar 31 & May 25, Nordstrom Recital Hall, 800-838-3006; seattlemetropolitanchamberorchestra.org
Composer Eric Banks and choreographer Olivier Wevers weave the stories of ancient Greece into a new choral ballet based on the poetry of Constantine Cavafy; Saint Helens String Quartet and the Esoterics choir accompany. May dates and location TBA, 800-838-3006; whimwhim.org