Education & Community Engagement Abound in Seattle

Seattle Opera is pleased to announce several robust new education and community engagement programs, including newly commissioned operas.  With the goal of providing more effective cultural service to residents of Washington state, and with a particular emphasis on young people, these new programs offer ways for those who have never before experienced opera to connect with and develop a passion for this art form.  Seattle Opera’s Education and Community Engagement programs reflect and inspire creativity, provide multiple entry points to the world of opera, foster lifelong learning, facilitate meaningful exchange, and build capacity for opera.

“It is no longer enough for our education programs to introduce youth and interested adults to our mainstage programming,” said Speight Jenkins, General Director of Seattle Opera.  “We are committed to investing in programs that take advantage of the human capital of our company, by increasing access to the hundreds of incredibly talented people who work for Seattle Opera, forging stronger partnerships with other community organizations, and extending the vitality and passion of opera beyond performances at McCaw Hall.  This season we offer two compelling new projects in addition to the opera education programs our community has come to rely on over the years.  I’m particularly interested in the new operas we’ve commissioned, Belonging(s) and Our Earth, which create lyric theater out of people’s lives, history, and the environment here in the Pacific Northwest.”

ABOUT BELONGING(S)                                                                                                  

A full-length opera with music by Jack Perla, to a libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo, will be at the heart of Belonging(s), a multi-year community engagement project that creates music and drama from the real-life stories of Puget Sound area residents.  In the first phase of this multi-year project, Seattle Opera collected hundreds of stories, each centering on a cherished belonging that embodies struggle, success, and identity.  Audio and video footage of the collected stories is now available in an online digital quilt.  The Belonging(s) creative team has chosen a handful of stories to serve as the spine of their new opera, which is currently in development.

“Drawing inspiration from Seattle Opera’s signature work, Wagner’s Ring, we’re using stories of our most precious possessions to create new work as part of a local, communal arts practice, beginning with ideas and images from you, your friends, and your neighbors,” says Sue Elliott, Education Director for Seattle Opera.  Before coming to Seattle Opera in June 2010, Elliott was the mastermind behind Houston Grand Opera’s Song of Houston, a series of collaborative educational and artistic projects which celebrated the people of Houston and won the company the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from the National MultiCultural Institute.

BELONGING(S) CREATIVE TEAM

Jack Perla, Composer

“I believe that Jack Perla is one of America’s most promising composers,” says Sue Elliott, Seattle Opera’s Education Director. “I am thrilled he is writing this opera for us, and can’t wait to hear this work come to life onstage.”

Composer and pianist Jack Perla uses a palette that includes symphonic, operatic, and chamber music, as well as varied jazz and popular idioms.  His most recent commission, from Opera Theater of St. Louis, is for a new opera based on Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown.  He was also recently commissioned by Minnesota Opera to compose a full evening work for its 50th anniversary.  Perla’s first full-length chamber opera, Love/Hate, with libretto by Rob Bailis, premiered in April 2012, performed by San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows at ODC Theater in San Francisco.  In early 2011, his one-act opera Courtside, to a libretto by San Francisco playwright Eugenie Chan, received its world premiere as part of Houston Grand Opera’s Song of Houston project.

Other recent commissions include a piano and cello composition, a new vocal chamber work for soprano Sylvia McNair, and an orchestral song cycle for The Oakland East Bay Symphony with tenor Thomas Glenn in addition to recording projects.  Perla has received commissions, awards, grants, and performances from the Oakland Symphony, James Irvine Foundation, Louisiana Philharmonic, New Music Chicago, Absolute Ensemble, Argosy Fund for New Music, MATA, Chicago Symphony, Yaddo, MacDowell and many other organizations.  He won the Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Composers Award in 1997, and remains an active jazz performer and composer.

Jessica Murphy Moo, Librettist
“Jessica has a wonderful ability to capture the essence of profound emotion in everyday life,” says Sue Elliott.  “Her ability to take your breath away with her characters’ lives is without peer.”

Jessica Murphy Moo is a writer, teacher, and editor.  Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, Image, and Memorious; her nonfiction has appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine and The Atlantic Online, among other publications.  As Seattle Opera’s Communications Editor,she writes for and edits Seattle Opera’s programs and publications.  She has held teaching positions at Emerson College, Harvard University, Boston University, and Seattle Pacific University, and she now teaches for an online writing workshop organization based in the Seattle area.  She holds an MFA in fiction from Emerson College, and has been the recipient of the Milton Center Postgraduate Writing Fellowship and a Whiteley Center Writing Residency.  In addition to the Belonging(s) libretto, she is working on a collection of short stories.

ABOUT OUR EARTH
Opera Goes To School, Seattle Opera’s decade-old flagship education program, will bring together music and drama with science and nature in Our Earth, a cycle of three short new operas (average length 40 minutes each) for young people, with music by Eric Banks and libretti by Irene Keliher.  These operas tell stories of people and animals in Pacific Northwest environments:  when the salmon fail to return in the spring, figures such as Orca, Heron, Raven, Raccoon, and Salmon, along with human characters, embark on a quest in search of them. Written for a cast of four adult singers, plus optional children’s chorus representing the waves, the river, and baby salmon, the Our Earth operas can be performed either with orchestra or with piano accompaniment.  This flexibility allows the operas both to serve as exciting centerpieces at celebratory community events and to fit the strict time, resource, and budgetary constraints of school-based programs.  With Our Earth, Seattle Opera expands its K-8 Opera Goes To School program to reach far more students, schools, and communities than ever before.  Partnerships with like-minded organizations such as the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras, The Nature Conservancy, and Seattle Aquarium will further expand the program’s scope.

The original idea behind Our Earth came from Seattle Opera’s signature work, Wagner’s Ring, which has been the focus of the Opera Goes To School program since 2005.  Wagner’s ecological concerns, particularly as manifest in Seattle Opera’s current Ring production with its emphasis on nature, is an inspiration for the stories of the Our Earth operas.  Also, like the operas of the Ring, Our Earth can be performed as separate, individual operas or as a linked cycle.  Unlike previous Opera Goes To School programs, Our Earth is not an adaptation of a pre-existing opera but a work specifically created for family audiences of the Pacific Northwest.

For the general public, the first Our Earth opera, Heron and the Salmon Girl, has its premiere at Town Hall on February 10, 2013.  Seattle Opera’s professional adult singers, children’s chorus, and the Seattle Youth Symphony will perform the opera.  Audiences can enjoy an encore performance of this opera, with piano accompaniment, as part of World Ocean Day (June 8, 2013) at the Seattle Aquarium.  The trilogy’s second opera, performed by the singers with the Seattle Youth Symphony, premieres on April 20, 2013 as part of the Earth Day celebrations at Seattle Center.  The Nature Conservancy is a partner in this event.  The third premiere will happen at McCaw Hall on August 3, 2013, as part of an all-day open house celebrating Seattle Opera’s 2013 Ring Cycle, which begins the next day.

For schools and educational groups, Opera Goes To School starts its next series of performances and residencies in January 2013.  Students at participating schools will explore issues of conservation and endangered species through one of the 40-minute Our Earth operas, brought to life by professional singers in a fully-staged performance featuring vivid scenery and beautiful costumes with piano accompaniment.  The cost is $400, with additional options for deeper educational enrichment.  Schools with choral music, or an interest in developing a choral program, can participate by singing ensemble numbers in each performance.  To learn more or to design a residency for your school or after-school group, contact Barbara Lynne Jamison, Seattle Opera’s Youth Programs Manager, at (206) 676-5564 or [email protected].

OUR EARTH CREATIVE TEAM

Eric Banks, Composer

“As director of The Esoterics, Eric Banks has played an important role in Seattle’s musical and vocal scene for twenty years,” says Sue Elliott, Seattle Opera’s Education Director. “I’m thrilled that he’ll be composing his first opera for Seattle Opera.”

Eric Banks has garnered significant acclaim as one of the most creative choral composers and directors in the United States for his unwavering commitment to new music for unaccompanied voices.  In 1992, he founded The Esoterics, a professional-caliber chamber chorus of volunteers in Seattle whose mission is to perform and perpetuate contemporary choral music beyond the scope of the established a cappella canon.  He has been a visiting scholar at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stockholm and Swedish National Radio as well as at the Cama Oriental Institute in Mumbai, India.  In 2010, Banks received the Dale Warland Commission Award for a choral cycle based on climate-change statistics.

Irene Keliher, Librettist

“Irene Keliher’s deep personal and family connections to the Pacific Northwest make her the perfect writer to create libretti for the Our Earth operas,” says Sue Elliott.  “I think our community will find her stories and characters familiar yet surprising, entertaining and moving.”

Irene Keliher’s first opera libretto, A Way Home, was premiered by Houston Grand Opera in 2010.  Keliher writes short stories and essays, has just completed a novel, and has published in several literary magazines, among them the New Ohio Review, Quarterly West, the Bellingham Review, and the Mississippi Review.  She has been a teaching artist with Writers in the Schools for six years, teaches college-level composition, and is a 2012 Made At Hugo House writer. She has received grants and fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance, Inprint, and the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.  Awards include the 2010 Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction and the 2009 Potomac Review Fiction Award, and she placed twice in the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest.