It’s a month away, but fans of not only opera, but classical music, and musical theater are excited about the Seattle premiere of BLUE, a new operatic work that was named Best New Opera in 2020. Blue is very much a new and exciting new work that focuses on the lives of a contemporary African-American family and it was created by artists not normally associated with opera: librettist Tazewell Thompson and multi Tony Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori who is best known for her musicals, Fun Home and Caroline, or Change.
From the press release:
Seattle Opera continues its 2021/22 season with a dynamic lineup of opera events, including community conversations, artist recitals, laser shows, and a timely and award-winning opera.
Leading the slate is Blue (February 26–March 12, 2022 in McCaw Hall), named the 2020 winner of Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. This portrait of contemporary African American life is the creation of librettist Tazewell Thompson (winner of five NAACP Awards and two Emmy nominations) and composer Jeanine Tesori (Tony Award winner best known for Fun Home). A story of love, loss, church, and sisterhood, Blue depicts a young couple celebrating the joy of family with the birth of their son. Later they lean on close-knit community in the wake of their son’s death at the hands of a police officer.
That focus on community has been particularly poignant for the opera’s singers. “Black love, community, and relationships are the real heart and soul of this opera,” says bass Kenneth Kellogg, who reprises his role as The Father from the original 2019 Glimmerglass production. “It opens you up in ways that are, hopefully, life changing. When we first performed it, people came up to me afterwards in tears, thanking me. I believe Blue is a life-changing experience.”
“Blue does not attempt to answer the longstanding complexities of race and violence that our nation has been grappling with for decades,” says Gordon Hawkins, who plays The Reverend. “Rather, it is an attempt to place us together in the same room of humanity, face to face, so that we may address these issues head-on…together.”
Composer Jeanine Tesori hopes that audiences will “travel in the shoes of the characters they see on stage—to vest so heavily in the character’s victories and tragedies that they experience them as their own. That is what causes the audience to cry and laugh. The character’s story is the audience’s story.”
Original cast members Kenneth Kellogg (The Father) and Gordon Hawkins (The Reverend) will be joined by three other singers from the 2019 world premiere at the Glimmerglass Festival: Briana Hunter (The Mother), Ariana Wehr (Girlfriend 1/Nurse/Congregant 1), and Camron Gray (Police Buddy 1/Congregant 1). Cast members new to the production include Joshua Stewart (The Son), Ellaina Lewis (Girlfriend 2/Congregant 2), Cheryse McLeod Lewis (Girlfriend 3/Congregant 3), Korland Simmons (Police Buddy 2/Congregant 2), and Joshua Conyers (Police Buddy 3).
Tickets are on sale now at seattleopera.org/on-stage/blue-2022/, with prices ranging from $35–$249.
To guide conversations surrounding the opera, Seattle Opera will center the voices of its artists and Black American community partners. “In presenting an opera as timely as Blue, we wanted to create space for our broader community to reflect on how the opera’s themes relate to their everyday lives,” says Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Seattle Opera’s Director of Programs and Partnerships. “Our community programming will give audiences the chance to hear directly from the artists about their experiences staging this work, as well as to join in the conversation about how the opera addresses the challenges and opportunities facing Seattle’s Black communities.” All community events are free and open to the public.
· Opera Talk: Featuring the Cast of Blue
February 10 at 7:00 PM, Tagney Jones Hall and livestreamed on YouTube
This conversation, moderated by Classical KING FM’s Artist- and Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Quinton Morris, will feature the lead cast members of Blue in discussion about their artistic relationship with the opera.
· Becoming Blue: A Talk with Tazewell Thompson
February 25 at 7:00 PM, Tagney Jones Hall and livestreamed on YouTube
To delve deeper into the creative journey behind Blue, Seattle Opera’s Scholar in Residence, Dr. Naomi André, will sit down with Blue librettist Tazewell Thompson.
· Community Conversations
February 2022, Tagney Jones Hall and livestreamed on YouTube
In partnership with The Northwest African American Museum, Seattle Opera presents a set of Community Conversations that will delve into topics illustrated in Blue and explore how they relate to Seattle’s Black communities. Dates and times will be announced later this winter.
In addition to its programming centered on Blue, Seattle Opera will present four diverse and engaging musical programs that explore the full range of operatic expression:
February 4 at 7:30 PM, Tagney Jones Hall
Fresh off his appearance as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice, countertenor Key’mon W. Murrah kicks off Seattle Opera’s celebration of Black History Month with a program of spirituals and African American art song that shows off his “rich tone and terrific presence” (Aspen Times). Works by Duke Ellington, Moses Hogan, Jacqueline Hairston, and Roland Hayes offer a message of hope that draws on Murrah’s experiences growing up in Louisville, KY. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear a renowned countertenor in the intimacy of Tagney Jones Hall!
· Laser Opera
February 11 at 8:00 PM, Pacific Science Center
Seattle Opera partners with the Pacific Science Center to bring back an audience favorite: Laser Opera. Audiences will join BRAVO! club members for an unforgettable evening of operatic favorites accompanied by the brilliant lights and stunning imagery of the Pacific Science Center’s Laser Dome. Tickets available for $10.
· Artist Recital: Takesha Meshé Kizart
March 10 at 7:30 PM, Tagney Jones Hall
Soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart and pianist Artina McCain present an opera recital on the theme of Black motherhood, entitled “Maternità.” Hosted by The Northwest African American Museum, the recital will comprise a combination of traditional opera arias and world premieres of new works for accompanied soprano.
· Artist Recital: Joshua Stewart
March 18 at 7:30 PM, Tagney Jones Hall
Tenor Joshua Stewart—who appears as The Son in Blue and last performed at Seattle Opera as Charlie Parker in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird—returns with an intimate jazz recital. His program includes works by Margaret Bonds, John W. Work, Florence Price, and George Walker, with additional selections from the Great American Songbook and New Orleans jazz traditions.
All Seattle Opera staff, artists, and those involved in productions are required to be vaccinated. Audience members are required to be vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 72 hours; masks (N95 or KN95 masks strongly recommended) must be worn except when drinking in designated areas. For more information, see seattleopera.org/safety.
About Seattle Opera
Established in 1963, Seattle Opera is committed to serving the people of the Pacific Northwest through music, storytelling, and programs for people of all ages. Each year, more than 80,000 people attend the company’s performances, and more than 100,000 people are served through school performances, radio broadcasts, and more. The organization brings opera to life in a number of different ways, offering artistic excellence through national and international collaborations. Seattle Opera strives to create an environment where artists, staff, behind-the-scenes workers, and members of the community feel a strong connection to the company, and to the art of opera. Follow Seattle Opera on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, and on 98.1 Classical KING FM.