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Seattle Opera's 60th anniversary celebrated with a world-class concert

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Soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams — Philip Newton
Soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams — Philip Newton

Seattle Opera
60th Anniversary Concert and Gala
McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
May 11, 2024

Anyone present at McCaw Hall on Saturday, May 11 enjoyed a concert so fabulous that it brought together the glories of opera at its very best. Seattle Opera well deserved the delightful 60th birthday party it threw itself, led by its wonderfully successful general director, Christina Scheppelmann.

A full house of elegantly dressed patrons and opera lovers were held spellbound by a selection of the world's most memorable music: a beautifully designed progression of works by Wagner, Gershwin, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Bellini, Donizetti, Richard Rogers, Leoncavallo, and Tchaikovsky. For aficionados, it was a dream come true. For first-timers, it was a magical introduction to the wonders of Seattle Opera. For the city of Seattle, it was a proud celebration of one of the world's great opera companies.

Not only was the 50-member chorus present, but the full complement of the orchestra — 80 musicians led by conductor Kazem Abdullah — filled the pit to over flowing. An assembly of opera's most talented and sparkling stars joined them to sing a hit parade of arias and ensembles, woven together with orchestral favorites and choral showpieces.

When the lights went down and the orchestra played "Entry of the Guests" from Tannhauser, the chorus, dressed all in black, filed onto the colorful set from the company's current production, The Barber of Seville — a rainbow picture frame that perfectly enhanced the impressive force of singers, who are the backbone of Seattle Opera productions and make up the scenic and musical support for the stars. What a joy it was to see them all together at the center of the stage!

During the next two hours, Seattle's own favorites sang the arias that have earned them international renown: Sarah Coburn and Mary Elizabeth Williams, who got their starts as Seattle Opera Young Artists; and Greer Grimsley, whose Wotan personified Seattle's beloved Ring Cycles. They were joined by international favorites Duke Kim, Ginger Costa-Jackson, and Amitai Pati, as well as bass Adam Lau and baritone John Moore, who completed the compliment of star performers. Their voices and acting abilities — as well as fabulous costumes — brought every ensemble to life.

My personal favorite of the evening was Williams's passionate rendition of "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. When she opened up her mighty voice halfway through the first part of the evening, it was as though the concert had begun anew. And when Grimsley sang "Wotan's Farewell" from Die Walküre, I was right back in the golden age of the company's Ring Cycle, when the world came to our doorstep to see the four great operas performed as only our big little company could do it. I felt both nostalgia and gratitude for our past directors: Glynn Ross, whose bold vision brought Seattle Opera to life, and Speight Jenkins, whose devotion to the Ring Cycle and to the company made McCaw Hall the beautiful, elegant, artistic showplace it is today.

It's hard to believe that Seattle was once a moderate-sized town that surprised the world in 1959 when it won the chance to host the 1962 World's Fair. That success brought the Civic Center to life, which became the Opera House and then McCaw Hall — and the home of Seattle Opera as well as Pacific Northwest Ballet and many other performing arts events. As the city continues to grow, and to find solutions to the challenges of any metropolis, we can be grateful to all the talented people who have made Seattle an opera town — that special category of city that has the talent, musicality, sophistication, and generosity to support the multiple arts that come together to make such a company.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal capped an already wonderful evening by presenting a proclamation she had read into the Congressional Record praising Seattle Opera and General Director Scheppelmann for the company's great contribution to the arts. And the Seattle City Council has declared May 2024 Seattle Opera Month in honor of this city's rare accomplishment: the creation of an opera company that has lasted 60 years — and counting!

Happy 60th birthday, Seattle Opera — and may your grateful citizens have 60 more years of wonderful productions.