Opera news

Seattle Opera's season is less than half over, but these days it's the future that fills the company's press releases. Starting with the near news horizon: SOA general director Speight Jenkins has firmed up next season (not a moment too soon, since it starts in August).

It's an odd but engaging lineup of five shows, with only one repertory warhorse: Rossini's tiresomely popular Barber of Seville. The company's not betting the farm on this one; the production's borrowed from Utah and the cast is mostly unknowns (to Seattle), but reliable Italian-opera hand Edoardo Müller will be in the pit to keep things humming.

Mozart also gets a modest cast for his Magic Flute, but a fresh production, or at least a newly built old one, originally conceived by English caricaturist Gerald Scarfe (you've seen his work in the New Yorker) for a 1993 LA staging. The press release notes that that one was directed by Sir Peter Hall, but doesn't note whether Seattle director Stanley Garner will base his work on Hall's.

Assuming we're still here after Y2K has done its work, the dark days of January 2000 will see a staging of Mussorgsky's Boris Gudunov, a rollicking 1874 comedy of misery, murder, and betrayal among the Kremlin set. The novelties here are the local debut of the Russian basso Aleksander Anisimov as the naughty title czar and a fairly close approximation to the composer's original scoring, usually presented prettied-up by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Sure to be the crowd-pleaser of the season is Léo Delibes' Lakmé. Like Bizet's better known Pearl Fishers, Lakmé is a fragrant French romantic fantasy about life and love in the mysterious East. It is best known for the title heroine's so-called "Bell Song." Rarely performed, Lakmé needs a little star power to sell, and with soprano Harolyn Blackwell and tenor Vinson Cole in the leads, that's well taken care of.

As often before, the season's August opener is getting full-dress treatment: This time out it's by far the riskiest, too. A staging of Der Freischütz is an "event," all right, but mainly because Carl-Maria von Weber's 1821 melodrama about happy huntsmen and magic bullets has never caught on outside German-speaking countries—probably because of its heavy reliance on spoken dialogue and its extremely Teutonic folktale plot. Another problem: Despite the operetta plot, the show calls for killer singers in the two main parts. Jenkins has big names to fill them: Met soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Gary Lakes. How plausible these two Wagnerian tanks will be as a simple, pure peasant girl and her athletic sportsman boyfriend remains to be seen.

Obviously, though, the local establishment has no doubts about the direction Seattle Opera is taking under Jenkins. Thanks to grants of a million bucks each from the Bagley Wright and Kreielsheimer Foundations, the Opera is halfway to its $8 million nut for the new production of Wagner's Ring, set for summer 2001. And at the beginning of December, the Opera board unanimously voted to extend Jenkins' contract by five years, through 2008. If he manages to stick it out, Jenkins will have served for a quarter century; more than five years longer than Seattle Opera founder Glynn Ross.

Not just for kids?

What's up with the Seattle International Children's Festival? The brochure for the 13th annual edition of the popular Seattle Center event, set for May 10th through 15th this year, makes it clear that although school groups remain the target audience, the Festival's bookers are thinking a lot more about grownups in choosing talent for the show. Only one act is aimed directly at the very young, and even folksinger Ella Jenkins performs part of the time in Maori, Arabic, and Swahili. The aerialists of Cirque Éos from the Circus School of Quebec are sure to please all ages, but what about Mongol Siberia's khoomei-singer Albert Kusevin, accompanied by the twangle of the morinhoor and dushulpur? What of the vocal stylings of Belgium's La Lynx, performed only in French? Fred Kurchak wowed 'em with his one-man mask-and-doll version of Shakespeare's Tempest at On the Boards, but for 10-year-olds?

With full-length evening performances scheduled for family attendance and with some performances in German, Spanish, and Farsi, the Festival will be more international than ever. Good luck to organizers Andrea Wagner and Brian Faker in their effort to make the 13-year-old festival an event for all Seattle, not just the school-bus set.

The Fabulous Baker (Street) Boys are Back!

Sherlock Holmes was born just over 110 years ago, but despite his advanced age he's still taking on new cases. The latest, The Mask of Moriarty, once more pits the world's greatest private eye (all right, all right, "consulting detective") against his nemesis Professor Moriarty, "the Napoleon of crime." Issaquah's semi-pro Village Theater is really pulling out the stops to give the affectionate spoof melodrama by playwright Hugh Leonard top-drawer treatment for its Northwest debut next month. The director is mystery veteran Jeff Steitzer, and the cast includes Katie Forgette as the obligatory red-haired woman of mystery, John Patrick Lowrie as Dr. Watson, James Haskins as the hawk-profiled detective himself, and, as the mad mathematician Moriarty . . . but we're giving away too much already.

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