‘Amelia’ a first for Seattle Opera

  • Thu May 6th, 2010 3:11pm
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Boeing isn’t the only company to roll out new airplanes this year.

The Seattle Opera world premiere of “Amelia,” which opens Saturday at McCaw Hall, includes two nearly full-scale planes in its set design.

One is a stylized 1990s-era jet; the other a replica of Amelia Earhart’s plane, a 1937 Lockheed Electra. The opera’s main character is named for the famous female flier.

“Amelia” is expected to capture themes familiar to the Pacific Northwest, including aviation, airplane engineering and links to Southeast Asia. Along the way, the opera company hopes the 2½-hour show captures a wide range of emotions and touches on human themes of love and family, parenting, war, grief and death.

The $3.6 million production was eight years in the making and it’s the first commissioned by the Seattle company.

“We’re deliriously excited,” said Jonathan Dean, a Seattle Opera spokesman.

Only a handful of new operas appear on stages around the country each year, making the introduction of a newly commissioned production big news in the opera world. Opera experts and enthusiasts are expected to descend on McCaw Hall to catch a glimpse of “Amelia” first-hand.

“I firmly believe we must renew our 400-year-old art form if it is to survive,” Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins said.

While many operas lean heavily on existing tales, Jenkins sought to create a completely new story for Seattle that draws on the region’s heritage while reflecting universal experiences.

The story he chose is based loosely on a poem by Gardner McFall, who went on to write the libretto. Then Jenkins tapped composer Daron Aric Hagen to write the music.

”It took (Jenkins) a long time because he listened to all the composers making new operas in America,” Dean said. ”He wanted something where the music was something you remembered.”

The score is melodic, exhilarating, sad and easy on the ear, Dean said.

The story was further developed by director Stephen Wadsworth. It follows Amelia, the protagonist, during a 30-year period, beginning in 1966. Through music and dreams, she grapples with the loss of her father in the final days of her first pregnancy.

Part of the story deals with the Vietnam War and another sequence recalls Greek mythology and the story of Icarus and Daedalus.

Taken on their own, each piece of the production — the book, music, sets and costumes — are breathtaking, Dean said. Taken together, they pack an emotional punch.

The excitement is accelerating as the production taxis toward its takeoff.

“When you’re there in the rehearsal hall, it’s extremely powerful,” he said.

Check back next Friday, once “Amelia” has taken flight, to read The Herald’s take on Seattle’s first commissioned piece.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

“Amelia”

Performances at 7:30 p.m. May 8, 12, 15, 19, 21 and 22 and 2 p.m. May 9 and 16, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle.

Tickets range from $25 to $168; go to www.seattleopera.org for more information or to buy tickets.