Paddles were raised and songs were sung at the Seattle Opera Gala, held Saturday, April 16 at MOHAI. The glamorous event was filled with opportunities for fundraising and generosity, including silent and live auctions and a raise-the-paddle benefitting Seattle Opera’s Education and Community Engagement programs.
A cocktail reception began the evening amidst tables lined with items up for bid, including many oversized bottles of wine, private dinners and even a couple costume pieces from previous Seattle Opera productions. Dinner was served in MOHAI’s central event space, and a delightful SATB quartet–Kimberly Giordano, Nerys Jones, Brendan Tuohy, José Rubio–welcomed the guests and introduced General Director Aidan Lang, who recognized The Boeing Company with an award for Corporate Commitment to the Arts.
Dinner was punctuated by the quartet’s opera parodies (selections from Carmen, Die Walküre, etc. with altered libretti) and a charming rendition of Abendlied (from Hansel and Gretel, up for production in Seattle Opera’s 2016-17 season) by members of the Youth Opera Chorus, which left the audience smitten. The gala’s main attraction, bass-baritone and Seattle Opera favorite Greer Grimsley (playing the eponymous character in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, opening May 7) made a grand entrance, butting into the quartet’s Toreador Song from the second floor mezzanine and descending to the stage, joined by his wife and Dutchman co-star Luretta Bybee. Reminding operagoers of his classic role of Wotan with a sensitively sung “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” from Das Rheingold, Grimsley was then joined again by Bybee to finish the entertainment with a selection from Sweeney Todd. (It was a strange choice, given the occasion, the organization, and that it was performed during dinner…but I suppose no one can say no to Sondheim).
Noted wine auctioneer Michael Davis led the live auction, enticing guests with twelve large-scale events and a rousing raise-the-paddle. Though I felt that Davis was rather low-energy and started the bidding lower than he could have (a few items were sold for below the estimated value), the gala was still able to raise $280,000 for the opera’s Education Department due to its rowdy crowd and generous paddle-raising.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Education Director Barbara Lynne Jamison, who has big plans for the future of Seattle Opera’s community engagement. Though the Opera already has a rich history of bringing their art to schools around Puget Sound, they are strategizing ways to expand their reach to where it’s needed most–low-income schools and retirement communities, who would otherwise have no access or exposure to the art.
Seated next to my date and me, Technical and Facilities Director Robert Shaub opened up about plans for Seattle Opera’s new offices, which will be located right next to their performance venue, McCaw Hall in Seattle Center. The new $60 million space is projected to be completed by the end of 2018 on the site of the condemned Mercer Arena at 4th and Mercer,and will house the Opera’s administrative offices, rehearsal spaces and educational venues. Having all operations under one roof is a boon for the Opera, and the new site also aims to increase the visibility and accessibility of the organization with the public through its architecture. For example, large windows will bring natural light into rehearsal spaces and workshops, and give passersby a peek at the process, perhaps piquing curiosity.
The festive evening continued with live music from Dudley Manlove Quartet, playing golden oldies and smooth standards perfect for dancing, while MOHAI’s upstairs exhibits opened up for anyone needing a little local history for dessert. Generosity, music and community were the themes of the night, and the Seattle Opera Gala came together with artistic passion and the organization’s characteristic class.