What becomes of the talented arts students of the University of Washington once they’ve completed their degree studies? Look no further than the personnel involved with the UW’s upcoming presentation of Gabriel Faure’s 1913 opera Pénélope for an answer. The School of Music’s production of Pénélope, presented in collaboration with Vespertine Opera Theater and Philharmonia Northwest, is a fine example of UW talent making dynamic contributions within the greater Seattle arts community.
Vespertine’s artistic director, Dan Wallace Miller, is an alumnus of the UW School of Drama and a veteran of several UW opera productions over the past decade, most notably his stage direction of UW and Pacific MusicWorks’ Magic Flute production last spring at Meany Theater. Wallace, also serving as resident assistant director at Seattle Opera in 2015-16, has been making a name for himself in the Seattle opera community through Vespertine’s productions, bold and contemporary stagings of classic opera works in unusual venues.
Faure’s only opera is told from the feminine perspective, focusing on Ulysses’ wife, the forgotten character of Homer’s Odyssey. Wallace’s new concept casts, in the title role, American mezzosoprano Julia Benzinger, last seen on Seattle stages in UW-Pacific MusicWorks production of the Magic Flute and in the title role of Vespertine’s presentation of The Rape of Lucretia.
Wallace’s Pénélope cast includes several other standouts, including SoM alumnus Eric Neuville as Ulysses. Since graduating from the UW Voice program in 2014, Neuville has become a frequent cast member with Seattle Opera and a number of other national and regional companies, and last winter earned a Grammy for his work with Austin, Texas-based vocal ensemble Conspirare.
Besides Neuville, recent and current UW Voice students in the production include Margaret Boeckman, Sylvia Baba, Katrina Deininger, and Ashley Biehl.
Philharmonia Northwest, meanwhile, is led by conductor Julia Tai, a 2010 graduate of the UWs orchestral conducting program. Tai, who studied at UW under the late Maestro Peter Erös, is one of the busiest young conductors in the regional music community, serving also as co-artistic director and conductor of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. For the Pénélope production, Tai turns the conducting baton over to guest conductor Dean Williamson, well known in opera companies nationwide as a perceptive and commanding presence on the podium.
The orchestra includes a number of current UW students, including Sabrina Bounds, David Bissell, Logan Esterling, Mo Yan, Lauren Wessels, and Memmi Ochi.
Pénélope, running Oct. 22, 24, and 25 at the UW’s Meany Studio Theater, is presented in conjunction with “Effable and Ineffable: Gabriel Fauré and the Limits of Criticism,” an international conference at the UW Oct. 21-25, co-sponsored by the School of Music and the Simpson Center for the Humanities. More information about related performances, talks and master classes is available here.
Tickets for Pénélope are available at artsuw.org.