Seattle Opera Creates inclusive space on and off stage

SEATTLE — Seattle Opera’s inaugural Scholar in Residence Naomi André plays a crucial role in advising the company on issues of race and gender in opera.

A musicologist and author of “Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement,” André has led multiple community panels, including Seattle Opera’s Black Representation in the Arts last February.

“It’s a space where there have been complications, it was segregated basically until 1955, Black folks were writing operas and doing operas, but that was something in an all-Black environment, there are complicated processes that still happen in opera,” said André.

Opera singer and composer Jorell Williams recently appeared in “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” it was the Seattle Opera’s final show before the pandemic shut down live performances in March 2020. An award-winning singer, Williams has performed on stages all over the world and has firsthand experience with the racial bias in opera today.

“I’ll always be considered but I won’t be, the execution won’t be there because I am Black. And I’ve been told in an audition and told by personnel that were part of other organizations their reasoning for not casting me in such and such role were because I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes,” said Jorell.

Williams applauds the Seattle Opera for their commitment to diversity. He has been performing with the company since 2016 and recognizes their dedication to transform the centuries-old art form to reflect an inclusive and modern space. Recommending other companies follow their lead.

“We’re in this together, let’s just figure it out, let’s just feel as though I have an equal seat at the table because that’s how it should be. If everyone cannot come together, than the people who are not willing to make the sacrifices that we have also made on our end, you can be replaced, you are expendable, just like we are expendable as performers,” said Williams.

Seattle Opera’s effort to remove barriers that historically oppressed and marginalized communities of color in American opera is paving the way for a new generation of artists and audience members.

“Seattle is among the leaders of not just thinking about it but hiring a bunch of people in their regular staff who value these differences. They have such a diverse group of people behind the scenes in education, development and fundraising and production. To have singers of color, to have composers of color, because then when you see these stories and people on stage, you can envision yourself there, and that will get other folks to say maybe I can do this, that is really exciting because then you got a real more equitable landscape in the arts,” said André.

The Seattle Opera is amplifying the diverse voices that are an integral part of our community. Taking important steps to transform an industry to make it welcoming and accessible to everyone.

During the pandemic, Seattle Opera’s digital stage is open. Providing virtual performances and community conversations.