When you heard Ludovic Morlot was moving on from the Seattle Symphony, did you think, “Wow, seems like he just got here?” Well, Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang can top that. The company announced this morning he’s taken a position with the Welsh National Opera, and will leave SO after the 2018–19 season—his fifth. His two predecessors, SO founder Glynn Ross (1963–83) and Speight Jenkins (1983–2014), together ran the company for a half-century.
“Many of you know that Welsh National Opera holds a very special place in my heart,” Lang said in a statement released this morning. “WNO is where my career in opera began, and I consider it my artistic home—the only company for which I would even consider departing Seattle.”
His tenure has seen both notable hits and misses—the former primarily among SO’s smaller productions and laudable commitment to new works (Laura Kaminsky’s As One and Jack Perla’s An American Dream), the latter including some problematic mainstage productions of standard rep (La traviata and Cosi fan tutte). All these, though, pro or con, have revealed a desire to reach untapped audiences through an engagement with contemporary social issues.
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The SO’s official announcement:
Seattle Opera announced today that General Director Aidan Lang will leave the company to become General Director of Welsh National Opera. The third General Director of Seattle Opera, Lang departs at the close of the 2018/19 season following a five-year tenure. Under Lang’s leadership, Seattle Opera has: increased its audiences, particularly, young people, created a new civic home for opera at Seattle Center, introduced new chamber opera productions in locations around the city, and made organizational strides toward racial equity.
“Coming to Seattle Opera was one of the greatest honors of my life,” Lang said. “This company is known around the world for its enthusiastic and generous opera community, warmth, and welcoming atmosphere for artists, and the audiences’ desire to experience a mix of operas and styles. Welsh National Opera is where my career in opera began. It is my artistic home, and the only other company for which I would consider departing Seattle. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to spending the next ten months here.”
During Lang’s time at Seattle Opera, the company’s mainstage audience has increased from 67,000 during the 2014/15 season, to 85,000 in 2017/18, the season just completed. Millennial audiences have nearly quadrupled, with 40 percent of the company’s ticket buyers now under age 50. In an effort to bring exciting new productions to McCaw Hall, Lang has forged new partnerships and collaborations with Washington National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Philadelphia, Opera Queensland, and New Zealand Opera. Other innovative collaborations have included Seattle Opera’s acclaimed 2018 production of Beatrice and Benedict, created with ACT Theatre and Seattle Symphony, as well as the 2015 world premiere and 2017 performances of An American Dream, which included unique partnerships with members of the Japanese American community. Lang has also introduced more than 80 new singers to the McCaw Hall stage, including the debuts of celebrated singers: Joyce El-Khoury, Jamie Barton, John Moore, Will Liverman, Leah Crocetto, Brian Jagde, Yasko Sato, Lianna Haroutounian, Hanna Hipp and the sisters Marina and Ginger Costa-Jackson. Noted conductors such as Julia Jones, Paul Daniel, Stefano Ranzani, and Ludovic Morlot made debuts during Lang’s tenure.
In 2016, Seattle Opera launched the first of several critically acclaimed chamber operas, performed in smaller venues. The series, part of the company’s Programs and Partnership department, used the art of opera to tell stories that speak to today. As One, the first of these presentations, depicted a transgender woman’s journey. More recently O+E (adapted from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice), told a classic Greek tale through an all-women creative team and principal singers. “For those who think opera is an antique, elitist art form with no connection to our own time, here is a show to change your mind,” wrote The Seattle Times, of The Combat, another chamber opera which told the story of Muslim/Christian love in a time of war.
In addition to bringing exciting work to new audiences, Aidan Lang has overseen the development and fundraising efforts for the company’s new civic home at Seattle Center, located adjacent to McCaw Hall. The $60 million project will consolidate operations currently in multiple venues across the city and return the company to its Seattle Center roots. In addition, the facility provides needed space for ever-increasing community programs, which have grown significantly during Lang’s tenure. The company has expanded youth programs both in and out of schools, and now regularly visits more than 75 schools across the state, over half of which are Title I (schools with a large concentration of low income students). The 2017 touring production of Cinderella en España was designed for dual-language audiences, and traveled to schools with a significant Latino population in the Puget Sound region. With Lang’s leadership and support, Seattle Opera staff have built meaningful relationships with communities of color, and the company has been in the news for spurring complex conversations surrounding race and justice during Madame Butterfly, Porgy and Bess, Aida, and more.
“Aidan Lang took the helm of Seattle Opera at a critical time in our company’s history,” says Board President Brian Marks. “With the ground lease secured for our new civic home on the Seattle Center campus, Aidan moved quickly in 2014 to both develop a vision for Seattle Opera and identify how our new civic home would bring that to life. His artistic vision for both mainstage and community programs energized audiences and donors alike.”
Founded in 1943, Welsh National Opera is the largest arts organization in Wales, as well as one of the largest touring theater companies in the world. The company produces eight operas a season and employs a full-time orchestra and chorus. In recent years, WNO has garnered a reputation for championing new work, having commissioned and presented world premieres, including Figaro Gets a Divorce, as well as presenting British premieres of works such as Richard Ayres’s Peter Pan.
Like Seattle Opera, WNO is dedicated to sharing the art of opera with everyone, including through community engagement programming throughout Wales and England. Since 2016, WNO has also established innovative artistic programming to encourage new audiences to engage with the art. Projects have included the digital art installation WNO Field, award-winning virtual reality experience Magic Butterfly, and this year’s Rhondda Rebel, a live theatrical experience with integrated augmented reality technology.
Lang’s career at Welsh National opera began in 1985 when he joined as a Staff Director. During that time, he worked closely with stage directors Peter Stein, Andre Engel, Göran Järvefelt and Giles Havergal, and directed productions of The Barber of Seville, Hansel and Gretel and Count Ory. Lang will relocate to Cardiff to join the company in July 2019.
Seattle Opera’s Board of Trustees will soon appoint a search committee to identify the next General Director, who will carry out Seattle Opera’s mission and vision. During the next chapter of Seattle Opera, the company will continue its commitment to being an equity leader in the opera industry, and among arts institutions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.