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Room To Breathe: Seattle Opera Enters The Lang Era

Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang
Facebook/Seattle Opera
New Seattle Opera General Director Aidan Lang

The first sign that change has come to Seattle Opera is on the walls.

Many of the temporary partitions that for years divided the Opera's administrative office into a warren of cubicles are gone. The cramped room feels bigger, or at least roomier. There's space to breath.

New General Director Aidan Lang has performed a similar surgery on his corner office. Gone is predecessor Speight Jenkins' couch and stuffed animals. In its place are a neatly organized desk and a business-like round table and chairs.

The new decor is just a superficial symbol of bigger changes that will no doubt come as Lang transitions into his new job.

Lang arrived in Seattle from New Zealand Opera last spring. He'd been tapped to replace Jenkins after the legendary impresario announced his retirement. Jenkins defined Seattle Opera for more than three decades.

Lang was here to shadow him for a few months before taking the reins solo. 

"What was really important for me was to understand Seattle, and the Seattle audience," Lang says.

He's attended opera productions, symphony concerts and theater performances. He also found himself a place to live in the Cascade foothills. Lang's wife and daughter joined him here last month.

Like his predecessor, Lang is high energy, even when he's dogged by a stubborn cold. As he nurses an espresso, he ruminates on a career that has taken him from his native Great Britain to jobs on the European continent, South America and most recently to New Zealand Opera, which he led for the past six years.

That nomadic career familiarized him not only with the art form; it also gave him insight into opera fans.

"Not only are audiences different from country to country," he muses, "but I discovered pretty swiftly each city has its own identity."

Lang says he senses a freshness on the part of Seattle audiences, and a sense of inquisitiveness.

"It's not a stuffy audience," he says.

Lang started in theater. He's an accomplished stage director as well as an administrator. Lang will direct a production of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" next season.

"I think people are now consuming opera visually," he says. And that means under the new Lang regime, he'll focus not only on hiring the best singers and conductors, but also on creating the kind of stage magic that can engage a generation more accustomed to consuming its art online.

"For me the repertoire is driven by how to bring out fantastic experiences for our audiences," he stresses.

Next year that will mean everything from a newly commissioned work, to performing one opera with the entire orchestra on stage.

"People are no longer collecting gadgets and gizmos," he says. "They are collecting experiences."

Lang promises to deliver those new experiences at Seattle Opera. The new year begins with a production of Puccini's classic opera, "Tosca." It opens Saturday, Jan. 10th at McCaw Hall.