"An American Dream" Opera (Seattle)

August 21, 2015 at 8pm - 11pm
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (Seattle, Washington)

Two alumnae of the TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program are playing important roles in the creation of a new opera. 

(L-R) Ms. Kei Tsu, Ms. Gainor and singer Nina Yoshida Nelsen in between rehearsals forAn American Dream

When Seattle Opera's An American Dream premieres this month, the audience will see a production that's been shaped in unique ways by Gabrielle Nomura Gainor and Kei Tsu, who first met one another as 2013 Emerging Leaders. Ms. Gainor, a gosei, is now Seattle Opera's Media Relations Manager, and also serves on the Board of Directors for Seattle JACL and the Editorial Board of National JACL's Pacific Citizen newspaper, and was previously on USJC’s Communications Committee. Ms. Tsu, a yonsei/sansei, teaches Japanese and Spanish at Kentlake High School in Kent, WA in addition to being a fourth-degree black belt in the Japanese martial art of Naginata. 

"I was the bridge between Seattle Opera and the Nikkei community," said Ms. Gainor, whose grandfather was born in the Santa Anita Assembly Center before being incarcerated with his family at Heart Mountain. "I would not allow Seattle Opera to use harmful euphemisms to describe the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in any of our press, marketing or social materials. This proved to be a challenge at times, because words such as 'camp' and 'internment' are so familiar."

Ms. Gainor brought in terminology based on Densho (headed by Council Member Tom Ikeda) literature and JACL's "The Power of Words" handbook to her work place. She ensured that the Japanese and Asian community was involved in the entire process of the opera's creation; bringing singers to perform at Nikkei Concerns' retirement home, for example; and roping in her ELP colleague Ms. Tsu as the production's official Japanese language consultant.

(L-R) Nina Yoshida Nelsen, mezzo-soprano; Adam Lau, bass; and Hae Ji Chang, soprano, singing in the summer 2014 workshop for An American Dream (Photo by Brandon Patoc)

One of Ms. Tsu's duties was to work with performers on their pronunciation. "One character, 'Mama,' (portrayed by mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen) is a Japanese immigrant," she said. "I had to think about how a Japanese person would pronounce English words while maintaining comprehensibility, and without it becoming stereotypical."

Conductor Judith Yan makes her Seattle Opera debut in An American Dream (Photo by Alan Alabastro)

Ms. Tsu and Ms. Gainor have stayed in touch since their ELP days, and think it was fun and rewarding for the colleagues and friends to reunite. 

"This has been incredibly powerful and personal work," Ms. Tsu said. 

An American Dream premieres at Seattle Opera on August 21 and 23 (Vice Chairman of the USJC Board of Councilors Norman Mineta will be speaking at the post-performance discussion on Sunday). The production is made possible by Community Partners including Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle JACL and the Japanese American National Museum. (Council Member Lori Matsukawa and KING 5 plan to cover the dress rehearsal on August 18.)

 Soundbites from the opera are available here.