On June 7, 1962, Seattle Symphony makes its opera debut with the first of three performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. Conductor Milton Katims (1909-2006) states that Verdi’s classic was selected because Aida is the “grandest of grand operas” and notes that it was the piece that had been featured at the Grand Opening of more opera houses around the world than any other.
Seattle Symphony's Opera Debut
The years of preparation for the launch of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair included the refurbishing of the old Civic Auditorium building into a brand new Opera House. The Grand Opening of that hall -- and of the World's Fair -- was saluted with a performance of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Milton Katims on April 21, 1962.
The production of Aida in June required the talents of 333 performers including, as historian Esther W. Campbell put it, “an orchestra of 75 musicians, six principals, a dance corps of 28 and a contingent of 160 extras, soldiers, slaves, handmaidens and others on a scale worthy of the Pharaohs.”
Even though the June 7th, 9th, and 11th concert dates all sold out, the opera’s $185,000 production costs exceeded the ticket revenue and the orchestra was left with a sizable deficit. It was in response to this circumstance that Seattle’s long-standing fund-raising organization, PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations) originally came into being.
Aida’s PONCHO Legacy
PONCHO held a benefit auction in early 1963 that proved to be so successful that it not only squared the books on the Aida debt, it also provided surplus funds that ultimately went to support the mounting of the next opera production, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Today both opera and PONCHO continue as Seattle traditions that enjoy strong community support.