This remarkable interview article with Speight Jenkins about the transition was published yesterday in the "Puget Sound Business Journal.":
I thought it was interesting that he wasn't involved with the search process until the end, when the finalists each spent several days in Seattle.
Emphasis in the following quotes is mine:
There are many fans who say Speight Jenkins is Seattle Opera, the bigger-than-life face of it, the shaper of it for three decades, and that he will be a difficult act for anyone to follow. Well, says Jenkins, I think Aidan can handle it beautifully. Im sure he will be able to handle it. People say nice things like that, but in reality, its really a question of using your head in opera, and after two or three years of his own work style and his own casting, people will not think about me. They will think about him and what he is bringing to the company.
We will work together into the summer, says Jenkins, in order to have a smooth transition. This is very important that transition. And those months with two of us here will be interesting. The course of having two people in that position doesnt work out very well. A staff has to have one boss, so when he comes in March, it will be very hard for them not to pay attention to what I say. Then, after that transition period, what is most important is for him to take over, and thats it, he says adamantly. Period. Obviously, anything he wants to know I would answer, but I will not be around because that would be fatal. Well have this time together from March to when he officially starts, but then its his job. Its not mine.
I understand that the opera works differently than ballet: except for the Young Artists Program, which is closest to the Professional Division in the PNB school, the opera doesn't have performing "staff" -- it contracts singers on a per-show basis -- the General Director, except in rare cases isn't the composer/creator (although arguably, a Regie director at the helm might be considered a creator) and, it doesn't have schools, aside from a few older companies with conservatories, like the Mariinsky. It's an art form where the base is the score and the libretto, not one where the text -- musical, literary, physical -- is passed almost entirely from creator/stager/interpreter to the performers, with help from video and notation that is not common ground for nearly all of its practitioners and relies upon a limited number of experts.
However, I can't but help thinking he's watched Peter Boal's situation at PNB, where Russell and Stowell are still continuously involved in the company through their choreography -- especially Stowell's "Nutcracker," "Swan Lake," and "Cinderella," -- and staging, and where Boal has bent over backwards to acknowledge Russell and Stowell. Asneighbor and early mentor to Boal, he must be thanking his lucky stars that he is an opera guy, not a ballet guy.
While it's true that Lang will have to prove himself to some of the singers, directors, and conductors because of their loyalty to Jenkins who gave them early breaks, it's not like inheriting a fixed company of 40+ people who owe their careers to someone else. Replacing singers or directors, or even productions, is not the same social animal as not re-signing a large number of contracts, and Peter Boal inherited a company. Even if Boal had wanted to, he didn't/doesn't have the options of a General Director in opera. An opera General Director is rarely entirely responsible for a creative person's career, especially over time, since, unless the person is under contract to a rep companies. Creative people of all levels in opera are employed by a lot of different companies, recital series, (theater, for the direction and design teams), and a lot of the pressure is off any one GD, whereas in ballet, most dancers are employed by one company, there isn't much movement and opportunity to move between companies, guesting is generally limited to the stars or at hometown semi-professional companies, and the Artistic Director is the be-all and end-all of their artistic life. They can either put up or stop dancing.
All of the creative people who have signed for opera productions from 1 September 2014 did so knowing that Jenkins would be retired and not knowing who his successor would be, and as freelancers, they have little to risk in test-driving the company under Lang's administration. Part of the success of Seattle Opera has been the way singers are treated by the administration, staff, and volunteers: it's why they park themselves in Seattle for an entire summer to rehearse and perform The Ring instead of zipping in and out to rehearse and perform around other gigs, and while the artistic side might be planned in Lang's first season, I think it's how the administration and staff makes the transition that will have the most impact on whether the creative people will want to return several years down the road. Jenkins was highly involved in SO productions; the designers and directors who haven't worked with Lang before will decide whether his approach, whatever it is, is fruitful for them.
Creative people who've worked with Jenkins might not like working with Lang or choose other contracts because they'd make trade-offs only for Jenkins -- not everyone likes everyone else and might choose to work with someone with a different style, if there are options -- but Lang also would have a very long speed dial list, given his experience.