Most Influential: Speight Jenkins

By Deanna Duff

December 31, 1969

Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins is a hands-on ambassador

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Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins is a hands-on ambassador. Now in his 28th season, Jenkins attends every performance, greets patrons as they arrive and seizes every opportunity to create new opera fans—even when he’s 30,000 feet in the air. “I’ve never gone on a plane flight [on which] I haven’t convinced someone to try the opera,” he says.

Back on the ground, Jenkins spent parts of the past eight years developing the aviation-centric opera Amelia, which debuted in May. It was the first all-new production Seattle Opera had commissioned under Jenkins. “I wanted an American opera and something with a Northwest twist,” he says. The result was a Vietnam-era story about the family of a lost fighter pilot. An Army veteran himself, Jenkins was touched by the emotional outpouring from people in the military, and pleased that the aviation focus, including a full-scale replica of Amelia Earhart’s airplane, connected with local audiences.

Amelia is now slated for productions in at least two other cities, but the biggest reward for Jenkins was seeing the reaction of the audience on opening night—a prolonged standing ovation. As one observer said: “The audience was just screaming.”

Published November 2010

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51 people (plus a machine, an ordinance and screaming fans) are making Seattle what it is in 2014