Most Influential

Most Influential, Arts: Christina Scheppelmann

General director, Seattle Opera

By Nat Rubio-Licht February 21, 2024

Christina Scheppelman

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

On November 22, 1981, a teenage Christina Scheppelmann saw Don Carlo in Hamburg, Germany. The five-act opera, which Scheppelmann called an “incredibly monumental, relevant piece of music,” displayed the life and conflicts of a fictional 16th-century European prince. From then on, she was in love.

“(Opera) is incredibly emotional. It’s exciting,” she says. “If you are a curious person, it links you to many things. There’s so much you can get out of it — history, literature, the music itself.”

Scheppelmann, the outgoing general director of the Seattle Opera, accomplished much during her five-year tenure. She shepherded the organization through the pandemic, helped revive interest in the classical art form and uplifted the financial stability of the opera. But Seattle is just one stop on a long and storied career in the performing arts industry.

Scheppelmann initially worked in artist management for an agency in Milan. She started working for opera houses in her 20s, and has spent decades working for theaters throughout Europe as well as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Oman. Following the end of her five-year contract with the Seattle Opera, Scheppelmann will join La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels, as its general director.

Scheppelmann sees opera as “meticulously controlled magic.” To the audience, the music communicates emotions and story like a universal language. Behind the scenes, everyone from the performers to the pit orchestra to the sound and lighting folks are moving with precision to take the audience on a journey. “It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from,” she says. “I think it’s an incredible connector.”

She arrived in Seattle in the summer of 2019 to become the opera’s fourth general director, just months before the pandemic abruptly dropped the curtain on performing arts organizations. Though many in the arts had to shut their doors and wait it out, Scheppelmann saw another way. When she learned that artists producing for streaming counted as essential personnel, Scheppelmann and the Seattle Opera knew they could adapt and survive. The Seattle Opera was one of just a few in the U.S. to deliver content for the entirety of its 2020-2021 season, offering four complete films.

“As a German and as a former banker, I’m fiscally conservative and very cautious,” Scheppelmann says. “So, we didn’t just cancel everything we had announced. We filmed and delivered to our subscribers via streaming.”

Scheppelmann helped the Seattle Opera launch a number of educational initiatives during her tenure, including children’s classes, libretto-writing workshops, and The Veterans Choir in partnership with Path with Art. The opera also brought in more than 100 new artists for performance debuts.

“There are challenges ahead, and they are not a matter of being fiscally responsible or mindful about how you spend somebody else’s money,” she says. “The value of having a broad education with humanistic values that go beyond how to make the most money is going down. It’s hurtful to the performing arts. Then, when you don’t have performing arts, how do you stimulate the people?”

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