Wrangling a chorus, attending performances, and fielding reference questions backstage are all part of the job for Emily Cabaniss, company librarian and music assistant for the Seattle Opera.
“I hadn’t realized this kind of work was possible,” she says. “Every opera company has a person called a librarian, but they’re usually an orchestra librarian”—typically a music preparation specialist with ensemble experience who doesn’t, like Cabaniss, hold an MLIS.
Hired in 2014 as the company’s first information professional, Cabaniss makes sure the artistic, music, and production departments have the materials they need—commercial recordings, scores for instrumentation, a last-minute copy of La Dame aux Camélias (a play by Alexandre Dumas) from the Library of Congress’s digital holdings—to make a show come alive.
She also manages the company archives—videos, documents, and ephemera—using “super-deep Cutter numbers” and handles public requests that range from fiction authors wanting to know more about 19th-century opera houses to people trying to track down photos of loved ones who starred in past productions.
It helps that Cabaniss loves opera—the “well-paced feminist tragedy” Tosca is her favorite. She’s also quick to mention that millennials are Seattle Opera’s largest share of users.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who can say ‘I don’t like opera,’ ” Cabaniss says. “You just haven’t seen one that you like yet. That’s like saying ‘I don’t like movies.’ ”