Resident Ensemble of Singers selected for AOP training program Composers & the Voice

June 16, 2015




BROOKLYN, NY – AOP (American Opera Projects) announces the six singers who will become its Resident Ensemble for the upcoming eighth season of its Composers & the Voice training program. Comprised of one each of the basic operatic/vocal categories, the singers for the 2015-16 season will be Coloratura Soprano Tookah Sapper, Lyric Soprano Jennifer Goode Cooper, Mezzo-Soprano Blythe Gaissert, Tenor Blake Friedman, Baritone Michael Weyandt and Bass-Baritone Jonathan Woody. The singers will spend a year working collaboratively with composers and librettists who have received fellowships to develop skills for writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage. The Resident Ensemble was selected by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood based on their superior technical and musical skills, as well as their commitment to developing and performing new works.

The Resident Ensemble will be joined by returning Music Directors Mila Henry, Kelly Horsted, and Charity Wicks to collaborate on creating new material by the composer and librettist fellows. Singers will each explain how their particular voice works throughout its range, addressing issues of tessitura, negotiating the passagio, demands for vowel modification, and how these affect their performance of text.

In closed workshops from September 2015-April 2016, the singers will rotate among each composer, giving demonstrations of proper vocal technique and writing, as well as performing short works.  This will culminate with First Glimpse, a public concert of songs on May 20 & 21, 2016, in which the singers will perform the composer’s revised and final versions.  Finally, on September 23 & 25, 2016, the AOP Resident Ensemble will perform Six Scenes, an evening of short opera scenes created by the composer-librettist fellows.

Previous singers from the Composers & the Voice program have gone on to perform with some of the leading companies and festivals in America, including Matthew Worth (Doubt, Minnesota Opera, 2013 and Eugene Onegin, Chautauqua Opera, 2015), Keith Jameson (Billy Budd, Metropolitan Opera, 2012 and Capriccio, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2014), Caroline Worra (Orphee, Pittsburgh Opera, 2014 and Lizzie Borden, Boston Lyric Opera, 2013)  and Rebecca Ringle (Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 2013, and Dido and Aeneas, Opera Memphis, 2015).

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues its support of AOP’s Composers & the Voice program through 2016 as part of a two hundred thousand ($200,000) multi-year grant award, which also covers artistic personnel and other program activities.

More information about the 2015-16 Composers & the Voice Series can be found at



sapper---headshotTookah Sapper (soprano), from Oklahoma City, is a second-year Master’s degree candidate at Manhattan School of Music studying with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell. She graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma last year with a BM in vocal performance and a minor in collaborative piano. Last November, she performed as a soloist in the Mozart C Minor Mass at Manhattan School of Music. UCO credits include L’Elisir d’amore (Adina), The Messiah (Soloist), Dido and Aeneas (Belinda), Gallantry (Lola), and Gianni Schicci (Nella). Summer program credits include The Maid of Orleans (Solo Angel) with Russian Opera Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pirates of Penzance (Mabel) and Le nozze di Figaro (Barbarina) with Opera in the Ozarks in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

good cooper---headshotJennifer Goode Cooper is a “lustrous soprano” (Wall Street Journal) with “steely eyed ferocity” (NY Times) who “fills the theater with her soaring soprano voice” (Variety).  Last season, she joined Mark Delavan as Blitch to sing the title role in Floyd’s Susannah with Toledo Opera, and premiered Nathaniel Stookey’s Ivonne at Opera Memphis, which she reprised at this year’s New Works Sampler at the Opera America Conference at Wolf Trap.  Other career highlights:   Miss Jessel in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (New York City Opera), Titania/Hippolyta in the first known a cappella opera, Michael Ching’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Opera Memphis), Musetta in Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed Broadway and LA productions of La Bohème, Backup singer for Patti Lupone, Weekly Hip-Hopera singer with celebrity DJ’s Ed lover and Dr. Dre (NY’s Power 105.1). Jennifer was a 2013 Arts Envoy of the US Embassy (to Mozambique), and a 2014 recipient of a Professional Development Grant from the Weill Foundation.

gaissert---headshotBlythe Gaissert (mezzo-soprano) In the 2014-15 season Ms. Gaissert performed with the Composers & the Voice Series at AOP and covered the world premiere of Hannah After in As One as well as performing the West Coast premiere in Utah. The season also included Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and the Mozart Requiem, as well as readings of new operas by Martin Hennessey and Alden Terry.   In 2013 Ms. Gaissert continued her relationship with the Metropolitan Opera covering Siegrune in Die Walküre and worked on the staged premiere of John Adams The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  She also created the role of Zellah in Matthew Harris’ opera The Mark of Cain with Chelsea Opera, sang her first Verdi Requiem with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and a program of Copland, Ravel and de Falla with the Sarasota Orchestra. Ms. Gaissert made her Carnegie Hall debut as the Alto soloist in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Mozart’s Solemn Vespers. She was the 1st place winner in the National Opera Associations Artist Awards, 2nd Prize Winner of the New York Oratorio Society’s Solo Competition, and National Semi-Finalist and Alternate to the Finals in the NATSAA competition. Upcoming performances include The Whole Truth by Robert Patterson and Mark Campbell with the American Modern Ensemble and a recital with the Phoenix Concert Series.

blake headshotBlake Friedman (tenor), also known as “The Operatic Jack Black” (Tampa Bay Times) currently lives in New York City. The “fresh lyric tenor” (OperaNews Online) with a “silken and strong” (Tampa Bay Times) voice has wowed audiences with his “world class”, (Theatre is Easy) “powerful vocals” (Eye on Dance) and “climactic high notes”. (Q on Stage) Recent performances include: the “elusive object of attraction” (Critical Dance) in Eve Wolf’s operatic drama Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart (BAM Fisher), Il Conte Almaviva in Barbiere di Siviglia and Pang in Turandot (St. Petersburg Opera), Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Rodolfo in La Boheme, and The Governor in Candide (Ash Lawn Opera), Nemorino in L’Elisir D’amore (New Rochelle Opera), and Alfredo in La Traviata (Long Island Opera).  Equally at home on the concert stage, Mr. Friedman has performed as soloist at Avery Fisher Hall and The Walter Bruno Auditorium at Lincoln Center. Other companies Mr. Friedman has worked with include Bel Canto at Caramoor, Ensemble for the Romantic Century, Ensemble ACWJ, Mid America Productions, and The Castleton Festival.

weyandt---headshotMichael Weyandt (baritone) continues to engage audiences with his “virile, ardent” singing and “notable characterizations” in an increasingly diverse repertoire. He has performed under conductors such as James Levine (Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte, Masetto in Don Giovanni) and Lorin Maazel (Junius in The Rape of Lucretia, Marco in Gianni Schicchi), and his repertoire spans from the hero Fernando in Handel’s first opera, Almira, to standard repertoire, most recently Marcello and Schaunard in La Boheme, to contemporary works, such as the Muse in Clint Borzoni’s When Adonis Calls, Pete Dayton in Olga Neuwirth’s adaptation of David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, and the Reciter in Eight Songs for a Mad King.

woody---headshotJonathan Woody (bass-baritone) is a sought-after performer of new and early music in New York and across the United States. Equally comfortable as soloist and ensemble member, Jonathan is a member of the Grammy®-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, where he has earned praise as “charismatic” and “riveting” from the New York Times for his solo work. Recent highlights include the premiere of Ted Hearne’s The Source at Brooklyn Academy of Music, a nationwide tour of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 with Apollo’s Fire, the 2014 Oregon Bach Festival Vocal Fellowship, and solo engagements with the Washington Chorus, San Diego Bach Collegium, Nashville Symphony, Pegasus Early Music, New Amsterdam Presents, and Spire Chamber Ensemble. He has also shared the stage in recent months with Opera Lafayette, Green Mountain Project, TENET, and the Handel & Haydn Society, and looks forward to upcoming performances with New York Polyphony and New York Baroque Incorporated. Jonathan can be heard on recordings under the labels Musica Omnia, Acis Productions, Naxos & the Wolf Trap Opera Company. He holds degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park, and McGill University and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.


henry---headshotMila Henry Mila Henry is a New York-based pianist, coach, and music director who specializes in music theater projects and vocal chamber music, ranging from art song to cabaret, folk opera to indie musicals, standard repertoire to contemporary classics. She served as AOP’s Resident Music Director from 2010-2014 (including C&V 2011-13 and 2013-15), and has collaborated on both workshops and world premieres with American Lyric Theater, Beth Morrison Projects (BMP), Center City Opera Theater, Gotham Chamber Opera, HERE, OPERA America, Opera on Tap, Ripe Time, VisionIntoArt, and Two Sides Sounding. Notable engagements include: The Blind (Lincoln Center Festival); Thumbprint and The Scarlet Ibis (PROTOTYPE); The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (BMP, Cantaloupe Music release 2015); Day of Wrath (New York Musical Theatre Festival); As One and 2014 Obie Award Winner The World is Round (BAM). A native of the Philadelphia area, she lives in Brooklyn.

Horsted, Kelly hsPianist Kelly Horsted, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, enjoys an active career in NYC as an accompanist, music director and vocal coach specializing in new opera, art song, and role preparation. An enthusiast of new music, Kelly begins a fourth season as a co-music director for the Composers and the Voice series at American Opera Projects in Fall 2013. Kelly’s other AOP projects have included Sheila Silver’s Beauty Intolerable, Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness, Paula Kimper’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey as well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Hershel Garfein, directed by Mark Morris. Kelly prepared the cast of Patience and Sarah for Lincoln Center Festival premiere. Kelly has collaborated with Center for Contemporary Opera’s Atelier Series, Chelsea Opera, Remarkable Theater Brigade, Opera Company of Brooklyn, Urban Arias, New Jersey Opera Theater, Friends and Enemies of New Music and at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Program. Kelly has taught at Hunter College, Mannes College of Music, and Operaworks. Kelly is currently a faculty member at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT.

charity-headshot thumbCharity Wicks, a pianist and music director who is highly lauded for her versatility, is at ease with a wide range of repertoire, from solo works and chamber music, to contemporary opera and musical theater. She is delighted to return as a music director for AOP’s Composers & the Voice program! Wicks has been involved with many AOP projects, including the world premiere of the opera The Summer King by former C&V composer Daniel Sonenberg, Semmelweis by Ray Lustig, The Golden Gate by Conrad Cummings, as well as the workshops of Stephen Schwartz’s opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, for which she was also the associate conductor for the world premiere. Wicks has also worked on several Broadway musicals, including WICKED, VIOLET, BIG FISH, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, IN THE HEIGHTS and SPRING AWAKENING. She holds a BM and MM from Temple University, and a DMA from The Manhattan School of Music.


osgood, stevenDuring his tenure as Artistic Director of American Opera Projects (2001 to 2008), Steven Osgood created Composers & the Voice, and conducted the world premieres of Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah at the Lincoln Center Festival, and Janice Hamer and Mary Azrael’s Lost Childhood at the International Vocal Arts Institute (Tel Aviv). He has also conducted premieres by Jonathan Sheffer (Blood on the Dining Room Floor), Tan Dun (Peony Pavilion), Xenakis (Oresteia), Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar), Mohammed Fairouz (Sumeida’s Song), and Daron Hagen (Little Nemo in Slumberland). He has served on the Music Staff of the Metropolitan Opera since 2006.  Recent productions include Opera Memphis’ Midtown Opera Festival, Hawaii Opera Theater’s Tosca, and Chautauqua Opera’s Peter Grimes.

Press contact: Matt Gray, AOP Producing Director, email:, phone: 718-398-4024
Press material is available at:

June 15, 2015

New Partnership to Give AOP Composers & Librettists Residency in Florida

June 8, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, FL and AOP have formed a partnership that will result in a six-week residency to be called Opera Genesis Fellowships. This newly created program allows for a composer and a librettist from AOP’s Composer & the Voice (C&V) training program to be invited to continue the development of a contemporary American opera at the Hermitage’s inspiring Gulf Coast campus. The first team will be selected in 2016.

“The Hermitage was created as a place for mid-career artists to come and work on new art,” explained Bruce E. Rodgers, executive director. “We have 10 acres of beachfront property on the Gulf of Mexico and serve four to five invited artists of all disciplines at any one time. It’s a quiet, peaceful and inspiring setting. Many new operas have already been written and composed here. We know this new partnership with AOP’s C&V program will produce more exciting work that will eventually be enjoyed in opera venues throughout the country.”

Bass-baritone Matthew Worth works with composer Andreia Pinto- Correia during a 2013 C&V workshop. Photo by Ted Gorodetzky

Bass-baritone Matthew Worth works with composer Andreia Pinto- Correia during a 2013 C&V workshop in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Ted Gorodetzky

American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice is a two-year fellowship for composers and librettists that provides experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and opera stage. This free training includes a year of working with the company’s Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team, followed by a year of continued promotion and development through AOP and its strategic partnerships.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat ( nurtures creativity in mid-career writers, painters, poets, playwrights, composers, translators, sculptors, and artists. Even before the partnership, the two organizations had many artists in common. Some of AOP’s artists who have been in residence at The Hermitage are Laura Kaminsky (As One), Mark Campbell (As One), Phil Kline (Out Cold), Lera Auerbach (The Blind), and Huang Ruo (Paradise Interrupted).

Our artists live and work in — and are inspired by — five "Old Florida" buildings that have been lovingly restored into living space and studio space. Fifteen miles of Gulf of Mexico beach .

The Hermitage Artist Retreat provides artists living and studio space in five “Old Florida” buildings along fifteen miles of Gulf of Mexico beach.

Since launching in 2002, C&V has fostered the development of 44 composers & librettists. Alumni works that went through AOP’s opera development program and continued to a world premiere include Love/Hate (ODC/San Francisco Opera 2012, Jack Perla), Paul’s Case (UrbanArias 2013, Gregory Spears), and The Scarlet Ibis (PROTOTYPE 2015, Stefan Weisman).

The cast of the 2013 World Premiere of Paul's Case presented by Urban Arias. The opera began development during composer Gregory Spears' fellowship in AOP's Composers & the Voice program.

The cast of the 2013 World Premiere of Paul’s Case presented by Urban Arias. The opera began development during composer Gregory Spears’ fellowship in AOP’s Composers & the Voice program.

“AOP and C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood created the Composers & the Voice program with the vision of teaching to emerging composers & librettists the fundamentals of writing an opera,” stated AOP Producing Director Matt Gray. “We are thrilled that the partnership with The Hermitage Artists Retreat furthers that vision by providing a creative place for those artists to convert their knowledge into the operas themselves – operas that will become the core of a new, modern repertoire.”


Hermitage Contact: Lisa Rubinstein, or 941-373-3803

AOP Contact: Matt Gray, or 718 398-4024

Stephen Schwartz – a mentor for artists, a leader for the arts

June 4, 2015

b_Stephen_Schwartz01Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, and the AOP-developed opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, will receive a 2015 Isabelle Stevenson award at the Tony Awards this Saturday, June 7th, for his outstanding commitment to emerging artists.  Each year, the award is given out to “an individual from the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations, regardless of whether such organizations relate to the theatre.”

“Stephen’s successes span far beyond the Broadway stage through his commitment to fostering the next generation of musical theatre actors, lyricists and composers. We are thrilled to celebrate his countless triumphs with this honor,” said Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing, in a statement.

AOP can certainly attest to Stephen’s incredible generosity, especially in his tireless support of young artists. In addition to his work with ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, ASCAP Foundation and as President of the Dramatists Guild, for the past eight years, Stephen has donated his time and wisdom as a mentor for AOP’s Composers & the Voice Series, helping such young composers as Gregory Spears (Paul’s Case, Fellow Travelers) and Zachary Redler (The Memory Show, Susan Smith) during and after their fellowships in the AOP training program.

Gregory Spears, C&V 2007-08

“Working with Stephen Schwartz while writing music as part of AOP’s Composers and the Voice program was a thrilling experience. Having such a dramaturgically-minded composer to consult with proved invaluable as I was learning to write operatic scenes that communicate a story clearly. His dictum to “simplify and clarify” is something I think about every day as a composer, whether writing a melody, voicing a chord, or pacing a scene. His music and his generosity of spirit are inspiring.”

Zachary Redler, C&V 2011-13

“Stephen Schwartz and his work has made a profound impact on who I am as a composer and a musician.  Not only have I been playing his work since elementary school, but his mentorship during the 2011-13 Composers and the Voice program helped put the world into which I was entering in perspective.  As a composer coming from an orchestral background but practically a primarily musical theatre world of experience, his insight into how best to enter the operatic world proved invaluable. Not only did he offer advice on our operatic work, but he took time out of his extremely busy schedule to read, listen to and comment on one of Sara and my new musicals as well.  He is a true mentor and I am so grateful of his talents and stewardship for which he is receiving this special Tony.”

Steven Osgood, Artistic Director of Composers & the Voice and conductor of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera, confirmed, “Stephen Schwartz has been a beloved mentor for AOP’s Composers and the Voice Fellowship program.  He is honest, generous with his ideas and opinions, self-less, and remarkably articulate in defining the craft that goes into creating new music theater.  Through his approach to work he provides an invaluable model for today’s emerging composers and librettists.  I can think of no-one more deserving of the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, and congratulate him heartily.”

The 2015 Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, on Sunday, June 7th, 2015 (8:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET/PT time delay) on the CBS Television Network, live from the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Photo:  American Opera Projects 25th ANNIVERSARY GALA HONORING STEPHEN SCHWARTZ; OPERA SINGS BROADWAY SINGS OPERA Gala event photographed: Monday, May 12, 2014 6:30 pm Hors d'oeuvres Performance at 8:00 pm The Players Club 16 Gramercy Park South New York City Photograph: © 2014 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

Stephen Schwartz (center) with AOP composers, singers, and staff at AOP’s 25th Anniversary Gala, including Gregory Spears and Zach Redler (standing, far right). PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

Photo:  American Opera Projects 25th ANNIVERSARY GALA HONORING STEPHEN SCHWARTZ; OPERA SINGS BROADWAY SINGS OPERA Gala event photographed: Monday, May 12, 2014 6:30 pm Hors d'oeuvres Performance at 8:00 pm The Players Club 16 Gramercy Park South New York City Photograph: © 2014 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

Soprano and AOP board member Sarah Moulton-Faux, Stephen Schwartz, composer Douglas Cuomo, and composer Gregory Spears at AOP’s 25th Anniversary Gala in 2014. PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine


“Mesmerizing”, “marvelous” Paradise Interrupted premieres at Spoleto Festival

June 1, 2015

The AOP-developed opera Paradise Interrupted received favorable press when it premiered at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC this past  week.  Drawing inspiration from the legend of Adam and Eve, as well as the Chinese story of The Peony Pavilion, Paradise Interrupted combines strong visual and aural effects, to tell the moving story of a woman’s journey towards self-realization.  Combining composer Huang Ruo (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma (opening and closing ceremonies of Olympics Beijing 2008), and singer Qian Yi (Peony Pavilion), this riveting production has critics raving about a new genre of opera: installation opera.

Paradise Interrupted picture

Adam Parker of the Charleston Post and Courier praised the production, calling it “an original work that beautifully blends Eastern and Western styles and presents five fine singers with remarkable stamina and expression.” He also states: “had there been no music at all, just the staging, this would have been a marvelous, immersive experience. But there was music, fascinating music, lyrical, often rhythmic music.”

At the Spoleto Journal, Jerry Bowles, raved about Jennifer Wen Ma’s stunning visual effects: “Set against an ever changing backdrop of abstract digital images that reflect the singer’s mood shifts, the garden that greets the audience of Paradise Interrupted is an assemblage of laser-cut paper painted with black ink that is unfolded, accordian-like, and closed up again by the performers throughout the drama. The effect is that the garden appears to move in response to the singers’ voices.”

Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal says that” composer Huang Ruo and the artist Jennifer Wen Ma “have gloriously fused Western and Chinese idioms, modernity and tradition, to create a mesmerizing new work that is part opera, part dynamic art installation.”  She also compliments that”Mr. Huang’s music for The Woman takes off from the melismatic, pitch-bending, slightly nasal kunqu vocal style, and makes it even more haunting and melodic.”

At Charleston City Paper, Elizabeth Pandolfi raves that it “…is a courageous, unique, and complicated piece of theater.”  She also goes on to compliment the opera’s success in blending traditional Chinese singing and stories with Western musical elements: “The orchestra, consisting of both Western and Chinese instruments, was exceptional, and together Qian and the four male singers — she sang in the Chinese operatic style, and the men in the Western style — created a surreal, otherworldly sound that completely embodied the dream-like world the Woman was wandering through”

Read the Q&A with singer Qian Yi.

Read the profile on the complex technical design of Paradise Interrupted.


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