In 2015, AOP projects made best of lists in its home city of New York, nationally, and internationally, by continuing our tradition of creating, developing and presenting opera and music theatre that define the field. These major new works were created through its innovative partnerships and the support of many individuals and organizations like the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
THE SCARLET IBIS
“an outstanding new chamber opera … a moving, intense and dignified creation” – The New York Times
The year opened up with the highly lauded premiere of The Scarlet Ibis, a new opera from composer Stefan Weisman, who trained in AOP’s Composers & the Voice program before AOP developed and premiered his first opera Darkling in 2006. HERE and Beth Morrison Projects, in association with AOP, produced the world premiere in January 2015 as the centerpiece of their innovative PROTOTYPE Festival of new opera after a four year development process. Weisman and librettist David Cote adapted James Hurst’s poignant and tragic short story into a taut 90-minute opera about the unsentimental childhood relationship between Brother (in a nuanced performance by mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn) and his sickly younger sibling Doodle (elegantly portrayed by a tiny puppet with the voice of countertenor Eric Brenner). Singers Abigail Fischer, Keith Phares and Nicole Mitchell joined the American Modern Ensemble under the baton of the talented and prolific Steven Osgood. Mallory Catlett’s experimental storytelling brought the work to life to universal praise.
“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.” – The Wall Street Journal
In May 2015, Spoleto Festival USA produced the world premiere of Paradise Interrupted, a new 90-minute installation opera in one act, conceived, designed, and directed by Jennifer Wen Ma with music by Huang Ruo and a libretto and performance by Qian Yi. Inspired by the Garden of Eden and the Chinese Kunqu opera Peony Pavilion, Paradise Interrupted follows a woman in search for an unattainable ideal, exploring a world that is activated by her singing voice. In order to have it ready for the premiere, the creators entered AOP’s First Chance development program, providing them with the tools and feedback to test the intricate show. A brief preview of Paradise Interrupted was held in March 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, exciting audiences for its New York City premiere at the 2016 Lincoln Center Festival, to be co-produced by AOP.
“an original work that beautifully blends Eastern and Western styles and presents five fine singers with remarkable stamina and expression. … 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.” – Charleston Post and Courier
“seamlessly integrated the worlds of experimental music, dance, theatre, opera, puppetry and fashion into a rich, sober whole.” – Financial Times
In November, AOP premiered the largest production in our history when we returned to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the third time with the dance chamber opera Hagoromo. The sold-out run at BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival added a performance to accommodate the mass of audiences eager to see this groundbreaking event.
Reuniting former New York City Ballet principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, Hagoromo is a multidisciplinary work inspired by one of the masterpieces of Japanese Noh drama, that featured contralto Katalin Károlyi and tenor Peter Tantsits, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The ancient tale of Hagoromo involves a desolate island and the fateful encounter between a poor fisherman (Soto) and a fallen angel (Whelan). A thoroughly contemporary vision, this retelling is a bold experiment in hybrid forms: a chamber opera composed by Nathan Davis and librettist Brendan Pelsue, with dance choreographed by David Neumann, puppetry by Chris M. Green, dramaturgy by Norman Frisch, and costumes created by the celebrated Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. AOP partnered with the American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD in the development of this captivating new work.
“As One forces you to think, simultaneously challenging preconceptions and inspiring empathy.” —The New York Times
As One made its West Coast premiere in a new production by West Edge Opera in July 2015 that received attention in the Washington Post’s year end wrap up of best new performances. Another new production premiered in the DC-metro area by UrbanArias in October 2015. The first major opera specifically about the transgender experience, AOP commissioned and premiered As One at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014 amidst a national dialogue about transgender lives that was just beginning. As One was conceived and composed by Laura Kaminsky with a libretto by Mark Campbell (Silent Night, The Manchurian Candidate) and transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed. As One is next slated for a production in Colorado in 2017.
HEART OF DARKNESS
“All things considered, it’s something of a surprise that Tarik O’Regan’s opera Heart of Darkness took four years to reach the United States after its 2011 premiere at the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio Theatre. Its brevity and eloquence, as well as the small forces it requires, make it a natural for adventurous opera companies everywhere.” – San Francisco Classical Voice
San Francisco’s Z Space saw the U.S. premiere of British composer Tarik O’Regan’s “elegant, moving” (The Wall Street Journal) debut opera Heart of Darkness. Artist Tom Phillips’ libretto combined with O’Regan’s “score of concise originality” (The Observer, UK) to transform Joseph Conrad’s classic novella of a mad ivory trader in colonial Africa “into a compellingly taut evening of music theatre” (Sunday Telegraph, UK). In May 2015, the 75-minute chamber opera, which premiered in London in 2011, received a new production created by conductor Nicole Paiement and director/designer Brian Staufenbiel and produced by their new music company Opera Parallèle (OP), in association with AOP. AOP began First Chance development of Heart of Darkness in 2006.
“a powerful U.S. premiere… the kaleidoscopic inventiveness of O’Regan’s score uses a chamber ensemble and vivid vocal writing to conjure up the moral miasma of the African interior as Marlow encounters it” – San Francisco Chronicle
THE WANTON SUBLIME
“a tour de force… The Wanton Sublime is musically rich… and also philosophically absorbing.” – What’s On Stage
Inside Intelligence held the universally praised London premiere of The Wanton Sublime, a monodrama from Tarik O’Regan (Heart of Darkness) and Anna Rabinowitz (Darkling), commissioned by AOP. Presented at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Festival, it starred frequent AOP collaborator mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn as the Virgin Mary, who returned to the role she created at AOP’s 2014 premiere in Brooklyn. Andrew Griffiths conducted the Orpheus Sinfonia with staging by Robert Shaw. The Wanton Sublime explores the human and mythic aspects of the Virgin Mary as she struggles to retain her flesh and blood identity in the face of external forces intent on symbolizing her as the ideal woman.
AOP FIRST CHANCE – WORKS IN DEVELOPMENT
Throughout its twenty-seven years, AOP has been known as a place for artists to call home as they create new operas and music theatre pieces. AOP’s First Chance program combines workshops and readings with institutional and artistic support allowing creators to try out new work, receive feedback, promote their project to potential presenters, and avoid alliterative sentences.
First Chance workshops were held for two operas-in-development at OPERA America’s National Opera Center in Manhattan. In Tesla, three iconoclastic artists – composer Phil Kline, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and director Robert Wilson – create a theatrical “portrait” as visionary as its subject, the eccentric 19th century inventor Nikola Tesla. Presented in January 2015 as part of OPERA America’s New Works Forum, the showcase featured performances by Ryland Angel, James Harrington, Jacqueline Horner Kwiatek, Brandon Snook, Gregory Purnhagen, Kamala Sankaram, and American Contemporary Music Ensemble.
In June 2015, AOP returned to OPERA America to present scenes from A Thousand Splendid Suns, a two act opera with music by Sheila Silver and libretto by Stephen Kitsakos based on the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini. In a society where women are worse than second class citizens, A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two oppressed women, one older, one younger, forced into marriage with the same brutal man. Silver’s music is infused with the color of raga based North Indian classical music, which is at the heart of the music of Afghanistan. Additional scenes will be presented in January 2016 at The Studios of Key West in Florida and in the New Opera Showcase, part of the OPERA America New Works Forum, OPERA America’s annual gathering of opera creators.
AOP brought one of its most topical new works to the Harlem School of the Arts in February 2015. Independence Eve is a new chamber opera in three scenes by composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and librettist Daniel Neer that focuses on the stories of three black males (each played by baritone Jorell Williams), and three white males (each played by tenor Brandon Snook), who struggle with identity and acceptance amidst race issues that span one hundred years of the American experience. The staged workshop performances featured music direction and piano by Mila Henry.
Following their residency at The Hermitage Artist Retreat in Florida as the first recipients of The Opera Genesis Fellowships (more info below), composer Mikael Karlsson and designer Elle Kunnos de Voss heard a libretto reading of their opera-in-development The Echo Drift at HERE Arts Center in December. The 70-minute surrealist monodrama written for soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra will have its world premiere as part of the 2017 Prototype Festival in January 2017 in a co-production by American Opera Projects and PROTOTYPE directed by Mallory Catlett (The Scarlet Ibis).
Closing out the year, MATA, in collaboration with AOP First Chance, presented in December a suite from Greg Spears‘ elegant AOP-developed dance opera Wolf-in-Skins as part of MATA’s Radical Pairing – a mix of baroque and gallant-inspired works performed by New Vintage Baroque. Wolf-in-Skins is an evening-length dance-opera choreographed and directed by Christopher Williams inspired by ancient themes of the “mythic hero’s journey” found in medieval Welsh literature.
COMPOSERS & THE VOICE – ARTIST TRAINING FELLOWSHIPS
The seventh group of composers and librettists to receive fellowships for AOP training and mentoring program Composers & the Voice entered the second year of their two year cycle in the 2014-15 season. Created and led by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood, the two-year fellowship 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. C&V alumni featured in other AOP programming in 2015 included Stefan Weisman (The Scarlet Ibis) and Sidney Boquiren (Independence Eve), Mikael Karlsson (The Echo Drift), and Gregory Spears (Wolf-in-Skins).
Following its appearance in the 2014 C&V Six Scenes concert of opera scenes, Legendary, with music by Joseph Rubinstein and libretto by Jason Kim, became the 12th AOP opera-in-progress selected by Manhattan School of Music for the annual Opera Index series New American Opera Previews, From Page to Stage. The staged scenes featuring MSM singers were presented in March 2015 under the stage direction of Knud Adams with music direction by Scott Rednour, and with Q&As hosted by Midge Woolsey and librettist Mark Campbell. Inspired by a true story, Legendary is an opera about double lives and destructive desires set in the glory days of New York City’s underground drag culture.
The seventh C&V season ended with a private launch party in June hosted by Meredith Monk and Joseph V. Melillo to announce a new partnership between AOP and the Hermitage Artist Retreat. The Opera Genesis Fellowships will invite select C&V alumni to continue the development of a contemporary American opera at the Hermitage’s inspiring Gulf Coast campus during a six-week residency. In September, Mikael Karlsson along with collaborator Elle Kunnos De Voss became the first recipients of the Fellowship, using the residency to develop their opera The Echo Drift (see above).
AOP welcomed the eighth group of C&V fellows who began training in the Fall at South Oxford Space in Brooklyn. Composers Ricky Ian Gordon (27, A Coffin in Egypt), Daron Hagen (Amelia, Shining Brow), Tobias Picker (American Tragedy, Dolores Claiborne), David T. Little (Dog Days, Soldier Songs) and Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar, Vespers for a new Dark Age), librettists Michael Korie (Harvey Milk, Hopper’s Wife), Gene Scheer (An American Tragedy, Moby Dick), Royce Vavrek (JFK, Dog Days) and composer-librettist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Séance on a Wet Afternoon) were announced as the nine “Artistic Chairs” who will provide one-on-one guidance to the Fellows of the 2015-16 Composers & the Voice training program. Be sure to check out the results, when the ten fellows premiere songs written in the program at the First Glimpse concert in May 2016.
In July/August 2016, American Opera Projects and Chautauqua Opera will launch a multi-year Composer in Residence initiative. Each summer one alumni of AOP’s Composers & the Voice Fellowship will be invited to be in residence for Chautauqua Opera’s entire 8-week season. The Composer in Residence will be a prominent public face for the Chautauqua Opera, speaking passionately about the company’s season, and exploring the role of a composer in today’s society.
COMING IN 2016
2016 promises to be another exciting year in contemporary opera as AOP brings you dozens of exciting new workshops, concerts, and premieres including the New York premiere of Huang Ruo, Qian Yi, and Jennifer Wen Ma’s Paradise Interrupted at the 2016 Lincoln Center Festival in July, marking our fifth time at the prestigious festival!
AOP is developing several exciting new works and we will keep you up to date on these with informative notes and invitations to special events. You will be the first to discover fascinating operatic adaptations of prize-winning books: Michael Dellaira and J. D. McClatchy’s The Leopard and Sheila Silver and Stephen Kitsakos’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. We also boast original work, including Robert Paterson and David Cote’s racy Three Way, slated for a Nashville Opera partnership; Hannah Lash and Royce Vavrek’s irreverent Stoned Prince in collaboration with The John Duffy Composers Institute, and Today It Rains, a new work by the As One team inspired by the life of Georgia O’Keeffe, with San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle.
In addition to the new opera programs with The Hermitage Artist Retreat and Chautauqua Opera mentioned above, AOP will soon announce details of our Dance Opera Initiative that will specifically foster highly choreographed operatic works under the guidance of Hagoromo director David Michalek.
Your support enables us to meet the public’s demand for new and innovative work. Our organization has almost doubled in size — both in terms of the projects it develops and presents, and in budget — in just over a year, and continued growth can only be sustained with your help. In a time when arts organizations are shrinking, folding, and are no longer able to serve the field, AOP is busting with vigor and activity. Please continue to be a part of this artistic family and make your tax-deductible contribution before the end of the year.
Please visit www.aopopera.org for news about all of the upcoming premieres, workshops, and artists to be featured in the 2015-16 season.