Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park the Subject of 12 Mini-operas by NYU Composers

“Park and Bark” to premiere in Fort Greene Park and NYU on May 7 and 8

A 2013 AOP concert in Fort Greene Park

A 2013 AOP concert in Fort Greene Park

NEW YORK – On May 7 and 8, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, American Opera Projects (AOP), and the Fort Greene Park Conservancy (FGPC) will present “Park and Bark,” twelve mini-operas written by students in Tisch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (GMTWP) on the subject of Fort Greene Park, one of New York’s, and the nation’s, most historic and vibrant neighborhood parks. The operas, each under fifteen minutes, include dramatizations of the park’s large dog walking community, the remains of the Prison Ship Martyrs from the American Revolution, and a park gardener in a post-apocalyptic future. Six of the operas, staged by opera director, associate Arts Professor and Head of Dramaturgy in the Graduate Department of Design for Stage and Film Sam Helfrich (Glimmerglass, Virginia Opera, Boston Lyric), will be performed at NYU Tisch’s Black Box Theater (715 Broadway, 2nd Floor, NY 10003) on Saturday, May 7th at 2:00pm. The other six operas will be performed in an outdoor concert near the Visitors Center at Fort Greene Park on Sunday, May 8th at 4:00pm. All performances are free and open to the public. Seating for May 7 is limited and can be reserved at More information can be found at

The operas will be performed by sopranos Kamala Sankaram (Prototype Festival), Deborah van Renterghem (Santa Fe Opera), and Amelia Watkins (Leipzig Gewandhaus), mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel (Seattle Opera), tenor Blake Friedman (Brooklyn Academy of Music), countertenor Eric Brenner (Prototype Festival), baritone Jorell Williams (Santa Fe Opera, Mark Morris Dance Group), and bass Sam Carl (Berlin Opera Academy, Edinburgh International Festival). Like Mozart, Handel, and Verdi, who often wrote roles for particular singers, the composers worked with the professional opera singers and music directors Kelly Horsted and Mila Henry on the development of the thirteen operas.

Students in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (GMTWP) began learning the ins and outs of opera writing this spring when Brooklyn’s American Opera Projects (AOP) partnered with Tisch School of the Arts for a new “Opera Writing Workshop.”  Led by composer and faculty member Randall Eng, the workshop is an advanced class for composers and librettists of GMTWP at Tisch, as well as recent alumni, to collaborate with professional opera singers and music directors under the mentorship of AOP, an opera company in Fort Greene that has developed and premiered contemporary operas for over 25 years.

L to R: Randall Eng, Chandra McClelland, Tek Goo Kang, Brian Cavanagh-Strong, Ben Bonnema

L to R: Randall Eng, Chandra McClelland, Tek Goo Kang, Brian Cavanagh-Strong, Ben Bonnema

AOP General Director and Fort Greene Park Conservancy Chairman Charles Jarden, with park and conservancy staff, guided the thirteen composer/librettist teams’ research of Fort Greene Park in diverse subjects as park history, modern anecdotes, and neighborhood color.

“This process has been particularly helpful for anyone who has gone through school already and needs critical eyes on their work,” wrote Casey O’Neil, one of the workshop’s composers. “Randall and the guest instructors delivered terrific and specific feedback, which has helped make the works much stronger.”

Support for the workshop was provided by the Institute of Performing Arts, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and a multi-year award to AOP from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with the free performances made possible by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

L to R: Randall Eng, Mila Henry, Blake Friedman, Amelia Watkins, Sam Carl

L to R: Randall Eng, Mila Henry, Blake Friedman, Amelia Watkins, Sam Carl


PARK AND BARK – two sets of mini-operas about Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park written by students in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Randall Eng, Opera Lab Coordinator.

Saturday, May 7th at 2:00pm
Black Box Theatre, NYU Tisch 715 Broadway, 2nd Floor. NY 10003  
Group A (operas 1-6, staged)

Sam Helfrich     Group A Stage Director
Mila Henry         Group A Music Director

GROUP A – Composers / Librettists
Edison Hong / Manda Leigh Blunt
Yoonmi Lee / Orian Israelsohn
Paulo Tirol / Shoshana Greenberg
Casey O’Neil / Sophia Chapadjiev
Aleksandra Weil / Laura Barati
TJ Rubin / Marella Martin Koch

GROUP A – Designers, Graduate Lighting Design Program at Tisch
Peter W Mitchell
Jennifer Reiser
Vadim Ledvin
Derek Van Heel

Blake Friedman, tenor
Sarah Heltzel, mezzo-soprano
Amelia Watkins, soprano
Sam Carl, bass

Sunday, May 8th at 4:00pm
Fort Greene Park, Visitors Center, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY 11205
Group B (operas 7-13, concert)

Kelly Horsted    Group B Music Director

GROUP B – Composers / Librettists
Brian Cavanagh-Strong / Ben Bonnema
Erato Kremmyda/ Maggie-Kate Coleman
Ben Bonnema / Kathleen Wrinn
Jonathan Russ / Lane Dombois
Emily Rose Simons / Greg Moss
Tek Goo Kang / Chandra McClelland

Eric Brenner, countertenor
Kamala Sankaram, soprano
Deborah van Renterghem, soprano
Jorell Williams, baritone

Free and open to the public.
Seating for May 7 is limited and can be reserved at



Randall Eng (Opera Lab Coordinator) has devoted his career to mining the territory between opera, music-theatre, and jazz. His first two operas Florida and Henry’s Wife have been met with wide acclaim. Florida (libretto by Donna DiNovelli) has been presented at Lyric Opera Cleveland, New York City Opera’s VOX festival, and the Public Theater’s New Work Now! festival. Henry’s Wife (libretto by Alexis Bernier), has been showcased at the Virginia Arts Festival, Manhattan School of Music, the Center for Contemporary Opera, and Tapestry New Opera, and was developed as part of AOP’s Composers and the Voice program. His latest project is the opera Before the Night Sky (libretto by Donna DiNovelli), about the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux, and their sisters Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy. Before the Night Sky will be featured at Opera America’s New Works Forum in January 2017. Randall is a graduate of Harvard University, Cambridge University, and NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. He serves on the full-time faculty at NYU and was a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University in 2015. A Staten Island native and Jeopardy! champion, he has been developing the Opera Lab at GMTWP since 2009.

 Sam Helfrich (Group A Director) Recent highlights include a semi-staging of the Bach St. John Passion with the Pittsburgh Symphony Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at Virginia Opera, a new theatre/symphonic production of Lermontov’s Masquerade with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, the world premieres of Enemies: A Love Story, based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer (composer: Ben Moore) at Palm Beach Opera, and  Embedded, by composer Patrick Soluri, at Fargo-Moorhead Opera and Ft. Worth Opera, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos  and  Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire at Virginia Opera: Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking  and John Adams’ Nixon in China at Eugene Opera; Philip Glass’ Kepler (in its American premiere), Charpentier’s Louise, and Anthony Davis’ Amistad at Spoleto Festival/USA; Menotti’s The Consul and Poulenc’s La Voix Humane at Glimmerglass Opera; Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Handel’s Agrippina with Boston Baroque; Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn;  a fully staged Handel Messiah with the Pittsburgh Symphony; the world premiere of Michael Dellaira’s The Secret Agent at Center for Contemporary Opera in New York, Armel Opera Festival in Hungary, and Opera Avignon in France; And Philip Glass’ Orphée at Virginia Opera, Portland Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera. Upcoming Projects include Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek at Boston Lyric Opera, the Haydn Creation with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the world premiere of The Summer King at Pittsburgh Opera.

Pianist Kelly Horsted (Group B Music Director), 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 began his fifth season at Composers and the voice in 2015. Kelly’s other AOP projects have included Sheila Silver’s BeautyIntolerable, 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.

Mila Henry (Group A Music Director) 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, and has assisted in their Composers & the Voice program since 2011, 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.

Group A- Singers

Blake Friedman (tenor) is a current resident singer in American Opera Project’s Composer and the Voice Symposium.  Possessing a “silken and strong” (Tampa Bay Times), “fresh lyric tenor” (OperaNews Online), Mr. Friedman has wowed critics and audiences alike with his “world class”, (Theatre is Easy) “powerful vocals” (Eye on Dance), “moving dynamic nuances” (The Berkshire Edge) and “climactic high notes”. (Q on Stage)  “An outstanding tenor, indeed” (MVPBS), he sings with “tenderness, delicacy and a sense of emotional sympathy” (The Berkshire Edge). Most recently, he appeared as Tenor Soloist in the Liebeslieder Walzer with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center.  Other career highlights include Tenor Soloist at Avery Fisher Hall in Mozart’s Vespri Sollemnes de Confessore, Singer in Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart (BAM Fisher) and Theo Van Gogh in Van Gogh’s Ear (Clark Institute/AIER) with Ensemble for the Romantic Century, Conte Almaviva in Barbiere di Siviglia and Pang in Turandot with St. Pete Opera, Soloist with Tampa Oratorio Singers in Handel’s Messiah, Soloist with Key Chorale in Bach’s Magnificat and Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, and Alfredo in La Traviata with Long Island Opera.  Friedman’s awards include A Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges Award, Winner of The American Prize Friederich and Virginia Schorr Memorial Art Song Award and encouragement grants from The Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Vocal Competition, The Arkadi Foundation Competition, and Palm Beach Opera Guild.  Mr. Friedman holds a Master’s and Professional Studies Diploma from The Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor’s from The Eastman School of Music.

Sarah Heltzel (mezzo-soprano) is being noticed for her “potent star performances” coupled with a “rich, powerhouse voice” (Houston Chronicle) Ms. Heltzel made her debut with Seattle Opera as Siegrune in their Ring cycle. She reprised the role twice, adding covers of Flosshilde in Das Rheingold,and Waltraute, Zweite Norn and Flosshilde in Götterdämmerung. A compelling actress with a true Zwischenfach voice, in recent seasons Ms. Heltzel has performed Suzuki in Madama Butterfly (Indianapolis, Amarillo, Syracuse, Nevada, Opera on the James), Der Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos (Winter Opera St Louis), Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (String Orchestra of Brooklyn), and Desirée in A Little Night Music (Syracuse Opera). Other recent roles include Jo in Little Women (Opera on the James), Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Opera in the Heights), Flora in La Traviata (Seattle Opera), and Musetta in La Bohème (Opera on the James). This season Ms. Heltzel joins The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice as Charlotte in A Little Night Music, Wichita Grand Opera as the Principessa d’Eboli in Don Carlo, and a return to Verdi’s Requiem for Wichita Symphony.

 Amelia Watkins (soprano), described by Opera News as having “a rich, glowing lyric sound destined for the heights”, has performed with leading orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe. Since her European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, she has appeared with the Los Angeles Opera, New York City Opera, the Estates Theatre/National Theatre Prague, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, Weill Hall, Lincoln Centre, the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Verbier Festival, The National Arts Centre, EMPAC, Joe’s Pub, and in concert in Hong Kong. Her operatic roles include Norina (Don Pasquale), Despina (Così fan Tutte), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Musetta (La Bohème), Mme. Herz (The Impresario), Gretel (Hansel & Gretel), Frasquita (Carmen), Dafne (Apollo e Dafne), and extensive scenes of Handel heroines Armida and Cleopatra performed with baroque orchestra. Oratorio roles include Handel’s Messiah, the Requiem of Mozart, Fauré and Rutter (performed at Carnegie Hall), and of Manfred Trojahn (at the Gewandhaus), Mozart’s Exultate, Jubilate and Coronation Mass, and Mahler’s Symphony #2, performed at The National Arts Center in Ottawa.

 Sam Carl (bass), born in London, to Californian-British parents is the Artistic Director of Music of the Spheres Consort – a Scotland based early and contemporary music theatre group. He studied singing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and obtained a first class degree in English Literature and Music from the University of Glasgow. Using his US citizenship, he recently moved to New York City where he continues his vocal studies with vocal pedagogue David Jones. His recent opera credits involve Count Monterone and Colline (Rigoletto and La Bohème, Sheen Center NYC), Ormondo (Rossini: L’inganno Felice, Spoleto Italy), Figaro (Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro, Edinburgh Festival). With Music of the Spheres he sang the role of Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea and Schlendrian in the newly commissioned Coffee Opera (Oldham, Wood, Glasgow Center for Contemporary Arts). This summer he appears as Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte in Berlin under Peter Leonard.

Group B- Singers

Eric S. Brenner (countertenor) has been hailed for his “penetrating eloquence,” “astonishing solo singing” (NY Times), and “auto-tuned Mr. Roboto majesty” (Stage Mage).  Some current engagements include: alto & soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah at Avery Fisher (Geffen) & Alice Tully Halls; Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms at St. Ignatius Loyola & St. John the Divine; Tolomeo in Handel’s Giulio Cesare with Opera Roanoke; Riccardo in Scarlatti’s Il Trionfo dell’Onore at Symphony Space (“untamed” NY Times); Volpino in Haydn’s Lo Speziale in Rochester, NY; Doodle in Stefan Weisman’s & David Cote’s Scarlet Ibis with Prototype (“…he was astonishing, the musicality of his singing so gripping that one began to perk up in greater anticipation when a cue came his way.” New York Classical Review). A fervent proponent of new music, Eric has premiered works by Stefan Weissman, Toby Twining, Hannah Lash, Jessica Meyer, Doug Balliet, Virko Baley, and Kamala Sankaram, among others. Eric is also co-composer with Matt Shloss of music for Rob Reese’s Yahweh’s Follies, writes fiction (currently hard at work on his second novel, his first play, a screenplay, and possibly a libretto!), and persists in being an incorrigible Mets fan.  Eric is represented domestically by Wade Artist Management.  Find out more at

 Kamala Sankaram (soprano), has been praised as “strikingly original” (NY Times) and as “an impassioned soprano with blazing high notes” (Wall Street Journal). Recent appearances have included FUTURITY (Soho Rep/Ars Nova), MASTERPIECES (Ostrava Days) and TRILLIUM J (Anthony Braxton). Also a composer, commissions include Beth Morrison Projects, HERE Arts Center, and Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra, among others. Awards and grants include: Jonathan Larson Award, NEA ArtWorks, MAP Fund, Opera America, New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical (MIRANDA). Residencies: Civilians, HERE, the MacDowell Colony, the Watermill Center, the Hermitage, Con Edison/Exploring the Metropolis, and American Lyric Theater. Her second opera, THUMBPRINT, premiered in the 2014 PROTOTYPE Festival and will be featured in LA Opera’s 2016/17 season.

Deborah van Renterghem (soprano) has performed with prominent opera companies and orchestras in the US and abroad. Recent performances include Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito as Vitelia with Orchestra of Emmanuel Music in Boston, which was hailed by Lloyd Schwartz of the Boston Phoenix as one of the top vocal performances of that year. At Harvard she sang the role of Sieglinde in a staged performance of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walkure. She was also cover of the female lead, Julia in Lorin Maazel’s “1984″ for Palau de les Arts, in Valencia, Spain where she also sang one of the Flower Maidens in Parsifal under the baton of Maestro Maazel, directed by Werner Herzog. Recent concert and chamber work include concerts in New York of Charles Ives’ complete songbook with members of the Brooklyn Art Song Society and songs of Francis Poulenc with Operamission.  In Boston she sang Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 and Britten’s Phaedrawith chamber orchestra. Other past performances include: the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Changing Light in Helsinki, Finland;The Governess in Britten’s Turn of the Screw produced by Maestro Maazel;and Echo in Tulsa Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos. She has sung for Santa Fe Opera, Theater der Stadt Heidelberg, The Huntington Theater, Helsinki Strings, the Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt, The American Music Festival in Cluj, Romania, Tulsa Opera, Harrisburg Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, American Opera Projects, Lorin Maazel’s Chateauville Foundation, Prism Opera, and the American Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall.

Jorell Williams (baritone) has been acclaimed by The New York Times for his “magnificent, rich toned” baritone and his “perfect” comic timing. He is a recipient of the 2016 Marc and Eva Stern Fellowship at SongFest, and will make debuts with the Brooklyn Art Song Society, Eugene Symphony, American Lyric Theater, South Dakota Symphony, and Rochester Lyric Opera . He will also debut with PORTOpera as Morales in Bizet’s Carmen. In the 2014-15 season, Jorell made his professional debuts in the premiere of composer/conductor Matt Aucoin’s Opera Crossing with the American Repertory Theater (Directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus), Jennifer Hidgon’s oratorio Dooryard Bloom with the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey, the world premiere of Blue Viola with Urban Arias (Directed by Emmy Nominee Tazewell Thompson), and Independence Eve, an opera produced by American Opera Projects. This past summer, Jorell joined the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program in productions of La Fille du Régiment, Rigoletto, and the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, which is soon to be released on PENTATONE recording label.

The Fort Greene Park Conservancy is the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that partners with the City of New York and NYC Parks to steward, fundraise, and advocate for Fort Greene Park. Over the past decade, the Conservancy has been instrumental in bringing over $10M dollars of restoration and capital projects into our Park, as well as a full calendar of year-round park programming and free neighborhood events. An all-volunteer organization for its first 17 years, the Conservancy is entering an exciting new age of development with the addition of two full-time staff members.

AMERICAN OPERA PROJECTS (producer) Founded in 1988, American Opera Projects is at the forefront of the contemporary opera movement, commissioning, developing, presenting, and producing opera and music theatre projects, collaborating with young, rising, and established artists, and engaging audiences in unique and transformative theatrical experiences. AOP has produced over 30 world premieres, including the Nathan Davis/Brendan Pelsue dance chamber opera Hagoromo starring Wendy Whelan (BAM, 2015), Kaminsky/Reed/Campbell’s As One (BAM, 2014), Nkeiru Okoye’s Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom (Irondale Center, 2014), and Lera Auerbach’s The Blind (co-production with Lincoln Center Festival, 2013). Other notable premieres include Kimper/Persons’ Patience & Sarah (1998), Weisman/Rabinowitz’s Darkling (2006), Lee Hoiby’s This is the Rill Speaking (2008), and Phil Kline’s Out Cold, also at BAM (2012). AOP-developed operas that premiered with co-producers include Stefan Weisman’s The Scarlet Ibis at PROTOTYPE Festival (2015), Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case at Urban Arias (2013) and PROTOTYPE Festival and Pittsburgh Opera (2014), Jack Perla’s Love/Hate at ODC Theater with San Francisco Opera (2012), Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera (2011), Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at London’s Royal Opera House (2011) and Opera Parallèle (2015).  Upcoming; Huang Ruo’s Paradise Interrupted (NY premiere co-production with Lincoln Center Festival, 2016) AOP’s core programs comprise Composers & the Voice, First Chance, OPERAtion Brooklyn, I Hear America Singing, and AOP Helping Hands.

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