AOP Board Member News: Performances, Accolades, and the Passing of a Leader

October 30, 2018

It has been a busy fall for AOP. Our Composers & The Voice fellows delivered a successful “Six Scenes” concert and our latest NYC premiere, “Savage Winter” has entered production for its November 7th unveiling at BAM. At this prolific time in our 30th season, we feel we must take a breath to acknowledge news about the achievements and influence of our effervescent Board members.

Anna Rabinowitz. photo © Elena Seibert

Anna Rabinowitz, poet, librettist, and National Endowment for the Arts fellow, has extrapolated her poetry collection, Words on the Street into a “multimedia hybrid performance” in collaboration with director Kristin Marting, video designer Lianne Arnold (As One), and composer Matt Marks. Staged at Baruch College’s Rose Naglebaum Theater from October 26th to November 4thWords on the Street is a humanity-spanning mystery story; a “what-done-it” if you will, surrounding the abduction of a baby in a dystopian world. Anna Rabinowitz has served on AOP’s board of directors since 2006 and has collaborated on AOP-commissioned adaptations of her poetry books, Darkling (music by Stefan Weisman) and The Wanton Sublime (music by Tarik O’Regan).

Anna Rabinowitz and the Berlin cast of AOP’s 2007 tour of Darkling.

In addition to this new production, Ms. Rabinowitz has also been honored by the Poetry Society of America, with a new prize conferred in her name. The Anna Rabinowitz Prize will be awarded in recognition of collaborative endeavors in the field of poetry that unify the art-form with typically related media such as music and visual art, or venture into more esoteric collaborative territory, such as science or mathematics. The award was established to honor Ms. Rabinowitz’s “boundless curiosity, creativity, and artistic accomplishments”, qualities she has shown no shortage of in her multifarious efforts with AOP.

Anthony Roth Costanzo, has been declared Musical America’s “Vocalist of the Year” for his courage, curiosity and passion in challenging notions of a counter-tenor’s role in contemporary opera, and his willingness to identify and combat issues faced by opera creatives in a relentlessly evolving artistic landscape. Celebrated for the “brilliant, piercing clarity of his voice” that can “blaze with passion” Costanzo has performed with The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, New York Philharmonic, and National Symphony Orchestra. With AOP, he was instrumental in AOP’s development of Wolf-In-Skins by composer Gregory Spears and librettist/choreographer Christopher Williams, and has been a member of the our board since 2013.

Anthony Roth Costanzo in the 2017 AOP workshop of Wolf-in-Skins. Photo: Steven Pisano.

Costanzo recently released his debut recording ARC, a collection that alternates between Arias by Handel and Glass, two composers who the singer views as integral to his development. The album was the basis for a large-scale, live cross-pollination of art-forms entitled “Glass Handel”. Art, dance, film, fashion, and theatre practitioners came together in a multimedia event intended to “appeal to an audience that is primed to appreciate aesthetic things but doesn’t really have an ‘in’ with opera”. Our heartiest congratulations to you in your multi-faceted endeavors, Anthony!

Anthony Roth Costanzo and Dr. Coco Lazaroff at AOP’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Player’s Club. Photo by Richard Termine.

Finally, it is with heavy hearts that we acknowledge the passing of Dr. Coco Lazaroff, who has been Chair of the AOP Board since 2015. Dr. Lazaroff was a spirited and avid consumer of new opera, who challenged AOP to venture beyond traditional boundaries in the kinds of operas we develop. At the same time she adored the classic operas, and served on the board of the Metropolitan Opera.  She was a recognizable figure and always sat in the front row of theaters.  We imagine she now has the very best seat.  We miss you, Coco!


“Darkling” translated into German

July 9, 2013

Luxbooks, Weisbaden, Germany has released Anna Rabinowitz’s Darkling: A Poem in a German language edition that includes a CD of the AOP opera based on the work.


From a book-length poem to a multi-media experimental opera to a CD released by Albany RecordsDarkling gives a haunting portrayal of the emotions, terrors, and incalculable losses incurred during the period between the two World Wars and the Holocaust.

Commissioned by American Opera Projects, the stage adaptation of Darkling was set to original music by post-classical composer Stefan Weisman and told through a fusion of avant-garde theater, opera, cutting-edge technology and poignant language. In 2006, American Opera Projects presented the world premiere of Darkling, directed by Michael Comlish, which ran Off-Broadway for three weeks to wide critical acclaim.

Subsequently, Darkling toured in a concert version to Berlin and Poland and to the Center City Opera Theatre as part of the Philly Fringe Festival in 2008. Excerpts have been performed in many venues, including New York City Opera’s VOXseries at NYU’s Skirball Center and the Works and Process Series at the Guggenheim Museum. In 2011, Albany Records released a 2-CD studio recording of the opera.

Anna Rabinowitz’s Darkling: A Poem  was first published in English by Tupelo Press in 2001.

For more information about Darkling, visit the opera’s website.

Composer Stefan Weisman Marks His Time from C&V to His Third Opera

September 7, 2012

Stefan WeismanStefan Weisman, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2003-04

I remember hearing about AOP for the first time from my good friend, the talented composer Dan Sonenberg. He had just finished AOP’s inaugural session of the Composers & the Voice program. He told me that he had written six different songs, each of which was workshopped by a different singer, and, as a culmination of the program, he composed a short opera scene that was rehearsed and performed. I must admit that I was immediately envious. At that time I had written very little vocal music, but loved doing so whenever I did. However, I always felt that writing for the voice was a special challenge and in a way it was a mystery that required real experience to do well. I had to apply to AOP’s Composers & the Voice program, and I was thrilled to be accepted.

I remember working week after week, churning out new songs to be performed in the closed sessions of Composers & the Voice, during which I’d get feedback from the singers as well as from the accompanist, and from the other composers, and also, of course, from Steve Osgood, AOP’s artistic director at the time, and the creator of Composers & the Voice.

One song, “Twinkie,” was set to the ingredients of the iconic snack food of the same name. I would never have guessed at the time, that this would become my most performed piece. It was even recently performed on the nationally syndicated program The Wendy Williams Show, sung by one of my favorite collaborators, Hai-Ting Chinn. During the program, Wendy Williams said, “Very unique . . . You’re not going to hear opera like this anywhere else… Fabulous!”

The ingredients to a delicious aria…

Strangely, it was also because of this song, “Twinkie,” that Charles Jarden decided I might be the right composer to approach with the prospect of working on a new opera called Darkling with a libretto by poet Anna Rabinowitz. Her poetry is complex, and intentionally thorny at times, but always very beautiful. Apparently, Charles had decided that if I could make the complicated ingredients of a Twinkie work as a song, then I would have no problem working with the complexity of Anna’s poetry.

Darkling was a difficult and serious piece, and I was not sure I could successfully find music to match these words and ideas. When I first met Anna, I was certain I would have many questions about her poetry as I began the compositional process, and I told her I expected that I would need to consult with her frequently. Amazingly, I never needed to do so. As soon as my work began, something remarkable happened . . . my initial feelings of doubt and apprehension were swept away. I discovered that underneath the poem’s complex layers was a deep emotionality into which I was able to tap, and in this way the poetry came into vivid focus for me. Ultimately, my goal was to use music to instantly make those underlying emotions clear and direct, so that audiences would be able to connect to and appreciate the heartrending story and ideas I found in Darkling’s poetry.

“There’s Been a Slippage” from Darkling

I’m so grateful to AOP for commissioning me to write the music for Darkling. I am very proud of this piece, and I’ve been excited to witness its successes. It was included in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series, and premiered to great acclaim at the East 13th Street Theater. It was presented at the German Consulate as part of the Friends of Freie Universität’s Jewish Documentary Film, Theater, and Speaker Series. A touring version of Darkling previewed at New York City Opera’s VOX “On the Edge” Showcase and was then presented in Germany and Poland in 2007 and in Philadelphia in 2009. Most exciting for me is that Darkling was released by Albany Records in November 2011 in a stunning recording produced by Judith Sherman.

The cast of Darkling's European tour

The cast and creators of Darkling’s European tour

In a way, I also have AOP to thank for my second opera, Fade, with a libretto by David Cote. Fade was commissioned by the exciting British opera company, Second Movement, but before its premiere in London, AOP set up a libretto reading. David and I were convinced that the libretto was already finished. However, after we heard the libretto read by actors (overseen by director Ned Canty) and got feedback from a small handpicked audience, we discovered that we had more work to do.

Fade london

Second Movement’s premiere of “Fade”

Fade premiered in London in October 2008 on a triple bill with Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge. In addition to its London premiere, Fade has also had productions in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York City.

I am working with librettist David Cote once again. We are developing The Scarlet Ibis, an evening-length chamber opera that will be designed to appeal to younger audiences as well as sophisticated operagoers. The Scarlet Ibis is a lyrical tale of family, survival, and tolerance, based on a 1960 short story by James Hurst.

Counter-tenor Eric Brenner (Doodle) and mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn (Brother) in “The Scarlet Ibis” workshop ate HERE’s CultureMart 2012

We are calling The Scarlet Ibis a “family opera,” but although it will appeal to young viewers, we will not talk down to our audience. The Scarlet Ibis will be a hybrid opera, and we plan to work puppetry into its staging. The opera is being developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, but once again American Opera Projects had come on board to assist in the creation of my newest piece.

I am thrilled to have AOP with me as I continue my operatic journey. From Composers and the Voice, to Darkling, to Fade and now The Scarlet Ibis, AOP has been right there all along. I am so grateful for their championing new American opera, and I hope to continue my relationship with them for a long time to come.

Stefan Weisman
September 2012

The latest group of Composers & the Voice fellows will premiere new work on Sep. 7 & 9, 2012 at Six Scenes in Brooklyn, NY.

Scenes from The Scarlet Ibis will be presented to the public at HERE’s CultureMart 2013 in Jan.-Feb. 2013.

Darkling CDThe CD studio recording of Darkling is available for purchase at Albany Records, Amazon, iTunes, and many other retail locations.

Anna Rabinowitz, Wonder Poet

December 17, 2010

“A storm careens from the east
and acid rains make vegetation cower.
Asphodel, rose, columbine
Lie down among dandelions…”

Violence, desire, and destruction.  And so writes AOP favorite Anna Rabinowitz, whose latest poetry book “Present Tense”, published by Omnidawn, was named by Anis Shivani in The Huffington Post as one of The 17 Most Important Poetry Books of Fall 2010. Stating that “Rabinowitz does apocalypse so well I can’t get enough of it,” Shivani goes on to point out themes of barbarism vs. civilization that emerge in Rabinowitz’s latest work, explaining that she has “the audacity to recognize how battered we have become by the inextricable link between desire and destruction.”

In addition to her literary fame, Rabinowitz is no stranger to American Opera Projects, after having her second book Darkling made into an AOP opera, with her third book The Wanton Sublime currently in development as a monodrama with music by Tarik O’Regan.

Anna, your high school English teacher would be proud.

(“Notes: Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources”)

New Music Sunday at Barbès presents Weisman Music

October 15, 2010

Stefan Weisman, Composers & The Voice alumni and Darkling composer, will present some of his original compositions THIS Sunday, October 17th, at 7pm as part of Barbès’s New Music Sunday.  The performance will feature guitarist James Moore with Mellissa Hughes, Corey Dargel, and Wil Smith, as well as soprano Katharine Dain with composer Chris Berg.

In addition to Weisman’s compositions for acoustic and electric guitar (including Everywhere Feathers, with words by Anna Rabinowitz, author of Darkling: A Poem), Dain’s portion will include a sampling of Weisman’s vocal works, from the ethereal Look At The Light (from Weisman’s opera Fade, a commission from Second Movement (UK), with additional development from AOP)  to Twinkie, which was part of AOP’s Composers & The Voice Workshop series, with text by Hostess.  For the animal lovers out there, there’s also Law of the Jungle 1, based on a strange but true story about a lioness who adopts an antelope calf.

Who knows, you might even get a sneak preview of Corey Dargel’s Hold Yourself Together, or hear Ingram Marshall’s Soe-pa and Four Nabokov Songs by Chris Berg.

Barbès is a bar and performance space located in the Park Slope part of Brooklyn, and plays host to regular events such as music, readings and film screenings.  376 9th St. (corner of 6th Ave.), telephone (347) 422-0248.

AOP Projects receive funding

August 6, 2010

Some major organizations have shown their support for new opera by funding several AOP upcoming projects. AOP gives great thanks to these contributors.


Semmelweis – The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  Funding for “credible and compelling work exploring the worlds of science and technology and to challenge the existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in the popular imagination.”

Our Basic NatureOur Basic Nature – Meet the Composer’s MetLife Creative Connections. “MetLife Creative Connections provides support for American composers to participate in public activities related to specific performances of their original music. By supporting the composer’s interaction with audiences, performers, arts organizations, and local communities, Metlife Creative Connections aims to increase public awareness and enhance the creative artist’s role in society.”

DarklingDarkling – The Aaron Copland Fund for Music supporting the upcoming studio recording of Darkling. “The program’s objectives are to document and provide wider exposure for the music of contemporary American composers, to develop audiences for contemporary American music through record distribution and other retail markets, and to support the release and dissemination of recordings of previously unreleased contemporary American music…”

And multi-year grants confirmed from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.

AOP applauds these recent grants and the continued support of our many individuals and fans. Please consider a donation today to join these important and necessary supporters of the arts.

Donate to AOP

Elzbieta Czyzewska, 1938-2010

June 18, 2010
Elzbieta Czyzewska headshot

Elzbieta Czyzewska, 1938-2010

AOP is truly heartbroken today to hear of the death of our friend Elzbieta, who our audiences will remember from the memorable characters she created and her seductive Eastern European purr in Darkling.

One of my fondest memories was being with her on the 2007 Darkling tour as she returned to Poland for the first time in many years, and over 35 years from when she was expelled from her country where she was a famous actress. We waited at a checkpoint in a stifling hot Cold War era bus as the guards collected our passports. Despite her fame they did not bat an eye, and no one seemed to notice her quiet sadness at the ignoble lack of fanfare. I had her stand up in the aisle of the bus and pose for a picture. She immediately turned into the coquettish young beauty that I think she always was in her heart, held her head high, and looked down seductively.  (You can see the picture below.)

We will miss her elegant, non-stop smoking, her vampiric dahhhling of a speaking voice, and her biting humor. Goodbye, sweet duchess.

– Matt Gray, AOP Producing Director

“In the 1960s Ms. Czyzewska was, quite simply,
the most popular actress in Poland, creating, in comic and dramatic roles, a consistent persona that was both fiercely feminine and fiercely independent.” – New York Times

Read the New York Times obit for Elzbieta.

Elzbieta in Poland 2007

Elzbieta returning to Poland in 2007. Photo by Matt Gray.

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