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

April 22, 2016

“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 https://parkandbarkmay7.eventbrite.com. More information can be found at www.aopopera.org.

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

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AOP Brings Brooklyn Voices to 5×10 Talks

May 21, 2014

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, AOP was asked to be a part of the inaugural 5×10 Talks, an event organized by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to showcase innovation in the neighborhood.

The event- which raised funds to support the DBP’s year-round public programming and was held at the brand-new BRIC Arts | Media House– highlighted five leaders from Downtown Brooklyn to answer the question, “What’s next?”

Under their I HEAR AMERICA SINGING program, AOP featured two of composer Gilda Lyons’ songs, rapid transit and “I am From the Ghetto ‘Brooklyn'” (the latter from her cycle Songs from the F Train), and three of their regular performers, soprano Adrienne Danrich, contralto Nicole Mitchell, and pianist Mila Henry. In addition, young poet Najaya Royale read her original text for “I Am From the Ghetto ‘Brooklyn'”, which she wrote when she was only 12 years old.

Wanna find out what else is “next”? Watch clips from the entire event here, and check out photos here.

And thanks to a partnership with Brooklyn Independent Media, you can watch a SPECIAL BROADCAST of the 5×10 Talks from 6-7:30pm on May 24th, May 25th, May 31st, and June 1st. Tune in on Brooklyn’s Time Warner Cable 756, Verizon FiOS 46 (all five boroughs), and online at BRIC Brooklyn Indie Media.


AOP receives NEA grant to develop, present “HARRIET TUBMAN” in 2013

December 5, 2012

harriet banner nkeiru

$15,000 grant to fund presentations of new musical work by composer Nkeiru Okoye based on the life of Harriet Tubman, hero of the Underground Railroad, on 100th anniversary of her death.

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman announced last week that AOP is one of 832 non-profit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. AOP is recommended for a $15,000 grant to support the creation, development and presentation of Nkeiru Okoye‘s folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, during 2013, the 100th anniversary year of Tubman’s death and the 150th anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation. Performances of the opera will occur in states along the Underground Railroad where Tubman was active.

“I’m proud to announce these 832 grants to the American public including AOP’s Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom,” said Chairman Landesman.  “These projects offer extraordinary examples of creativity in our country, including the creation of new work, innovative ways of engaging audiences, and exemplary education programs.”

Charles Jarden, General Director of AOP, states “AOP is grateful to the NEA for their support of new work, especially new opera.  Harriet Tubman is the fourth AOP opera in four years to receive NEA funds.  With the aid of this generous support AOP has launched four stylistically different, artistically excellent projects that have had and will continue for many years to have an impact on citizens of our county. AOP commissioned Nkeiru Okoye for songs  in our I HEAR AMERICA SINGING program, through funds from New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and we witnessed the powerful impact of her music on the general public when we performed them in various inner city locations.  We are thrilled to be working with Nkeiru on her first opera and her choice of the Tubman story is perfect for AOP, a Brooklyn-based opera company.”

In March 2012, the NEA received 1,509 eligible applications for Art Works requesting more than $74 million in funding. The 832 recommended NEA grants total $22.3 million, span 13 artistic disciplines and fields, and focus primarily on the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing works for the benefit of American audiences. Applications were reviewed by panels of outside experts convened by NEA staff and each project was judged on its artistic excellence and artistic merit.

As part of AOP First Chance, a public workshop series for developing new opera and music-theater works, music from Harriet Tubman has been presented at several New York City venues including Galapagos Art Space and the Brooklyn Public Library. It has also received libretto development in closed workshop sessions at AOP.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at arts.gov


Najaya Royal Lives Her Dreams

March 26, 2012

Najaya Royal and Wes MooreOn March 16-17th, Adobe Youth Voices held six workshop sessions on creating music videos and portrait documentaries as part of WNET’s Celebration of Teaching & Learning conference.  The highlight of the conference was a panel discussion on creating a difference in the lives of young people through education, led by NYTimes best-selling author Wes Moore .  And who was one of the participants ?  15 year-old Najaya Royal, who has written poetry for AOP’s I Hear America Singing-commissioned song cycles Songs from the F Train and Brooklyn Cinderella.Songs from the F Train

Najaya suggested creating an outlet for students to express themselves, perhaps through having schoolteachers becoming directly aware of their students’ interests, and then incorporating those interests into subjects they’re struggling with.  “Don’t be afraid to help yourself,” she said, later adding,”We all have a dream.  But it’s your choice to go after that dream.”

Najaya’s dream is to combine her writing and musical talents (she also plays the violin and saxophone) into the career of a music journalist.  So far, we think she’s done an excellent job.

Want to learn more about Najaya’s influences in following her dreams?  Click here.


Young AOP Poet featured on Patch.com

April 6, 2011

Samori Covington, a young poet based in Brooklyn, has already had her work turned into a song, performed by an opera singer, and premiered at Carnegie Hall.  And she’s only 12 years old!

Samori, who wrote the poem “When Randa Wears Red” when she was just 8 years old , was part of the Phat Phun Tuesdays workshop headed by Angeli Rasbury at the Eastern Parkway and New Lots branches of the Brooklyn Public Library, along with two other girls, Alexis Cummings and Najaya Royal.  Each girl had one of their poems selected for the I Hear America Singing initiative, founded by Greg Trupiano of The Walt Whitman Project and our very own Executive Director Charles Jarden, which were then turned into the song cycle Songs from the F Train by composer Gilda Lyons.

The songs were premiered in the Fort Greene Literary Festival in 2009, although they’ve since been performed at Galapagos Art Space, Cave Canem, and Restoration, not to mention that musical behemoth called Carnegie Hall.  Samori’s involvement recently caught the attention of the the online newsletter for Bed-Stuy, Patch.com, which features local news about the Brooklyn region.  The Patch article also includes a sound clip of “When Randa wears Red,” featuring mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell.

After Songs from the F Train made its initial debut, three more songs were commissioned for Gilda Lyons, and her follow-up cycle, Songs from the A Train, made its debut as well.  In fact, the initiative has been so successful that AOP and The Walt Whitman Project will commission another three songs through Angeli’s Phat Phun Tuesdays, with performances scheduled for this June in Fort Greene Park.

But is Samori phased by all this well-deserved success?  Not one bit.  She admittedly still uses a script when she reads her poem aloud.  Though she does want to be a writer when she grows up.  Or a pediatrician.  Or a scientist.

 

L-R: Najaya Royal, Alexis Cummings, Samori Covington, and Angeli Rasbury


Young Poets Inspire Opera, Opera Inspires Young Poets

August 6, 2010

On a hot summer morning, the Brooklyn Library’s Dweck Auditorium is filled with children (along with their parents and a few other adults) craning their necks to watch five of their fellow students, one by one, take the stage and recite poetry. Not just any poetry, but their own. Poetry that talked about loving Brooklyn, about hating Brooklyn, about being shy, about being ambitious, about looking good in a dress, about living large in a mansion. Moments after these five students, ranging in ages from 6 to 13, had finished reading – some shyly, some proudly, all bravely – they took their seats and all watched as  mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell and pianist Kelly Horsted walked on the stage. A few seconds later they heard the poetry again, this time expressed in powerful song.

IHAS at the Dweck Auditorium

I Hear America Singing at the Dweck Auditorium, July 19, 2010. (l. to r. The Walt Whitman Project Artistic Director Greg Trupiano, poet Tyler Forsythe, poetry mentor Angeli Rasbury, poet Tristan Regist, composer Gilda Lyons, poet Keanu Stowe, poet Alexis Cummings, AOP General Director Charles Jarden, mother Angeline Keller, poet Samori Covington, pianist Kelly Horsted, singer Nicole Mitchell)

This was I Hear America Singing, the initiative by American Opera Projects and the Walt Whitman Project to transform the words of ordinary Americans into opera, and its first two song cycles composed by Gilda Lyons – “Songs from the F Train,” premiered in June 2009, and “Songs from the A Train,” premiered on this summer morning July 19, 2010 at the Dweck Auditorium, with all but one of the six young poets in attendance.

Among the enraptured faces was Mr. Jim Vogel, Spokesperson for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery whose district covers a huge swath of Brooklyn from Ocean Hill to Fort Greene and down to Sunset Park.  Mr. Vogel was proud to tell everyone that these young poets were to going to be recognized by the NY State Legislature for their hard work and inspirational voices. The students smiled to learn how far their voices had traveled and how many people had been listening. (And to learn how politics work. They would have been officially presented with this recognition that morning in the form of a framed Proclamation… but Albany first had to complete their months-delayed budget.)

Later, their writing mentor Angeli Rasbury asked the students to express themselves yet again, but this time with a focus on what they felt when they heard Ms. Mitchell, a Brooklyn native herself, sing.

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I hear a talented opera voice in my ears.
I feel very happy to hear her beautiful voice singing, letting all her emotions out.
I hear and see the birds flying high.
I hear the crickets singing and the butterfly flying joyfully through the sky.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell I look back in the days when black people were slaves singing and working hard to get their freedom.
I imagine Nicole back there in time singing to her freedom, singing when will she be free.
When I hear that song it makes me feel proud of black people, of how far we have come,  to this stage right now. When I hear people like Nicole Mitchell, my day keeps getting better and better.
–  Rood Dorestil, 13 years old

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel happy and think I’m in heaven.
I hear trees whistling in the breeze.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell, I can imagine different colored flowers moving slowly from side to side.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I am joyful.
I feel like a red leaf.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like I am in beautiful, lush Barbados.
I feel Nicole Mitchell is a beautiful singer.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, she sounds excited to be alive.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel free.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like a pretty slave who has been freed.
–    Aliah Gilkes, 10 years old

master tell me i’m his slave
no i say i’m a flow of music
i’m not a slave
don’t believe such foolishness of your white community
i hear the the voices of opera
and feel the beat of opera
i hear the piano of the flat boards
that used to be teeth
the loud voices saying
you go girl
that my people is pure music!
–  Eva Taylor, 9 years old

This is only the beginning of I Hear America Singing. In the 2010-11 season AOP will branch out with new performances and new songs. There are many voices yet to be heard. Visit www.operaprojects.org throughout the year to discover when and where to hear them.


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