Fort Greene Park to be commemorated in student operas in new AOP and NYU Tisch partnership

February 19, 2016

Randall Eng, composer and Assistant Arts Professor at Tisch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program

By the end of this spring, one of New York City’s most historic and vibrant neighborhoods will be commemorated in song. And not just one song, but an entire series of new operas. This spring, students in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (GMTWP) at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts will learn the ins and outs of opera writing when Brooklyn’s American Opera Projects (AOP) partners with the esteemed arts school for a new “Opera Writing Workshop.”  Led by composer Randall Eng, the workshop is an advanced class for composers and librettists of GMTWP at Tisch who will collaborate with an ensemble of eight professional opera singers and two music directors to create short operas under the mentorship of AOP, an opera company in Fort Greene that has developed and premiered contemporary operas for over 25 years.

For the inaugural workshop, AOP and Eng have assigned the students to create operas inspired by the Brooklyn neighborhood Fort Greene and the historic Fort Greene Park, the latter of which has been home to a graveyard of Revolutionary War soldiers as well as a source of inspiration for writers Richard Wright and Marianne Moore and filmmaker Spike Lee. In addition to the musical team, AOP will provide the students with special access to staff from NYC Parks and Fort Greene Park Conservancy.  NYU associate professor and opera director Sam Helfrich will direct the AOP workshop singers in the site-specific scenes being created with the participation of his design students in Tisch’s Design for Stage and Film Department. The operas will be performed in conjunction with American Opera Projects at GMTWP’s Black Box Theatre on May 7, 2016 and in Fort Greene Park itself on May 8, 2016.

AOP General Director Charles Jarden stated, “In this partnership with NYU, AOP is broadening our mission to help mentor creators of opera and music theater work by attracting grad students at one of the best schools in the country.  This project is a great complement to one of our core programs, Composers & the Voice and Randall Eng is one of the alums of that program, which makes the partnership especially valuable and gratifying for us.  We are deeply grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and to the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs for on-going generous support.”

As of February 1st there are twenty-five (25) students enrolled in the class.

Crowds gather in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn’s first park and subject for NYU’s Opera Writing Workshop composers.


The Wanton Sublime hailed as emotionally captivating and beautifully written

September 4, 2015

The Wanton Sublime, composed by Tarik O’Regan with a libretto by American poet Anna Rabinowitz, focuses on the character of the Virgin Mary as she grapples with the terror of being chosen for a divine purpose. Originally developed in NYC with American Opera Projects, it was just performed at the Grimeborn Festival in East London. Hai Ting Chinn was the star in this one woman opera, conducted by Andrew Griffiths, who lead the Orpheus Sinfonia, and directed by Robert Shaw. A strong, well-rounded production, The Wanton Sublime gives a new voice to a classic figure through powerful text, beautiful melodic lines, a simple production, and atypical instrumentation.

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn - Arcola Theatre) © Robert Workman

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn – Arcola Theatre)
© Robert Workman

Tim Ashley, writing for The Guardian, applauded the “…bluesy rebelliousness and Monteverdian lyricism…” of Tarik O’Regan’s music in The Wanton Sublime, citing a beautiful moment in which the Virgin Mary is torn between her fear and her faith as “…Chinn sings against a playback of her own voice singing sacred texts…”. Rupert Christiansen of The Telegraph was also impressed by O’Regan’s music, praising its unfaltering heartbeat and melody “…weaving a richly melismatic vocal line into a strikingly coloured orchestral score delicately enhanced by electronic effects. Never sterile or mechanical it seems to have a living organic pulse.”

The What’sOnStage review  by Mark Valencia complemented the music and the characterization of the Virgin Mary calling the opera “…musically rich…and also philosophically absorbing.” Valencia appreciates how Rabinowitz presents Mary as”…a strong young woman who questions, challenges and even defies the God who has slated her to be the mother of Christ.” Tim Ashley (The Guardian) also enjoyed the emotional depth of the opera, “The underlying point, integral to much mystic literature, is that divine intervention has the bewildering potential to shatter lives and identities.” Edward Bhesania’s review for The Stage compliments Rabinowitz’s and O’Regan’s creative partnership as Mary’s character “…begins with incredulity and disdain before finally reaching acceptance, by which point both music and text have attained a more sublime tone.” The EveningStandard review, written by Barry Millington, also applauds their collaboration, stating “…Rabinowitz’s text explores the nervous longings of an idealised iconic figure, complemented by Tarik O’Regan’s inventive and attractive score…”

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn - Arcola Theatre) © Robert Workman

Hai-Ting Chinn in The Wanton Sublime (Grimeborn – Arcola Theatre)
© Robert Workman

Valencia (What’sOnStage) also describes the minimalist staging by Robert Shaw “…commendably simple staging presents her as a power dressed young professional who changes midway through into simpler clothes that better assert her individuality. It’s a subtle transition, and beautifully judged.” Edward Bhesania (The Stage) complimented the instrumentation which “…uses a 9 piece band (including electric guitar and rums to underpin the journey of the Virgin Mary figure stripped of her iconic symbolism and grappling in today’s world of her unasked-for role.”

AOP began developing the monodrama in 2009 and co-produced its premiere at Roulette in Brooklyn in 2014. AOP had previously worked with Tarik O’Regan on his first opera Heart of Darkness and with Anna Rabinowitz on Darkling, another operatic adaptation of a book of her poetry. Darkling, music by Stefan Weisman, was commissioned and developed by AOP.


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