Applications now available for Composers & The Voice 2013-14

March 22, 2013



BROOKLYN, NY – American Opera Projects (AOP) announces the return of its  Composers & the Voice program for its 2013-14 season. Created and led by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood, six composers or composer/librettist teams will be selected for a year-long fellowship, working with the company’s Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team.  Applications and additional information can be found at AOP’s website The deadline for applications is May 17, 2013.  All sessions will be at AOP’s home base in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Composers & the Voice PictureThe primary focus of Composers & the Voice is to give composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and opera stage.  The workshop sessions between September 2013 and April 2014, include composition of solo works for six voice types (coloratura soprano, lyric soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and bass) and “Skill-Building Sessions” for composers and librettists in acting, improv games, and libretto development, providing an in-depth and firsthand knowledge of how singers build characters, act in scenes and sing text.

“I can think of no better forum for a composer with a passion for learning the traditions of so-called progressive American opera theater than AOP’s program,” said opera composer and guest C&V instructor Daron Hagen.

Previous seasons of Composers & the Voice have featured guest lectures from notable artists such as composer Mark Adamo (Little Women, Lysistrata) and librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, Later The Same Evening).  Past “Composer Chairs,” sponsorships named in honor of mentors and their support of Composers & the Voice, have included Mr. Adamo and composers John Corigliano, Tan Dun, Daron Hagen, John Musto, Richard Peaslee, Tobias Picker, Kaija Saariaho, Stephen Schwartz, and the late Lee Hoiby.

At the end of the program, AOP will present the results of the participants’ work in public performances – First Glimpse, a concert of songs in Spring 2014, and Six Scenes, an evening of short opera scenes in Fall 2014.  One of these operas-in-progress will be selected to receive a staged reading at Manhattan School of Music in Spring 2015. AOP has an eight-year relationship with Manhattan School of Music Opera Studies Program, in which students work alongside the composer and librettist and other professionals provided by AOP.

Since launching in 2002, C&V has fostered the development of 37 composers & librettists. Alumni works that went through AOP’s opera development program and continued to a world premiere include Love/Hate (ODC/San Francisco Opera 2012, Jack Perla), Paul’s Case (UrbanArias 2013, Gregory Spears), and the Off-Broadway and European tour of Darkling (2006-07, Stefan Weisman). Additional AOP-developed works from C&V alumni include Decoration (Mikael Karlsson), The Summer King (Daniel Sonenberg), The Golden Gate (Conrad Cummings), Dream President (Jennifer Griffith), Henry’s Wife (Randall Eng), and Semmelweis (Raymond J. Lustig). Visit

Past AOP Composers & the Voice fellows have received grants and honors from the following organizations: Aaron Copland Fund for Music, ASCAP, BMI, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Music Center, the American Composers Forum, OPERA America, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, the Fulbright Foundation, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Douglas Moore Fellowship, Tapestry New Opera Works, the Frederick Loewe Foundation, New Dramatists, and the Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation.

During his tenure as Artistic Director of American Opera Projects (2001 to 2008), Steven Osgood created Composers & the Voice, and conducted the world premieres of Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah at the Lincoln Center Festival, and Janice Hamer and Mary Azrael’s Lost Childhood at the International Vocal Arts Institute (Tel Aviv). He has also conducted premieres by Jonathan Sheffer (Blood on the Dining Room Floor), Tan Dun (Peony Pavilion), Xenakis (Oresteia), Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar), Mohammed Fairouz (Sumeida’s Song), and Daron Hagen (Little Nemo in Slumberland). He has served on the Music Staff of the Metropolitan Opera since 2006.  Upcoming productions include Opera Memphis’ Midtown Opera Festival, Hawaii Opera Theater’s Tosca, and Chautauqua Opera’s Peter Grimes.

Composers & the Voice is made possible in part by a generous multi-year award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.




March 20, 2013

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.

C&V Mentor Meeting: Dinner with John Corigliano

December 9, 2011

RACHEL PETERS, guest blogger

Composers & the Voice (Composer Fellow) 2011-12

Greetings and welcome to my maiden voyage into the blogosphere. Hold on to your hats, and pardon any errant paraphrases that will be in quotes for the sake of ease but are probably not verbatim.

This past Friday night, Steve Osgood, Bob Lee, and I had dinner with my Composers and the Voice mentor, the world-renowned composer John Corigliano. We shared a delicious meal at Nice Matin on 79th Street. We faced a couple of challenges right off the bat. First, it was a rather noisy atmosphere, and I was embarrassed to have to repeat much of what I’d said/asked.  It also turned out to be a charged moment for Corigliano (henceforth known here as Mr. C.): he was awaiting a phone call from his longtime partner and current collaborator, Mark Adamo, who was in his first workshop rehearsal for a brand new piece of his own in San Francisco. The singers were new, and the subject matter was potentially incendiary. (“The worst thing you can do in this country is say that Jesus was not the son of G-d,” stated Mr. C.) So we understood when he frequently checked his new iPhone, equipped with robot voice Siri. He asked her, “Do you love me?” Siri replied, “I’m not allowed to.”

I’ve only become familiar with Mr. C.’s music over the last couple of years, first with Altered States (R.I.P. Ken Russell), then his opera The Ghosts of Versailles, then selections from his vast body of symphonic and vocal works. It’s fair to say that everything I’ve heard so far has blown my mind in one way or another, Ghosts and Circus Maximus in particular. The “Aria of the Worm” from Ghosts of Versailles is like nothing I’ve ever seen on a stage; its physicality has redefined my notion of what an opera singer is capable of executing in performance. The grand theatricality of both the score and the production are heartening to me; the piece reminds me of what is possible with enough imagination despite the current obstacles that new operas face in being born.

Graham Clark sings “The Worm Aria” in “The Ghosts of Versailles” (Metropolitan Opera, Jan. 10, 1992), about 7 minutes in. Aria continues here:

During early threads of conversation, Mr. C. advised me of two of the most important things a composer needs: a good knowledge (and supply) of wine, and authority over the production process in a recording studio. Then we discussed our respective musical backgrounds. He is actually not conservatory-trained (though he did study composition), and he does not play an instrument—after just two lessons his clarinet was stolen from his high school locker, and he did not replace it. “I played the phonograph,” he joked, referring to his vast collection of LPs, the most cherished and influential of which was Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid. But I’m sure it didn’t hurt that his father was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 23 years and his mother taught piano. Though I have years of piano and voice lessons as well as two music degrees under my belt, this black sheep of an amazingly unmusical family remains envious of Mr. C., while, of course, encouraged by his rise to prominence.

I asked him if he ever gets stuck while writing. This was on my mind as I had just struggled more than usual with a C&V assignment. He said that for him, writing is a constant process of “getting stuck, then unstuck, then stuck again”; his way to get unstuck is to articulate–out loud and as clearly as possible–what isn’t working, until an alternate path becomes clear. It follows, then, that he is currently refusing any new commissions in order to focus on his new opera-in-progress with Mark Adamo as librettist. May all of us C&V writers be so successful that we are able to turn down commissions!

We spoke of the need for even abstract (in this case, not grounded by linear text) music to communicate theatrical ideas. Circus Maximus is a perfect example of this. His words resonated with me relative to my first C&V song(s) (see Zach’s description in an earlier blog post). Mr. C. also pointed out that, compared to many other composers working at the fore today, his music is rather simple and straightforward in its construction. This is something that trips me up a lot while I’m writing—I often think that if an idea is too easily put across in a bare-bones way, I must be wrong. After dinner when I went home to finish my current song, I was determined to just let the music breathe as necessary. See, Steve, the mentorship is already working!

Soon Mr. C. received the much-anticipated phone call from Adamo, and it was time to end what I’m sure was only the first of several valuable sessions. I handed him a CD of some work samples, and I look forward to his helpful feedback.


P.S. Don’t miss a new production of Ghosts of Versailles conducted by our own Maestro Steve at Manhattan School of Music this spring!

Composers & the Voice – Session 4

October 28, 2011

Rob Paterson, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice composer, 2011-12

Last night we experienced another session of Composers & the Voice,  which consisted of an evening of improv with Terry Greiss from the Irondale Ensemble Project and acting with director Katherine Amshoff.

We spent the first two hours with Terry. He had all of us play games that encouraged us to open up and explore the space around us. I find the improv exercises very interesting and a lot of fun, but as Mikah mentioned in an earlier class, what I am most fascinated with is how this applies (or will eventually apply) to our craft as composers and librettists. Sometimes the benefits of these exercises are not explicit, but the more we explore, the more I understand how everything is somehow related. As a composer, I am used to being both a nerd and living a somewhat cloistered life, so these evenings can be a little scary for me, even though I am a pretty experienced performing musician. Acting and performing music are quite different from performing music on stage. However, I am gradually becoming more comfortable, and now looking forward to these workshops every few weeks.

C&V improv session

Zach, Mila, Daniel, Mikael, and Rob are gven a new improv exercise by Terry Greiss.

Many of Terry’s exercises explore quick interaction and reflexes. One particular exercise he had us do involved standing in a circle and quickly passing around words. There might be one word that you say to the person next to you, and another word that causes you to change direction. A third word might be reserved for saying to the person directly across from you in the circle. Each word triggers a different response. As a composer, what I find interesting is how this particular technique could be used for dramatic effect in a scene, and this whole experience demonstrated how quickly dialogue can move from one person to the next. This will be very useful to know when working with librettists.

Kathleen Amshoff’s assignment for the second half of the session was two-fold: first read a chapter from a book on action by Stanislavski, then develop our own three to five minute scene that demonstrated a common task. We witnessed Zach making tuna salad, Rachel folding laundry, Sidney riding the train, Sarah putting in her contacts, Mikah checking Facebook and drinking coffee and Ronnie making scrambled eggs for her child. Preparing food seemed like an easy way to demonstrate movement without much emotion, so my scene was making pancakes and being interrupted by a phone call.
As Steve Osgood mentioned earlier, It’s amazing how comfortable everyone seems, especially since we all have such diverse backgrounds. AOP did a great job bring together a wonderful group of people, and I am really looking forward to more improv and hearing everyone’s new work in future sessions.
Oct 25, 2011

Composers and singers announced for Composers & the Voice 2007-2008

October 22, 2007

The latest group of composers and singers have been chosen to participate in the new season of Composers & the Voice! Scores of applications were culled through to find this year’s group of emerging artists who will study for a year at AOP to learn the ins and outs of writing for the operating voice.

2007-08 Composers & the Voice

Clint Borzoni
Kristin Kuster
Raymond J. Lustig
Jack Perla
Gregory Spears
Andrew Staniland

Matthew Curran
Abigail Fischer
Matthew Garrett
Donna Smith
Caroline Worra
Matthew Worth

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