Librettist and poet J.D. McClatchy dies at 72

April 12, 2018

Librettist and poet J. D. McClatchy

AOP mourns the passing of poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy, known to his friends as ‘Sandy,’ who died on Tuesday in his Manhattan apartment after battling cancer. One of McClatchy’s final librettos was an adaptation of internationally acclaimed 1958 novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa into The Leopard, an opera currently in development at AOP with music by Michael Dellaira. It was Dellaira’s third collaboration with McClatchy following The Secret Agent (2011) and The Death of Webern (2013).

“It was a privilege and a pleasure to have worked with Sandy for the past twelve years, during which time we wrote three operas together,” Dellaira told AOP. “We had just finished putting the finishing touches on our last, The Leopard, which Sandy called his “crowning achievement.” Sandy McClatchy was a man of words, always the right words, not just for his brilliant libretti, poems, and translations, but ready, and I mean instantly ready, to encourage – or console – his many friends.  I’m lucky to have been one of them.”

J. D. McClatchy on libretto writing: “Poetry was a good preparation, because it is as much an art of leaving things out as of putting things in. That search for the perfect word or the balanced line comes in handy when you are working in a form that demands a great deal of concision, and where you have to turn over the emotional argument to the music.”

McClatchy was well known and respected in the opera community for his librettos for Our Town, composed by Ned Rorem and based on Thornton Wilder’s play, Miss Lonelyhearts, composed by Lowell Liebermann and based on the Nathanael West novel; Orpheus Descending, by Bruce Saylor, based on Tennessee Williams’s play; and Dolores Claiborne, by Tobias Picker, based on the Stephen King novel.

J. D. McClatchy speaks to the standing room only audience about his career and the writing of The Leopard. Poets House – November 8, 2014.

In 2014, audiences packed the event space at Poetry House in Manhattan to hear McClatchy speak about his craft. The AOP produced event was to be followed by the first public libretto reading of The Leopard, but had to be cancelled after an upstairs bathroom flooded and began seeping down into the room as McClatchy spoke. As the slow drip from the ceiling caused the audience to squeeze in even tighter to stay dry, McClatchy did all he could to keep the show going until the fire department arrived and forced the building to evacuate. As the guests and artists were ushered outside, McClatchy was disappointed that the crowd missed out on hearing his libretto read, but mused, “At first I thought it was a sign from God. Apparently it was just a bowel movement. Ah well. They deserve equal thanks for inspiring great art as well.”

The Leopard has been commissioned by and is currently in development at American Opera Projects, made possible, in part, through generous funding by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and The Paul Underwood Charitable Trust.

Staged Piano Vocal Reading of scenes from The Leopard at Manhattan School of Music. March 13, 2016. Photo by Steven Pisano.


October 23, 2014

Afternoon at NYC’s Poets House to feature libretto reading and music performance from The Leopard, based on famous Italian novel


NEW YORK, NY – AOP (American Opera Projects) and Poets House present a discussion with award-winning poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy followed by a reading of his latest opera libretto The Leopard, based on the acclaimed novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and directed by James Robinson. The discussion will be joined by The Leopard‘s composer Michael Dellaira and will feature a performance of music from the opera-in-development and a mid-event reception with the artists. The event will take place on Saturday, November 8 at 3 PM at Kray Hall in Poets House (10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282 in Battery Park City). Tickets are $10, $7 for students and seniors, free to Poets House members and can be purchased at

Commissioned and in development by AOP, The Leopard is the third opera from librettist J. D. McClatchy and composer Michael Dellaira, following The Secret Agent (2011) and The Death of Webern (2013). In their latest opera, the Prince of Salina, known as The Leopard because of his commanding personality, faces a society in upheaval during Garibaldi’s 1860 invasion of Sicily, and is forced to choose between decay and progress, between the downfall of the nobility and the future of his family. The completed opera will be in two acts.

The Leopard has been commissioned by AOP and is currently in development as part pf the Brooklyn organization’s First Chance program that gives composers and librettists a first chance to hear their work performed before an audience. Development of the opera is made possible, in part, through generous funding by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the Paul Underwood Charitable Trust.

Based on the internationally acclaimed 1958 novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard was also adapted into the 1963 film classic by Luchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.


J. D. McClatchy is the author of eight books of poems, most recently Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf). He has written libretti for Francis Thorne’s Mario and the Magician (1994), Tobias Picker’s Emmeline (1996), Lorin Maazel’s 1984 (with Thomas Meehan, 2005), Lowell Liebermann’s Miss Lonelyhearts (2006), Ned Rorem’s Our Town (2006), Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel (with Julie Taymor, 2006), Bernard Rands’s Vincent (2011), Daron Hagen’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (2012), Martin Bresnick’s My Friend’s Story (2013), and Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne (2013). His work has been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, and other leading opera stages around the world.

James Robinson is regarded as one of America’s most inventive and sought-after stage directors. Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Robinson has staged productions for major opera companies, including New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, San Francisco Opera, and Seattle Opera. Recent projects include the world premiere of Picker’s Dolores Claiborne for San Francisco Opera, the American premiere of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat Sen for Santa Fe Opera and the world premiere of Champion.

Michael Dellaira is the composer of three operas. His first, Chéri, on a libretto by Susan Yankowitz, produced by The Actors Studio and directed by Tony-Award winner Carlin Glynn, was a finalist for the 2006 American Academy of Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award in Musical Theater. From 2006-2010 he was composer-in-residence with the Center for Contemporary Opera, which co-commissioned The Secret Agent, his first collaboration with J. D. McClatchy. The Death of Webern, also on a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, was commissioned by The Pocket Opera Players and premiered in October 2013.


AOP‘s mission is to identify, develop and present new and innovative works of music theater by emerging and established artists and to engage our audiences in an immersive, transformative theatrical experience. At the forefront of the contemporary opera movement for a quarter-century, AOP creates, develops and presents opera and music theatre projects collaborating with young, rising and established artists in the field. AOP has produced over 30 world premieres, most recently Kaminsky/Reed/Campbell’s As One at BAM (2014), Nkeiru Okoye’s Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom (2014), and Lera Auerbach’s The Blind (2013), a co-production with Lincoln Center Festival. AOP-developed operas that premiered with co-producers include Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case at PROTOTYPE (2014), Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera (2011), and Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at London’s Royal Opera House (2011).

Poets House is a national 60,000-volume poetry library, literary center for adults and children, and exhibition space that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry. Poets House – through its poetry resources, literary events, and archival and poetry-related visual art exhibitions – documents the wealth and diversity of modern poetry and stimulates public dialogue on issues related to poetry in culture. Founded in 1985 by two-time Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz and legendary arts administrator Elizabeth Kray, the library has created a home for all who read and write poetry. In 2009, Poets House moved into its permanent home, at 10 River Terrace in Battery Park City, on the banks of the Hudson River. For more information about these events and Poets House in general, visit and join us on Facebook and Twitter.

AOP commissions AS ONE and THE LEOPARD

August 28, 2013

“For things to remain the same everything must change” is the theme woven into two AOP operas-in-development, As One and The Leopard, commissioned during AOP’s 25th year creating a new opera repertory.  The operas will be developed in AOP’s First Chance program, which is funded, in part, by a generous multi-year award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

As One is an original music theater work to be created by composer Laura Kaminsky, librettist Mark Campbell, and filmmaker Kimberly Reed. The chronicles of a transgender person as she emerges into harmony with herself and the world around her are portrayed with compassion, candor, and humor.  The Leopard, an opera based on the twentieth-century novel by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and famously filmed by Luchino Visconti, is brought to life by composer Michael Dellaira and poet/librettist J.D. McClatchy.  While its narrative unfolds in Sicily during the “Risorgimento,” the story is driven by the forces Love and Death, summed up in the novel’s confounding theme: “for things to remain the same everything must change.”


As One’s composer, Kaminsky, received a award from New York State Council of the Arts for As One, commissioned to be part of AOP’s on-going Operatic Monodrama series.  The work is being written expressly for acclaimed singers mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf, who will share the role of the protagonist. They will be joined by the renowned Miró Quartet. An interactive film will be created by Kimberly Reed that serves as the production’s background.  Workshops will begin in 2014 with in-house and public workshop performances at AOP’s home base, as well as at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher Building in Fort Greene.  2015 project activity will include collaborations with two other opera companies; UrbanArias in Arlington, VA; and West Edge Opera in Berkeley, CA; two Conservatories of Music, U of Texas and SUNY Purchase, and one presenting institution, BAM.


The Leopard received a generous $125,000 grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation for commissioning and project development.  The story of The Leopard is as relevant today as it would have been a thousand years ago, and as it will be a thousand years hence.  The opera will be in two acts, scored for orchestra and a cast of approximately 15 singers.

As One and The Leopard will enter AOP’s First Chance program where composers and librettists hear their work in part or in full for the first time before an audience with live singers and accompaniment.  Through question and answer sessions and collecting  feedback, First Chance allows the participation of audience members to help hone and revise new works while artists discover their own voices.

Filmmaker Kimberly Reed, composer Laura Kaminsky, and librettist Mark Campbell working on the libretto for As One.

Filmmaker Kimberly Reed, composer Laura Kaminsky, and librettist Mark Campbell working on the libretto for As One.

AOP has produced over 20 world premiere operas and many began in First Chance, including the recent co-production of Lera Auerbach’s The Blind with Lincoln Center and Norway’s Trondheim Chamber Music festivals; Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at The Royal Opera House (London) and Jack Perla’s Love/Hate at San Francisco Opera Center’s Adler Fellows program. Upcoming: Gregory Spears and AOP-developed Paul’s Case premiered at UrbanArias in 2013 will be seen at HERE Arts Center in NYC and Pittsburgh Opera in 2014, and Okoye’s Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, at Schomburg Library and Irondale Ensemble,


Mark CMark Campbellampbell was recently profiled in Opera News as one of twenty-five artists “poised…to become major forces in opera in the coming decade.” In his ten years as a librettist, Mark has written nine operas and collaborated with such notable composers as Mark Adamo, Lembit Beecher, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, John Musto, Paul Moravec, Richard Peaslee and Kevin Puts.  A Letter from E. 11th Street was the first commission from AOP. That double monodrama, with music by Martin Hennessey, recently won the Pellicotti Opera Competitino Prize. Mark’s most recent work, Silent Night, which he wrote with composer Kevin Puts for Minnesota Opera, received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Other successful operas include: VolponeLater the Same EveningBastianello/Lucrezia, and Rappahannock County. As a lyricist, Mark penned the lyrics for Songs from an Unmade Bed, a theatrical song cycle with music by 18 composers. Other musicals for which he has written lyrics include: The AudienceChang & Eng, and Splendora. Other awards: first recipient of the Kleban Foundation Award for Lyricist, two Richard Rodgers Awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, three Drama Desk Award nominations, a Rockefeller Foundation Award, and a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award.

Michael DellairaMichael Dellaira is the composer of three operas. His first, Chéri, initially developed at AOP on a libretto by Susan Yankowitz, was produced by The Actors Studio and directed by Tony-Award winner Carlin Glynn.  From 2006-2010 Michael was composer-in-residence with the Center for Contemporary Opera, which co-commissioned The Secret Agent, his first collaboration with J.D. McClatchy.  The Death of Webern, also on a libretto by McClatchy, was commissioned by The Pocket Opera Players and will premiere in October, 2013. His monodrama Maud was awarded First Prize from the American Society of University Composers.  Dellaira has been a recipient of an ASCAP Morton Gould Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, two residencies at The Composers Conference, grants from the American Music Center, Cary Trust, Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, New Jersey Arts Council and a Jerome Foundation commission from the American Composers Forum.

Laura KaminskyLaura Kaminsky is a composer with “an ear for the new and interesting” whose works are “colorful and harmonically sharp-edged” (The New York Times) and whose “musical language is compounded of hymns, blues, and gestures not unlike those of Shostakovich” (inTune). Kaminsky has received commissions, fellowships, and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Aaron Copland Fund, Chamber Music America, American Music Center, USArtists International, CEC ArtsLink International Partnerships, Kenan Institute for the Arts, Artist Trust, and Meet the Composer, among others. She has received four ASCAP-Chamber Music America Awards for Adventuresome Programming and is the recipient of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage 2010 Chopin Award. She has been a fellow at artists’ communities including the Hermitage Artist Retreat Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Centrum Foundation, Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She is Artistic Director of Symphony Space in New York City and is on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY.

J.D. McClatchyJ. D. McClatchy, librettist, is the author of eight books of poems, most recently Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf). He was also written three collections of essays, including American Writers at Home (2004), and edited dozens of other books. He teaches at Yale, is editor of The Yale Review, and has served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His first opera libretto was for William Schuman’s A Question of Taste, which premiered in 1989. He subsequently wrote libretti for Francis Thorne’s Mario and the Magician (1994), Bruce Saylor’s Orpheus Descending (1994), Tobias Picker’s Emmeline (1996), Lorin Maazel’s 1984 (with Thomas Meehan, 2005), Lowell Liebermann’s Miss Lonelyhearts (2006), Ned Rorem’s Our Town (2006), and Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel (with Julie Taymor, 2006), Michael Dellaira’s The Secret Agent (2011), Bernard Rands’s Vincent (2011), Daron Hagen’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (2012), Martin Bresnick’s My Friend’s Story (2013), Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne (2013), Michael Dellaira’s The Death of Webern (2013), and Jeanine Tesori’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me (2013). His work has been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, and other leading opera stages around the world.

Kimberly ReedKimberly Reed is a filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has been featured on media outlets such as the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, NPR, Details magazine, and The Moth Radio Hour. Her work has made her one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) fellow, and has led to multiple fellowships at the Yaddo Artists’ Community and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Kimberly Reed directed and produced Prodigal Sons, a “whiplash doc that heralds an exciting talent.” Prodigal Sons, a co-production with BBC Storyville and Sundance Channel, premiered at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival. The film has gone on to be shown around the globe in theaters, at over a hundred film festivals, and on worldwide television. The film landed on multiple Best of the Year lists and garnered 14 Audience and Jury awards, including the esteemed International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize. Ms. Reed was recognized as Towleroad’s “Best LGBT Character of the Film Year,” The Advocate’s “Five to Watch,” and OUT Magazine’s “Out 100.” She was also the producer/editor/writer for Paul Goodman Changed My Life, released theatrically by Zeitgeist Films. Kim is a proud GLSEN and NewFest board member, a Queer/Art/Film mentor, a summa cum laude graduate of UC Berkeley, and a Montana native.

Introductory lunch with Tobias Picker

October 17, 2011

Mikael Karlsson, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice composer, 2011-12


We had decided to have lunch at P.J. Clarke’s near Lincoln Center. I had, after being so instructed by Tobias, printed a few copies of a synopsis to an opera that I’m writing with my friend David Flodén. The name of the opera is Decoration.

I had already started my first aria assignment for AOP, but Tobias insisted on a synopsis in order to be able to assess the aria’s potential as part of an opera.

The days leading up to the lunch, David and I worked a lot on our strange story. It will most likely take another couple of years before the synopsis is complete and the libretto in the can, but the key elements are coming together now. We have already taken a few years to get to where we are, and there are plenty of holes to patch, cosmic phenomena to research, mythologies to build and nurse outfits to fashion before the first high C floats off the Decoration stage.

That said, the first Decoration aria – Internal – is already in the hands of Rebecca Ringle (mezzo soprano) and Kelly Horsted (pianist and AOP co-music director) for workshopping in November. VERY excited.

The sum of all this is that I had to present a rather unfinished version of a rather abstract story (it has a concrete storyline but that storyline takes a few good turns into the fantastical) to Tobias Picker, Steven Osgood and [AOP Managing Director] Bob Lee for feedback.

Tobias Picker

Now, what am I doing using an introductory lunch with Tobias Picker for feedback on a synopsis? I don’t even know the guy…

Or do I? (evil stare)

Yes, I do. I have been Tobias’ assistant since the production of An American Tragedy at The Met in 2005.

How did that happen then? A tech savvy and good friend of mine was unable to do some midi tech work for Tobias back in 2005 while he (my friend) was traveling, so I stepped in and went to Tobias’ apartment in Manhattan to meet him. He was very friendly and funny and asked me what I do. I told him that I was just about to get my master degree in composition. He then said that he’d like to hear some of what I’ve written, so when I got back home I sent some pieces to him to listen to (I was lucky to already have some great recordings of early stuff, recorded by some astonishing musician friends).

Upon my second visit to his apartment for follow-up work, he told me that he had listened to what I had sent, and laid on me some very lovely things about my music. He then asked me whether I would want to be his assistant, since he needed one now that his workload had become so great that he had better focus on only the composing as much as possible. Needless to say, I said yes yes yes.

It’s been a great six years so far. I have learned a lot from him, I have grown familiar with more of his wonderful, rich, complex and very honest (this is so key to my taste) music and how he thinks about the compositional process. I have seen a huge opera come to life (two more coming up shortly) and I have seen a praised and very famous composer deal with what it means to truly be in music. I have seen the vast amount of legwork and office task stuff involved in commissions and production work. I have had a steady job (granting me the crucial O1 Visa that allowed me to stay after I graduated) and a dear friend from it. He has been very generous with his time when I’ve asked for feedback. It’s a privilege to get to bounce ideas off someone trustworthy, open-minded and experienced.

That’s why saying our hellos didn’t make much sense in 2011.

Back to the lunch then…

I sit down with Bob and Steven and a minute later Tobias shows up. I hand out the synopsis to see if anyone has any feedback to give, and I am asked by Tobias to tell the core story in “25 words or less”.

A few thousand words later, the tangled, mangled and twisted version of the story I had managed to convey was being discussed with a lot of energy and sincerity. Why this? What about that? How do you make that fit with this? I’ve never seen this kind of detail work without this way of presenting it and so on.

It was a lot to process, but I got some really good ideas to bring back to David to address the questions the lunch participants had had and see how we feel about them.

The best advice is usually that which can be generally applied. That way the advice is not changing the intended destination of what you’re trying to do but rather giving you the map of getting there faster. I received a good handful or two of really important things to keep in mind that David and I had not addressed.

Halfway through the lunch, J. D. McClatchy dropped by (to meet with Tobias) so Tobias, in his typically playful manner, dropped the challenge of explaining the story to McClatchy (who has written countless libretti, including that for Tobias Picker’s hugely successful opera Emmeline) on me once more. I think I shaved a few hundred words off the “25 words or less” presentation, but strings still spaghetti-ed untied all around us when I finished. McClatchy listened intently and introduced the matter of abstract concepts in narrative storytelling to our discourse, and recommended the last and unfinished story of Nabokov, which deals with a man who erases himself, for some pointers on how to and how not to go about such a venture.

As the lunch drew to an end, I thanked all for taking time out of their ridiculously cluttered schedules to do this. It’s so very New York to me to be in situations like this, where accomplished, and unusual persons who certainly do not have to be helpful still choose to be because it’s in their nature.

In 2000, when I first moved here from Sweden to study composition at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, I was assigned a mentor by the college to make sure that I felt welcome and at home. Her name is Maxine Fisher, and she did this mentoring for no pay. She introduced me to a lot of fun music and to Passover with her family! She was a stranger to me, but she made me feel so incredibly welcome.

I once asked her why it is that New Yorkers, who are rumored to be so rude and cold, keep being so friendly and helpful all the time. She explained it this way: In New York, if someone does you a favor, they don’t expect a favor back from you. They expect you to do someone else a favor.

I truly believe that without that pay-it-forward attitude in its inhabitants, the New York new music scene would consist of one rich lady in a room with a string quartet playing Philip Glass music around the clock for her only. There is so much art that needs nursing to expand our communal experience of music. The amazing roster of Composer Chairs for this year’s Composers & the Voice is testament to that that attitude isn’t going away anytime soon.

After goodbyes were said, my tummy, the poor Waldorf Salad inside it, and myself walked happily down 8th Ave in the Indian summer sun.

C&V Composer Lustig wins Charles Ives Fellowship

May 29, 2009
Ray Lustig

Ray Lustig

On May 20, 2009, the Academy of Arts and Letters held a ceremony in their auditorium on West 156 Street honoring men and women in various fields of the arts. 2007-08 C&V composer Ray Lustig was presented with one of two Charles Ives Fellowships.

According to the ceremony program:

Ray Lustig is writing music charged with intensity and leavened by intelligence. His Sonata for Violin and Piano shows the breadth of his vision. In it, a propulsive first movement which is quite shattering is followed by a movement of stillness and simplicity. This superimposition of opposites also applies for his award-winning Unstuck for orchestra, which explores past and present and the expectations they imply with surprising results.

Harmony Ives, the widow of Charles Ives, bequeathed to the Academy the royalties of Charles Ives’ music, which has enabled the Academy to give the Ives awards in music since 1970. Poet, librettist, and Academy President J.D. McClatchy presented Lustig with the $15,000 Fellowship.

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