AOP kicks off summer with free concert in Fort Greene Park

June 17, 2013

On Friday, June 21, AOP, with friends Opera on Tap, Two Sides Sounding, and Lauren Flanigan’s Music & Mentoring House, will perform “The Voice of Brooklyn,” a free outdoor concert of opera, musicals, spirituals, and songs in Fort Greene Park in Fort Greene, Brooklyn from 5:30pm to sundown. A full schedule and details on the performances are available at

  • The day’s music will begin with songs from composers championed by American Opera Projects over the years, interspersed with selections by local artists paying tribute to Kings County itself in Two Sides Sounding’s “AOP Friends and Neighbors,” with performances by Eleanor Taylor, Hai-Ting Chinn, and Mila Henry, and featuring music from composers such as Renée Favand-See, Matthew Schickele, Lee Hoiby, and Gabriel Kahane.
  • Summer lovebirds might flock to Fort Greene as Opera on Tap presents “Summer Lovin’…”, where Opera on Tap’s divas and divos bring their operatic stylings to the streets to show just how musical summer romance can be.
  • In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, AOP singers perform a mix of traditional spirituals, operatic favorites, and compelling new songs, featuring music by Nkeiru Okoye from the opera “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” and “Brooklyn Cinderella,” a song cycle based on the poetry of Brooklyn teenagers. Performances by Sumayya Ali, Sequina Dubose, Clinton Ingram, and Damian Norfleet.

  • Flanigan KightThe evening will close with musical performances by acclaimed soprano, Lauren Flanigan (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, AOP’s Seance on a Wet Afternoon, Marina, and Beauty Intolerable), and vocal students of Music and Mentoring House. Together, the singers will perform new works by composer Josh Kight from “Pity,” a musical theatre work that explores the relativity of truth, and song cycles “The Cuckoo” and “Chairs,” a piece that explores the simple but important relationship that people have with different chairs.

The concert will be presented as part of the annual Make Music New York Festival, a live, free musical celebration across New York City that takes place each June 21 – the longest day of the year. This year’s concert is AOP’s fifth partnership with MMNY. For a lineup of other MMNY concerts around the city visit

Additional links:

AOP’s 2011 Make Music NY concert in Fort Greene Park.

C&V Roundup: The Last Three Sessions

January 20, 2012

Rachel Peters, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-12

It’s been a long time since you’ve heard about what goes on behind closed doors in our C&V laboratory. There are now three classes to describe, so as Inigo Montoya says in The Princess Bride, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And fellow Fellows, please chime in if I’ve misremembered or omitted something.

December 12th: We whisked through our final Role Analysis roundup, then onto acting class, where we worked with our partners to identify and agree upon beat changes in our assigned scenes from Ibsen’s Ghosts. Each team read their scene in front of the group with these discoveries in mind.

In the evening our singers were back to perform our second pieces. Let me just say that if you think opera is fusty and outmoded, we are here to prove you wrong! Topics for the evening included but were not limited to stalking, S&M, a transgender Jewish wedding, racist cops, and robot love. We began with Amy singing Ronnie’s absolutely heartbreaking “When I Find You,” another installment from her Holocaust-era opera The Waiting Woman. Then Rebecca sang my “Pronoun”; the take-home message for me was that writing the approach to the note is everything and can change the sound entirely. Justin treated us to another of Sara and Zach’s monodramas, “Installing your Blinds,” by turns lilting and sinister. Next up was Brandon’s interpretation of Mika’s setting of Rob Stephenson’s text, “O Song,” full of potent and timeless images. Equally potent are Mika’s tempo markings and instructions. My favorite is the last [instruction]: “Basically don’t make a big deal of it.” Jorell sang two songs in a row, Sidney’s harrowing “Stop and Frisk” and Rob’s playfully twisted “A Man’s Needs.”  Also from Rob’s Fetish (An Erotic Opera) was Andrea’s plaintive performance of “Talk to Me.”

December 19th: Our ranks were severely diminished by flu season and awards season- only three of us were present for an evening of acting and libretto study. After a new warm-up game called “Big Booty,” we had a chance to delve deeply into some physical character work for Ghosts based on 1) a highly detailed questionnaire Kathleen gave us 2) some people-watching we’d done with our characters in mind. Ronnie and were both assigned to play Mrs. Alving, and I was fascinated by our very different takes on her physicality. Then we played our scenes in different styles to change up what could become rote line readings. This included telenovela and, of course, opera.

Maestro Steve led us through a final sweep of Tosca libretto/score analysis (see previous blog entries for burning questions and some answers thereto), then we read William Ball’s libretto to Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country. We discussed potential choices of fach/range for each character relative to age and type, then Steve revealed how Hoiby went along with or against them and why.

January 17th: Special guest star Charles Jarden started off the afternoon with a chat about the logistics of producing new work and a helpfully candid/candidly helpful Q&A. Then it was on to Improv with Terry. Highlights included “Freeze Transformation,” identifying given circumstances when walking from somewhere specific and then to somewhere specific, grappling with a difficult imaginary object, free association singing based on a (not musical but literal) theme, and a game I can only call “Bippity Bippity Bop/Jello/Airplane/Elephant.” Reportedly we now have a robust toolbox from which to build longer form improve scenes.

In the evening, we heard the singers perform our third pieces. Again, we were not quite a full house, but those who were there did benefit greatly from the extra time. First came Rob’s “Soprano’s Lament” for Amy. This song, which features a lot of patter and what Amy called “chewy words,” mainly in one particular place in her range, led to a very productive discussion about stepwise vs. leap motion up to climactic high notes and optimal ways to navigate back and forth across the passaggio. Rob was open to experimenting with some changes as Amy got to try out what felt best. After that, Brandon sang my cabaret standard-ish “Baby in a Jar” (lyrics by Robert Maddock). Everyone offered up a variety of suggestions for interpretation, and after incorporating a few things I had not previously considered, the result was better than I ever imagined. Next came Sidney and Daniel’s clever interpolation of Walt Whitman’s text into another narrative. It is a terrific study of what can be done while the singer stays on only one or two notes for long stretches. Justin’s stalwart and fiery execution is proof that what looks like a lot of one thing on the page can take on all sorts of colors. The incredibly athletic piano part helps the cause too—Go Mila! Finally, Jorell sang Sara’s and Zach’s latest monodrama, “Shush, Love.” (It was Morbid Lullaby Night at C&V!) Sara, Zach and I hail from MuSiCal ThEaTrE lAnD, among other places. Every time they present I am pleasantly shocked at how they careen wildly from tropes of contemporary musical theatre sound to something altogether different; this new piece was certainly no exception. It seems to be a trademark that gets more refined every time, which is especially fun because their characters are always so blissfully sick.

We are poised to take over the opera world in 2012. Thanks as always to all the performers, coaches, and teachers. Next session: more Improv with Terry and Acting with Kathleen.

Lee Hoiby, 1926-2011

March 30, 2011

“For me, composing music bears some likeness to archeology. It requires patient digging, searching for the treasure; the ability to distinguish between a treasure and the rock next to it and recognizing when you’re digging in the wrong place. The archeologist takes a soft brush and brushes away a half-teaspoon at a time. Musically, that would be a few notes, or a chord. Sometimes the brushing reveals an especially lovely thing, buried there for so long.”

Lee Hoiby, master of opera and song and longtime collaborator with American Opera Projects, died on March 28, 2011 at Montefiore Hospital in New York City, following a short illness.  Mr. Hoiby was 85.

Born on February 17, 1926 in Madison, Wisconsin, Hoiby was introduced to opera by legendary composer Gian Carlo Menotti, his teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music.  His musical catalog incorporated operas, oratorios, choral works, concerti, chamber works, song cycles, and more than 100 songs.  Hoiby’s first opera, The Scarf, was declared by Time Magazine and the Italian press as the Spoleto Festival’s first hit, and his setting of Tennesse Williams’s Summer and Smoke was championed as “the finest American opera to date.”  His last opera, a setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, awaits its world premiere.

In addition to being a longtime collaborator of AOP, Hoiby was also a longtime friend.  He served as a Composer Chair for two years on AOP’s Composers & the Voice series, and in 2006, AOP commissioned his setting of Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush as part of the multimedia opera Darkling.  Another of Hoiby’s operatic works, This Is the Rill Speaking, had its first professional and orchestrated performances through AOP at SUNY Purchase and New York’s Symphony Space in April of 2008.  This Is the Rill Speaking was based on a play by Lanford Wilson, who died last week on Thursday, March 24th, just four days before Hoiby.

Rounding out AOP’s collaboration with Hoiby, AOP Artistic Partner Steven Osgood (Composers & the Voice) worked with the composer and conducted both A Month in the Country and Summer and Smoke with the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater.  The latter was produced this past fall to celebrate the work’s 40th anniversary; both MSM productions were recorded by Albany Records, with the Summer and Smoke recording to be released later this year.  (To purchase A Month in the Country, click here.)

For more information regarding The Lee Hoiby Institute for American Music, please visit  A memorial service will held on a date to be announced later this spring.  Mr. Hoiby is survived by his partner Mark Shulgasser.

For the NYTimes obituary, please click here.
For the Schott Music tribute to Mr. Hoiby, please click here.

Hoiby’s Rill cd reviewed in Opera News

October 28, 2008

Opera News has reviewed the latest CD from Lee Hoiby that features a recording of This is the Rill Speaking performed by Eastman Opera a few months before the staged AOP premiere that took place this past April. Benton Hess was the conductor for both Rill productions.

Opera and Oratorio


Cowdrick, Hannigan, Cramer, Iezzi; J. Wilson, Wilgenbusch, Arnold; Eastman Opera Theatre Orchestra, Hess. Texts. Albany Records TROY 1028

With his 1987 opera Bon Appétit!, American composer Lee Hoiby (b. 1926) took on the making of a chocolate cake, as told through the actual words of celebrity chef Julia Child. Hoiby composed Bon Appétit! in 1985 for American actress Jean Stapleton, who sang the 1989 premiere at the Kennedy Center and later performed it in an off-Broadway run, paired with another Hoiby one-woman one-act, The Italian Lesson. The libretto for Bon Appétit! was adapted by Hoiby’s frequent collaborator Mark Shulgasser from transcripts of two episodes of Child’s TV show, The French Chef. The overwhelming popularity of Child (1912–2004) came not just from her culinary expertise but from her self-deprecating humor and matter-of-fact style. Hoiby wisely left most of the gags for the staging and wrote a tuneful but straight-ahead vocal line with no melismatic flights of fancy. The performance here by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Cowdrick, an assistant professor of voice at Eastman, is likewise engaging but not showy. What’s delicious about this twenty-minute piece is Hoiby’s lively, playful accompaniment and his colorful orchestration for piano and chamber ensemble. Like Child’s whipped egg whites, Bon Appetit! may be light and frothy, but it’s the result of a master’s sure touch.

This is the Rill Speaking
is a chamber opera adapted by Hoiby and Schulgasser from a 1965 play of the same name by Lanford Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who provided the libretto for Hoiby’s 1971 setting of Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke. Set for six singers playing eleven characters,This is the Rill Speaking is a tender evocation of small town America circa 1950, similar in nature to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. Though the work was written in 1991, a New York City performance produced this past spring by American Opera Projects was billed as the opera’s “world-premiere professional production.” Eastman Opera Theatre gave the premiere performance of Hoiby’s orchestrated version of the opera as recently as January 2008, directed by Johnathon Pape, and this recording soon followed. The six Eastman students in the cast do a more than serviceable job, though some use hick accents that are fake and intrusive. Hoiby’s writing for voice and orchestra moves with surprising ease between urban swagger and country languor.

The Eastman Opera Theatre Orchestra conducted by Benton Hess provides fine accompaniments to both works.


NEA honors opera Oct 31 in D.C.

October 24, 2008

Next week, the NEA will give its first ever lifetime achievement awards in opera a week from now in Washington D.C.. If you are in the area, check it out. You’ll get to see a recorded tribute to Leontyne Price from our own Lee Hoiby (This Is the Rill Speaking) who has worked with and written for Ms. Price for many years. Here is the information from the NEA’s release.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has established its first individual arts award in 25 years, the NEA Opera Honors. The awards, which celebrate lifetime achievement and individual excellence, will be presented on October 31 at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, with performances by the Washington National Opera and members of its Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists program, conducted by Placido Domingo. NEA chairman Dana Gioia says that the new award “recognizes that American opera has truly come of age with our singers, musicians, composers, directors, designers and opera companies who are second to none in the world.” OPERA America, the national nonprofit service organization, is the NEA partner in the Opera Honors program. In this inaugural year of the award, Washington National Opera is also a partner.

The first NEA Opera Honors are being given in four categories: singer, composer, advocate and conductor. Soprano  Leontyne Price is known for her elegant musicianship, her generosity to young singers and her remarkable recording legacy. Composer Carlisle Floyd has had a long and distinguished career; his many memorable operas include Susannah and Of Mice and Men. Advocate winner Richard Gaddes, the general director of the Santa Fe Opera and co-founder of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, is known for challenging, adventurous programming. James Levine, who has led the Metropolitan Opera premieres of work by composers from Mozart to Weill and the world premieres of American operas by John Corigliano and John Harbison, has also fine-tuned the Met orchestra into one of the world’s leading ensembles.

For more information, visit, and

Here’s Leontyne Price singing Hoiby back in 1994:

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