New LGBTQ Operas Coming Out in Hard Times

February 23, 2017
as-one-pittsburgh

Taylor Raven, left, and Brian Vu portray Hannah, the transgender heroine of As One at Pittsburgh Opera. Photo by Renee Rosensteel.

In light of recent news from Washington, American Opera Projects (AOP) announces that of its 31 new operas in development, four are on LGBTQ topics. For AOP, this is not new. In 1998, AOP premiered the first opera ever to focus on a lesbian relationship, Patience & Sarah, by composer Paula M. Kimper, and librettist Wende Persons, three years after Houston Grand Opera’s premiere of Harvey Milk composed by Stewart Wallace to a libretto by Michael Korie.

Upcoming LGBTQ operas are:

While AOP’s roster of LGBTQ operas is growing, clearly in our era there is still significant progress to be made. At the same time, these operas are being embraced across the US. As One, the first opera about a transgender person, by artistic team Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed is now one of the most performed new operas in America. Following AOP’s premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, As One has had productions in Seattle, Washington D.C., Berkeley, Logan, UT, Berlin, and just last week, Pittsburgh, where the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it “pertinent and moving,” with upcoming shows in San Diego, Denver, New Orleans, Long Beach, Kansas City, and more.

As One forces you to think, simultaneously challenging preconceptions and inspiring empathy.” – The New York Times

Opera has unfortunately been late to embrace contemporary works, especially ones that address current events and lifestyles. But it is encouraging to see that more and more opera companies recognize the need to be an art form that reflects the stories of our time. In recent years, audiences have seen successful premieres of LGBTQ-themed operas such as Paul’s Case, Before Night Falls, and A Letter to East 11th Street – all having received development in AOP’s First Chance program – as well as Fellow Travelers, Three Decembers, Brokeback Mountain, Prince of Players, Champion, and Angels in America.

At a time when the Trump Administration has removed the Obama-era guidance allowing trans people to select school restrooms according to gender choice, AOP will continue to actively pursue works like these for development and production.

AOP’s most recent world premiere Three Way “explores sex without moralizing” (The East Nashvillian) depicting modern sexuality in three short, comic one acts. The co-production with Nashville Opera, where it had its well-received premiere in January, will come to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2017.

I’m here for an opera that explains to straight people what being trans- or cis-gender is. Hopefully, we as the audience come to a deeper understanding with them. – Schmopera.com‘s review of Three Way’s world premiere in Nashville.

For us to empathize with the struggles of others there can be no art form where their stories are not told. Giving every minority – of race, gender, country, political view, you name it – an opportunity to tell their story may seem impossible, but it is still the ideal. More immediately, we hold as a goal that a proliferation of these stories will allow opera audiences to recognize that the conflicts and lives of every person are relatable. And that the discovery of those inherent, relatable truths of our unified humanity makes enlightening, and exciting, entertainment.

Bloggers: Matt Gray & Annie Troy

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Gender-fluid couple Kyle (Jordan Rutter) and Tyler (Melisa Bonetti), left, get eyed by another couple in Three Way. Photo by Anthony Popolo.


AOP takes operas to space, asylums, and a human uterus in “Six Scenes”

August 18, 2016

SINGERS TO PERFORM SCENES FROM NEW OPERAS BY EMERGING COMPOSERS & LIBRETTISTS CREATED IN AOP FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM “COMPOSERS & THE VOICE”

BROOKLYN, NY, August 16, 2016— This fall, contemporary opera producer AMERICAN OPERA PROJECTS (AOP) will present COMPOSERS & THE VOICE: SIX SCENES 2016, a concert of opera scenes from ten artists emerging in the world of contemporary opera. Audiences will get a first look at six wildly different new works that range from imagining moments in the lives of famous people such as Sigmund Freud and Mabel Dodge Luhan or events taking place in a spaceship, an asylum, and a uterus. The composers Matthew Barnson, Carlos R. Carrillo, Nell Shaw Cohen, Marc LeMay, Cecilia Livingston, and Sky Macklay and librettists Edward Einhorn, Duncan McFarlane, Emily Roller, and Mark Sonnenblick, were chosen by AOP to spend a year creating new works in its bi-annual fellowship program Composers & the Voice (C&V).

The performances will be held on Friday, September 30 at 8:00pm at South Oxford Space (138 S. Oxford St.) in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the home of AOP, and on Sunday, October 2 at 2:30pm at the National Opera Center (330 7th Ave, 7th floor) in Manhattan. Tickets range from $10-$25 general admission and are available at www.aopopera.org.

20160514-DSC_3230xBass Jonathan Woody performs during the May  2016 Composers & the Voice songs concert First Glimpse at South Oxford Space with music director Kelly Horsted on piano. Photo: Steven Pisano.

Six Scenes 2016 will be performed by the AOP Resident Ensemble of Singers: coloratura soprano Tookah Sapper (Manhattan School of Music), lyric soprano Jennifer Goode Cooper (NYCO, Glimmerglass), mezzo-soprano Caitlin McKechney (Opera Memphis, Florida Grand Opera), tenor Blake Friedman (BAM, St. Petersburg Opera), baritone Kyle Guglielmo (Sarasota Opera), and bass Jonathan Woody (BAM, Apollo’s Fire). Each of the scenes were composed specifically for the singers’ voices, after months of study and experimentation during the C&V program. Supporting on piano will be C&V Music Directors Mila Henry, Kelly Horsted, and Charity Wicks.

Previous Six Scenes concerts have given audiences their first look at operas that went on to fully-produced world premieres including Gregory Spears’ Paul’s Case (UrbanArias and Prototype Festival), Jack Perla’s Love/Hate (ODC/San Francisco Opera 2012), and the upcoming Three Way by Robert Paterson (Nashville Opera 2017) and The Summer King by Daniel Sonenberg (Pittsburgh Opera 2017).

Following the performances, one of the scenes will be selected to receive a staged reading at Manhattan School of Music in Spring 2017 as part of their annual New American Opera Previews series From Page to Stage.

20150928-DSC_7711Composers & the Voice Fellows, 2015-16; l. to r.: Matthew Barnson, Emily Roller, Edward Einhorn, Mark Sonnenblick, Marc LeMay, Duncan McFarlane, Sky Macklay, Cecilia Livingston, Carlos R. Carrillo, Nell Shaw Cohen; Photo by Steven Pisano

ABOUT COMPOSERS & THE VOICE

Created and led by Steven Osgood (General and Artistic Director of Chautauqua Opera and former Artistic Director of AOP), Composers & the Voice gives composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage. American Opera Projects selects composers and librettists bi-annually for the fellowships, made possible in part by generous awards from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Victor Herbert Foundation. Participants meet in closed sessions from September to April to present and discuss new works composed specifically for the individual voices of the Resident Ensemble with additional training in acting, improv, and libretto study.

In addition to the workshop sessions, C&V fellows benefit from one-on-one mentoring from Ricky Ian Gordon, Daron Hagen, Michael Korie, David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Tobias Picker, Gene Scheer, Stephen Schwartz, and Royce Vavrek. Each of these distinguished artists review their C&V fellow’s work, offer feedback, and participate in C&V discussions.

Since launching in 2002, C&V has fostered the development of 54 composers & librettists including composers Stefan Weisman (The Scarlet Ibis, PROTOTYPE Festival, 2015), Hannah Lash (Aspen Music Festival), Aleksandra Vrebalov (Mileva, Serbian National Theater), Vivian Fung (2013 Juno Award “Classical Composition of the Year”) and librettist Sara Cooper (The Memory Play, off-Broadway). A complete list of alumni can be found at www.aopopera.org/composers_voice.

VIEW THE COMPLETE “SIX SCENES” PRESS RELEASE WITH LISTINGS INFO AND BIOS


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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