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50 Y E A R S OF OPE R A I N A M E R IC A SECOND OF A SERIES

WINTER 2020

PLUS ▼

Native American Collaborations ▼

Gender Identity ▼

Superfans ▼

Sister Helen Prejean’s First Opera

R E P E R T O RY

New Works Flourish $7. 9 9


THE BARBER OF SEVILLE Gioachino Rossini

THE MAGIC FLUTE Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

TRISTAN UND ISOLDE Richard Wagner

RUSALKA Antonín Dvořák

WORLD PREMIERE

M. BUTTERFLY Music Libretto

Huang Ruo David Henry Hwang

Watch the 2020 Season Preview santafeopera.org 505-986-5900 Photo by Wendy McEahern


WINTER 2020

CONTENTS

Nixon in China at the Metropolitan Opera, 2011, with James Maddalena, Russell Braun and Janis Kelly

3

Pioneer Spirit

By Marc A. Scorca

I N N O VAT I O N S

7

Gender Conscious

Companies address their nonbinary and trans constituents.

10 Superfans and Ring Heads

Fervent opera buffs travel for their favorite works.

13 People

F E AT U R E S

16 Q&A: Charles MacKay

The veteran company leader reflects on his life in opera.

20 The Top 25

The mostproduced operas of the year

24 Common Ground

Opera companies connect with Native American communities. By Ray Mark Rinaldi

OA NEWS

46 IDEA Opera Grants

47 Director-

Designer Showcase

48 Fall Forums 50 #meetopera 52 Publications & On Disc

58 OPERA

America’s Members

64 My First Opera By Sister Helen Prejean

SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY SECTION

50 YEARS OF OPERA IN AMERICA

33 New Works Take Center Stage

How the modern American canon transformed the field. By Vivien Schweitzer and Fred Cohn

37 Focus on the Future

Composers Ellen Reid and Kevin Puts

38 Founding Companies

Minnesota Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Carolina

40 The Oral History Project

John Conklin, Speight Jenkins

41 Supertitles

1980s

43 Opera for the 80s and Beyond

KEN HOWARD

44 Critics’ Picks

ON THE COVER Illustration by Mike McQuade | Andriana Chuchman in Nixon in China at Houston Grand Opera, 2017 (photo: Lynn Lane)

W I N T E R 2 0 2 0  1


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OPERA OPERA OPERA OPERA AMERICA AMERICA OPERA OPERA AMERICA AMERICA AMERICA AMERICA

DON’T DON’TMISS MISSTHE THE DON’T DON’T MISS MISS THE THE 50 50 ANNIVERSARY ANNIVERSARY PARTY! PARTY! DON’T DON’TMISS MISSTHE THE 50 50 ANNIVERSARY ANNIVERSARY PARTY! PARTY! 50 50 ANNIVERSARY ANNIVERSARYPARTY! PARTY! THTH THTH THTH

May May15, 15,2020 2020 May May 15, 15, 2020 2020 Seattle Seattle Aquarium Aquarium May May15, 15, 2020 2020 Seattle SeattleAquarium Aquarium Seattle SeattleAquarium Aquarium Celebrating Celebrating 50 50years years Celebrating Celebrating50 50years years of ofopera operaininAmerica America Celebrating Celebrating 50 50years years ofofopera operaininAmerica America ofofopera operaininAmerica America

HOSTED HOSTED BYBY HOSTED HOSTED BYBY HOSTED HOSTED BYBY

EDITOR

Fred Cohn

FCohn@operaamerica.org A RT DIR ECTION

Made Visible Studio

michael@madevisiblestudio.com A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R

Nicholas Wise

NWise@operaamerica.org A DV E R T I S I N G M A N AG E R

Stephanie A. Carnright SCarnright@operaamerica.org DIR ECTOR OF M ARK ETING AND C O M M U N I C AT I O N S

Rolando G. Reyes Mir

RReyesMir@operaamerica.org

Opera America Magazine (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in fall, winter, spring and summer. Copyright © 2020 by OPERA America. All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission. Editorial policy: The views expressed in this publication are those of the various authors for the purpose of encouraging discussion. Unless expressly noted, they do not reflect the formal policy, or necessarily the views, of OPERA America. To contact the editor, e-mail Editor@operaamerica.org. The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered. For advertising rates, visit operaamerica.org/Advertising. OPERA America National Opera Center 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620


Pioneer Spirit

››

The start of 2020 marks the official beginning of OPERA America’s 50th anniversary celebration of opera in America. We are excited about our members’ enthusiasm for communicating the remarkable five-decade narrative of the art form’s progress across the United States and Canada. In the years since 1970, seventy percent of our professional companies have been established, along with most of our university opera programs, young artist training programs and competitions. Most important, the American opera repertoire has blossomed into a rich and diverse canon of works that vary in subject, style and scope. Unlike in the early years of OPERA America, virtually every American company will perform a new or existing American opera over the next couple seasons. Opera has come into its own in North America, and the creative future is bright. Even as we focus on the last half-century, our work with our founding companies is giving us a perspective on the story of opera in North America. Three of the sixteen symposia planned in the cities of our founding companies have already taken place, helping us uncover the rich and varied history of opera in America from our earliest colonial days. We were delighted to learn about extended seasons of opera in New Orleans that started at the end of the 1700s and into the 1800s (beginning in the years after the Louisiana Territory was ceded to Spain). Competing companies helped cover their costs by touring from New Orleans to Havana and then to Boston, New York and Philadelphia, where opera was a suspicious extravagance in the eyes of northern Puritans and Quakers. Lorenzo da Ponte may have brought Manuel García’s company to New York for performances of The Barber of Seville, but Rossini’s comedy had already been performed in New Orleans! During our panel discussion in San Diego — the company that first performed an opera by Daniel Catán (Rappaccini’s Daughter) — the Mexican consul general taught us that the first opera performance in Mexico took place in 1711 before a private audience in the Viceroy’s Palace. (This was more than 20 years before opera reached the American colonies, with a piece called Flora, or Hob in the Well, in Charleston in 1735.) The work was La Parténope, set to the same libretto as Handel’s 1730 Partenope, and the music was by the most important Mexican composer of the colonial period, Manuel de Zumaya.   We were astonished to realize that three of our founding companies were launched by the same man, Walter Herbert. He was a German émigré — and a champion bridge player — who worked at San Francisco Opera and was artistic director of the company now known as Mississippi Opera (another founding member). Herbert founded New Orleans Opera in 1943, Houston Grand Opera in 1955 and San Diego Opera in 1965. Later this anniversary year, Opera America Magazine will run a profile of this extraordinary figure. Our third founding-member city, Omaha, first saw opera in the late 19th century, in part thanks to the indefatigable Italian soprano Adelina Patti, who crisscrossed North America over her 40-year career. Jenny Lind performed with P.T. Barnum before adoring audiences. Touring companies abounded in the 19th century, supplementing the work of local opera troupes that may have been semi-professional but tackled ambitious repertoire, including the large-scale operas of Rossini and Meyerbeer.  We should take pride in the way opera in this country has been transformed from an inherited European art form into a contemporary cultural expression that resonates with the issues that make headlines.  We must remember, though, that we stand on the broad shoulders of our predecessors who wove opera into our culture from the days before our independence. Their efforts reflected a desire to enrich their lives and the lives of their neighbors, and to remain linked to the cultural roots they left behind in their native countries. Opera was more than an entertainment; it was an expression of their identity. A new set of social and political forces shape our world today, but opera should still be a vehicle for understanding our own identity and appreciating the identity of others.

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO

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new thinking for tomorrow's opera

A Question of Identity

Companies take steps to welcome people across the gender spectrum.

››

Newcomers to Austin Opera may smile at the signs on two office and rehearsal hall bathrooms. Reading “Whatever — just wash your hands,” the gender-neutral signage is one way that the company supports colleagues whose gender orientation may not fit into traditional categories of “male” and “female.”

Gender identity has taken its place, alongside race and ethnicity, as a focal point for the field’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts. Meanwhile, the increasing openness of staffers, artists and backstage personnel in expressing their gender identity has helped awareness grow organically. Annie Burridge, Austin

Opera’s general director and CEO, was inspired to make her company’s restrooms gender-neutral after seeing them at a nearby university. She let her staff choose the signage. “While we haven’t yet had any of our personnel or visiting artists identify as non-binary,” she says, “we have found the signs very helpful in setting the tone

for a collaborative, inclusive and welcoming workplace culture.” After a transgender individual joined Utah Opera’s chorus last fall, conversations with the person led to several quiet yet significant changes. The language “ladies and gentlemen of the chorus” was dropped. In emails and dressing room signs, the

W I N T E R 2 0 2 0  7


company now uses voice types to categorize singers, rather than the terms “men” and “women.” Utah’s artistic director, Christopher McBeth, reports that the company has also created a dedicated privacy space in dressing rooms for individuals who prefer to be out of view — for any reason. “It could be recent surgery, being a new mother or transitioning,” McBeth says. “We should have been doing this 40 years ago.” Minnesota Opera Costume Director Corinna Bakken worked with a transgender super in 2016 to create a comfortable, safe environment. “It was important to us both that a big deal not be made,” she explains. “I had my tailor give him the option of putting on a T-shirt prior to us coming into the room to fit him. I also asked about his

“ W E WA N T O U R P O L I C I E S T O C AT C H U P WITH OUR CONSCIOUSNESS” — Charles Chip McNeal, San Francisco Opera

comfort level changing in the male dressing rooms, or if he would prefer we provide a private space for him to at least put his ‘skins’ on. I checked back after we had begun dress rehearsals to ensure that our plan was working.”  When Chris Largent, a transgender man, interviewed for an associate technical director position at San Francisco Opera, he noted that restrooms and dressing rooms were still “very binary.” Since joining the company, he has worked to build awareness of gender-spectrum

issues. “I look like a cisgender man, so people find out because I have told them,” he says. “They have come to me with questions like ‘One of my kids is talking about their gender — can you give me some insight?’” He wears a transgender symbol on his lapel while giving preshow backstage tours. Last August, SFO created a new diversity, equity and community department, led by education department member Charles Chip Mc Neal. “We want our policies to catch up with our

consciousness,” he explains. “It’s about creating safe, nurturing spaces for our professional workers, for the artists onstage and for the audience.” He adds, “We really don’t know whether Chris is the only transgender or non-binary person here.” For those who want more information, the theater website stagesource.org posts a list of ways to foster gender diversity. It’s natural to be afraid of missteps, but the first item on the list is “Allow for mistakes.” And reaching out quietly to your self-identified employees is a logical first step. Says Utah’s McBeth, “It turned out to be less of a big deal than we anticipated. We were thoughtful about the tweaks we made, and everybody just treated everyone like a human being.” — Judith Kurnick

PLatée RAMEAU

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8  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E


People

Opera, following allegations of sexual harassment.

TRANSITIONS

Virginia Opera has announced that President and CEO Russell P. Allen will retire at the end of the 2019–2020 season.

AFK-E VANS (C A MPAG NA), TIM RONC A (COOK), SUELLEN FIT ZSIMMONS (CORNE T TI), G IA GOODRICH (DIXON), M ARC OLIVIER LE BL ANC/S AN FR ANCISCO OPER A (KIM), DIRT Y SUG AR (MEEKER), TOM MCG R ATH (MILIOTO), JONATHAN TICHLER/ME TROP OLITAN OPER A (NÉ ZE T-SÉGUIN), ARIELLE DONESON (HE A STON), K ATERINA GOODE (SHARON), DANIEL DENINO (WHIFFEN), L AY NE DIXON PHOTOG R APHY (M AG NUS), ANDRE W BOG ARD (WILLIA MS)

Susan Ashbaker has left her post as artistic director of Tri-Cities Opera. She continues as associate professor and director of Westminster Opera Theatre at Westminster Choir College. At Palm Beach Opera, James Barbato has been promoted from assistant director of artistic operations to director of artistic administration.

Campagna

The Center of Contemporary Opera has named Francesca Campagna as general director.

At OPERA America, Christian De Gré Cárdenas has been promoted from director of the National Opera Center to director of operations, a role encompassing finance, HR and organizational functionality.

To submit items for potential inclusion in People, or to share any news about your company, email PressReleases@ operaamerica.org.

Cook

Matt Cook has joined Pacific Opera Project as executive and development director.

Cornetti

Pittsburgh Festival Opera has appointed mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti as artistic director.

Portland Opera has named Sue Dixon as general director. She was previousDixon ly the company's director of external affairs. Plácido Domingo has resigned as general director of Los Angeles

Kim Gaynor has stepped down as general director of Vancouver Opera. Canadian Opera Company has hired Christopher Hutchinson as chief financial officer. Florida Grand Opera has hired Victor Kendall as chief advancement officer and Gui Proenca as company manager. It has also promoted Kal Garaj from director of marketing and communications to chief marketing officer, and Mitch Roe from studio artist manager to director of artistic administration.

Kim

Eun Sun Kim has been appointed music director of San Francisco Opera.

The Canadian Opera Company has named stage director Julie McIsaac as its first director/ dramaturg-in-residence. Paul Meecham has stepped down as president and CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. Patricia A. Richards, former chair of the organization’s board, has taken on the role of interim CEO.

Meeker

Joyce will leave her position as executive director of the Lindemann program at the end of the 2019–2020 season to go to the Paris Opera, where she will be responsible for casting. Diane Zola, assistant general manager, artistic, will add to her duties by becoming the program’s new executive director. The company has also hired Michael Heaston as artistic administrator, replacing Jonathan Friend, who will step down at the end of the 2019–2020 season. Claire Padien-Havens, a 2016 alumna of OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive, has been hired by Opera San José as managing director of institutional strategy. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has hired Linda Schulte as director of development. Long Beach Opera has engaged Yuval Sharon, artistic director of The Sharon Industry, to be its interim artistic advisor and plan its 2021 season. Against the Grain Theatre has appointed Robin Whiffen, previousWhiffen ly general manager of Opera on the Avalon, as its first-ever executive director.

Milioto

OPERA San Antonio has named E. Loren Meeker, previously artistic advisor to the company, as general and artistic director. Francesco Milioto has been appointed the company’s first music director.

KUDOS

Magnus Nézet-Séguin

Heaston

At the Metropolitan Opera, Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been named artistic director of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Sophie

Williams

Musical America’s 2019 list of 30 Professionals of the Year includes Ashley Magnus, general director of Chicago Opera Theater; Andrew Ousley, president of Unison Media and founder of Death of Classical; Melissa Wegner,

WINTER 2020 13


People

executive director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; and Sarah Williams, new works administrator at Opera Philadelphia. The government of Quebec awarded its 2019 Prix Albert-Tessier, Vaillancourt in the cultural category, to Pauline Vaillancourt, artistic director of Chants Libres. The prize is the highest distinction for those who have contributed to theater and the audiovisual arts in Quebec.

IN MEMORIAM

Jessye Norman

D’Angelo

Reid

Lincoln Center gave 2020 Emerging Artist Awards to mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo and composer Ellen Reid, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m received an Opera Grant for Female Composers from OPERA America.

Allen

Martínez

The recipients of the 2020 Opera News Awards are baritone and stage director Thomas Allen, tenor Javier Camarena, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and sopranos Diana Damrau and Ana María Martínez. Soprano Midori Marsh took home first prize and the Audience Choice Marsh Award at Canadian Opera Company’s annual Ensemble Studio Competition. Soprano Teresa Castillo won the ninth annual Mildred Castillo Miller International Vocal Competition, hosted by Pittsburgh Festival Opera on October 27.

14  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E

Soprano Jessye Norman, whose opulent voice and majestic stage presence made her one of the leading artists of the past half-century, died on September 30 at age 74. With an instrument remarkable in size and sheer beauty across its range — from its rich contralto tones to shimmering high notes — Norman took on a diverse repertoire that included the works of Purcell, Wagner, Berlioz, Strauss, Janáček, Berg and Schoenberg. Norman began her career in Europe, making her professional debut in 1969 as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and soon after appeared at leading houses like La Scala and the Royal Opera House. Her belated American opera debut came in 1982, when she sang Stravinsky’s Jocasta and Purcell’s Dido with Opera Philadelphia, and the following year she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cassandre in Les Troyens. She went on to appear 80 times at the Met, triumphing in roles like Ariadne and Sieglinde. Norman was one of the most celebrated singers of her generation, receiving five Grammy Awards, a Kennedy Center Honor and the National Medal of Arts. She leaves behind a rich discography of lieder, spirituals and recitals, including an interpretation of Strauss’ Four Last Songs that is considered by many a definitive recording of the cycle. At the time of her death, Norman was working on Call Her By Her Name!, a multimedia project about the trailblazing black soprano Sissieretta Jones.

Martin Bernheimer, music critic of the Los Angeles Times from 1965 to 1996, died on September 29 at age 83. Known for his eloquent, often acerbic prose, Bernheimer won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, as well as two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards, in 1974 and 1978. He contributed to Opera magazine and Opera News, and was frequently heard on the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcasts. The Dominican tenor Francisco Casanova died on September 26

at age 61. Casanova rose to prominence in 1996, when he replaced Luciano Pavarotti in a New York Philharmonic concert, and five years later made his Met debut as Manrico, going on to sing 39 times with the company in roles such as Cavaradossi, Ismaele in Nabucco, and Arrigo in I vespri siciliani. Soprano Leyna Gabriele died on October 14 at age 95. Gabriele is perhaps best known for singing the title role of Douglas Moore’s

ÉRIC L ABONTÉ (VAILL ANCOURT), DANIEL DENINO (D’ANG ELO), JA MES M AT THE W DANIEL (REID), SUSSIE AHLBURG (ALLEN), TOM SPECHT (M ARTÍNE Z), RICHARD BLINKOFF (C A STILLO), ERIK A DAVIDSON/ME T OPER A ARCHIVES

1 9 4 5 –2 0 1 9


THE The most-produced operas in the U.S. and Canada, 2018–2019

1

TOP 25 DUANE TINKE Y

La bohème

20  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E


2

La traviata

Joshua Guerrero and Julie Adams, Des Moines Metro Opera

Zach Borichevsky and Sarah Joy Miller, Opera Grand Rapids

DUANE TINKE Y (L A TR AVIATA); JOEL BISSELL (C ARMEN); SUNNY M ARTINI (M ADA M A BUT TERFLY)

3

Carmen

4

The Barber of Seville

Ginger Costa-Jackson, Seattle Opera

5 6

Hansel and Gretel

Madama Butterfly

7

Rigoletto Janet Szepei Todd and Daniel Montenegro, Opera Columbus


Common

GROU N D

INNOVATIVE COLLABORATIONS HELP BUILD

EQUITY AND

UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES AND THEIR NON-INDIGENOUS NEIGHBORS.


W Aria Evans, Clarence Frazer and Marion Newman in Shanawdithit at Tapestry Opera

DAHLIA K AT Z

By Ray Mark Rinaldi

hen Pacific Opera Victoria took the lead in creating Missing, the company knew it was treading into new terrain — and that it was going to have to learn a new way of doing business to make it a success. The opera, which premiered in 2017, gives voice to the stories of missing and murdered indigenous women. Bringing authenticity to such an important topic required careful attention to the details in its creation, its production and its marketing. The company needed indigenous artists in the creative team and indigenous singers. “It required us to give real control over to the people in that community,” says Rebecca Hass, the company’s director of community engagement. “They knew better what was needed.” Pacific Opera Victoria was facing a dilemma that companies are working to address on both sides of the U.S.Canadian border: the imperative to connect with indigenous populations. The trend is especially prevalent in Canada, ever since a 2015 report from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on citizens to confront the country’s long history of colonialism and mistreatment, and to work toward building equity and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. “The sensitivity of Canadian companies to Native American concerns points the way forward for the whole field,” says Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “This kind of thoughtful approach can apply to any population that has been underrepresented or oppressed in the context of opera.” The Missing project, Pacific Opera Victoria’s first major response to the commission’s report, taught the company valuable lessons. A company can’t just decide one day it is going to target a

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whole new set of audience members and expect people to show up, especially if it has previously paid scant attention to their community. “You’re not just going to go and say ‘This is really pretty’ or ‘You’ll be emotionally moved,’” Hass says. “At the least, that’s irrelevant, and it’s probably offensive.” The effort has to start at the very conception of a new work. In this case, the company assembled a creative team with a mix of backgrounds. Métis playwright Marie Clements wrote the libretto, collaborating with Juno-winning composer Brian Current, who is non-indigenous. As for marketing, the opera company started by reaching out to prominent figures in the indigenous community to discern ways of connecting the dots between Native American and European music and performance practices. It didn’t take long to find commonalities, says Hass, who is Métis herself. Both cultures, Hass points out, have a tradition of storytelling through music. This helped the company spread the word.

26  O P E R A A M E R I C A M A G A Z I N E

Missing, co-produced with City Opera Vancouver, sold out its original run in Victoria, and then sold out again when the title was restaged this November. It followed up its 2019 production with a tour to performing arts spaces in the cities of Regina and Prince George. Hass is pleased with the public reception for the opera, but she says the audience figures account for only a portion of the project’s success. The opera company built relationships with the indigenous community that it has managed to sustain. Among its efforts: a workshop for young people at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre about careers as opera technical and support staff. “We took them to our shop and they met the head carpenter,” Hass reports. “They learned about prop painting, set construction, wigs and makeup, and about careers in the costume department.” The company collaborated with Sacred Circle, an all-indigenous theater group at local Esquimalt High School, to offer advice on stagecraft and vocal training.

“We provide a class in Western voice care, but don’t ask them to change the way they sing,” Hass says. “The relationship is built on respect — not us stepping in and dictating.” When faced with the directives from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, Toronto-based Tapestry Opera incorporated them into its mission to develop operas that have, in the words of its artistic director, Michael Mori, “a contemporary argument for existing.” Partnering with Opera on the Avalon, it commissioned Shanawdithit, the story of the last surviving member (1801–1829) of the Beothuk people, who were based primarily in the land that is now Newfoundland. There were obstacles even at the start. First, the company had to determine which version of the tale it needed to tell. Shanawdithit’s biography is not wellknown in Canada beyond Newfoundland, and what is known, at least among the white population, is often filtered through a colonial, (CONTINUED ON P. 28)

EMILY COOPER (MISSING); MICHAEL COOPER (LOUS RIEL)

RIGHT: Missing at Pacific Opera Victoria, with Heather Molloy, Marion Newman, Caitlin Wood, Rose-Ellen Nichols, Joanna Diindiisikwe Simmons, Kyle Lehmann and Jan van der Hooft BELOW: Simone Osborne in Canadian Opera Company’s Louis Riel


The Downwinders, the Santa Fe Opera Chorus and Ryan McKinny (at far left) in Doctor Atomic at the Santa Fe Opera

KEN HOWARD

DIALOGUE IN THE DESERT While many North American opera companies have only recently started connecting meaningfully with indigenous people around them, the Santa Fe Opera has been building relationships with Native American communities in its home state of New Mexico for nearly half a century. That work has proceeded on two fronts: creatively, when the opera integrated Native American elements into its 2018 production of Dr. Atomic, and civically, in its dealings with the local Tesuque Pueblo, which had begun developing its land adjacent to the opera’s open-air amphitheater. Santa Fe’s Pueblo Opera Program (POP), in existence since 1973, invites families from 21 pueblos and reservations to dress rehearsals of three operas each season, with the dual aim of sharing culture and building audiences over multiple generations. That long-standing connection morphed organically into an artistic partnership in 2018, when Peter Sellars mounted the Santa Fe production of Dr. Atomic, his Manhattan Project-themed collaboration with John Adams. Set at nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory, the opera details the detonation of the first atom bomb: an event that had a grave impact on the environment and the state’s native people. Sellars invited members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which seeks justice for people harmed by radiation, to appear onstage. Meanwhile, a group of indigenous dancers offered to perform the traditional sacred Corn Dance for opera audiences. The dance served as a preamble to the opera; later on, in Act II, the dancers reemerged, performing the Corn Dance to Adams’ music. The company’s discussions with the Tesuque Pueblo have been an entirely separate matter, although similarly showing the need for SFO to work with its

indigenous neighbors. The pueblo’s land sits right at the foot of Opera Drive, and the opera company feared that the new development, with a casino at its center, might interfere with its own operations. SFO’s history of working with local Native Americans gave the dialogue “a place to start,” according to Andrea Fellows Walters, the company’s director of commmunity engagement. But it was hardly a panacea. The company quickly learned that many community members nurtured long-simmering resentments, dating back to 1956 when John Crosby built his new opera house on land that the pueblo’s people had traditionally owned. Many local Native Americans saw the company as a manifestation of the westward expansion that had routinely ignored the rights and customs of indigenous populations. The discussions have continued without any clear resolution. The opening of the casino in 2018, though, proved not to affect performances. In fact, SFO has been able to use the casino’s lot for overflow parking; moreover, opera patrons are actually heading down the hill to place bets. As the pueblo plans for further building — including a possible performance venue — SFO remains concerned. But it is also working to repair damage from past practices, exploring ways to improve. The entire organization, from board members to administrators to artists, is exploring ways to improve its connections with its indigenous neighbors. These might include the development of new work revolving around native themes, along with finding ways to bring jobs and career opportunities to the community as a whole. “This is the start,” Walters says. “Not the conclusion.” —R.R.

WINTER 2020 27


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In celebration of OPERA America’s 50th anniversary, we present the second of six special sections looking at a half-century of American operatic progress. Patricia Racette and Ryan McKinney in Dead Man Walking at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2019

KEN HOWARD

The Rise of the New

The emergence of a contemporary American canon has transformed the field. BY V I V IEN SCH W EI TZ ER and F R ED COH N

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New work played at best a negligible role in the repertories of North American companies in 1970. An occasional new piece popped up, as if in response to criticism that companies had turned into museum-like repositories for the works of the past, causing the art form itself to atrophy. But these premieres seldom had an afterlife in revivals or new productions. As a whole, the industry gave every indication that its priorities lay elsewhere, and that American opera’s true business lay in the presentation of the inherited repertoire. Over the past half-century, the landscape for new work has changed so radically as to be unrecognizable. Companies large and small

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American opera still pops up, such as Charles Wuorinen and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. But the vast majority of today’s American opera composers, from John Adams to Ricky Ian Gordon to Kevin Puts, base their output within tonality. The form’s new eclecticism lets composers like David T. Little and Ellen Reid incorporate rock-and-roll elements into their

these women have been recipients of support from OA’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program. Much of the output of these creators addresses an audience beyond opera’s traditional bases. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2013 world premiere of Champion, by Blanchard and Michael Kristofer, drew in record numbers of attendees from the city’s African Amer-

New work has become the heartbeat of American opera. works. All of this is making the music of opera accessible to a broad audience swath. The ranks of pre-1970 American opera creators were all but exclusively filled by white men. The African American composer William Grant Still wrote eight operas and Gertrude Stein supplied the librettos for Virgil Thomson’s two operatic works, but these were exceptions that most definitely proved the rule. Now artists of color like Terence Blanchard, Anthony Davis, Huang Ruo and Tazewell Thompson have written some of today’s most notable works. Female composers have risen to the forefront: Du Yun, Laura Kaminsky, Lori Laitman, Cerise Jacobs, Missy Mazzoli, Ellen Reid, Kamala Sankaram and Jeanine Tesori, among myriad others. Many of

ican population. In 2010, Houston Grand Opera offered the premiere of the world’s first mariachi opera: José “Pepe” Martínez and Leonard Foglia’s Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. The work has proved immensely popular — it has spawned productions around the world, including three return engagements in Houston — and succeeded in drawing Latinx audiences to the art form. Cruzar engendered a 2015 follow-up by the same creators: El Pasado Nunca se Termina for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Pepe Martínez died in 2016, but his son Javier is carrying on his tradition: He and Foglia wrote a Cruzar prequel, El Milagro del Recuerdo, which premiered at HGO this December. One huge advance of the past 50 years is the emergence of systems for bringing new works to life.

KEN HOWARD

OPERA IN AMERICA 50 YEARS OF 

regularly program world premieres along with revivals of the American operas of our time. Nixon in China (1987), Dead Man Walking (2000) and As One (2014), among many others, have spawned multiple mountings, drawing seasoned operagoers and new audiences alike. Some new operas, like The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017) and the upcoming Eurydice, result from co-commissions, which means that multiple airings are built into their very existence. Philip Glass’ 1983 Akhnaten, in its first Metropolitan Opera production earlier this season, sold out its entire run. Works like X, the Life and Times of Malcolm X (1985), Harvey Milk (1995), Glory Denied (2007) and Blue (2019) have demonstrated that opera can address the social concerns of the day, adding its voice to the national discussion. New work is no longer an afterthought: It’s the heartbeat of American opera today. A key factor in the growth of new American opera is the work of OPERA America. Starting in 1983, with the establishment of the grant program Opera for the 80s and Beyond (see page 43), the organization has provided funding for 330 pieces, supporting composers and librettists, as well as the companies that commission new works. The cultural environment itself has played a role in the shift. Fifty years ago, classical music was in the throes of the orthodoxy of serial music. It was an era when symphony subscribers would regularly storm up the aisles at premieres, furious at the abstruse sounds they were hearing. In the years since, minimalism and New Romanticism have spawned a new acceptance of tonality among the composers of concert music, and a new degree of approachability in their music Opera has followed suit. Mid-20th-century opera composers like Carlisle Floyd and Samuel Barber wrote tonal music, but were considered far outside the academic mainstream. The relaxation of serialism’s grip, though, has allowed new generations of composers to work fearlessly in tonal idioms. The occasional atonal


JOHN G RIG AITIS

Before an opera gets presented to the public at large, it will go through a thoughtful development process, often the result of the commissioners investing time and resources to bring the piece into final form. Dramaturgs help the creators shape their work. Organizations like the American Opera Project, founded in 1988, and American Lyric Theater, founded in 2005, devote themselves to the development of new works. They have been joined by university-based programs like the University of Colorado Boulder’s CU NOW, founded in 2009, and Opera Fusion: New Works, a collaboration of Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. No longer must new works open “cold”: These programs allow composers and librettists to test their ideas and see them in performance before bringing them before the general public. The past half-century has seen a burgeoning not just of new works, but of new approaches. When John Adams and Alice Goodman wrote Nixon in China in the 1980s, they launched the idea that opera could address recent contemporary political or cultural issues. Adams

ABOVE: Natalie Nikolajevs and Katharine Goeldner in The Grapes of Wrath at Michigan Opera Theatre, 2019 OPPOSITE PAGE: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ The Death of Klinghoffier, with Laura Wilde, Brian Mulligan, Nancy Maultsby and Paul LaRosa, 2011

and Goodman exposed themselves to controversy with their second collaboration: The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), which depicts the 1985 murder, by Palestinian terrorists, of the wheelchair-bound American-Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer. Terrorism has since been the subject of several other operas, notably Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz’s Bel Canto (2015) and Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph’s Shalimar the Clown (2016). A socially relevant subject — and a thoroughly accessible score — have made Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking one of the most durable of recent operas. Since its 2000 premiere, the work, adapted from the memoir of the persistent anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean (see “My First Opera,” page 64), has been staged more than 40 times in North America, and it is now scheduled for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2020–2021 season. The American Opera Initiative, founded by Francesca Zambello at Washington National Opera in 2012, has made it its mission to address contemporary society. The program commissions three 20-minute operas and one

hour-long opera each season, with the stipulation that they all must reflect themes and issues relevant to contemporary America. AOI operas include An American Soldier by Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang, which premiered in a one-act version in 2014 at WNO and then was expanded to two acts for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2018. The opera tells the real-life story of a Chinese-American soldier who in 2011 committed suicide at age 19 in Afghanistan after enduring violent racial harassment by his fellow soldiers Opera has always attracted artists from the gay community, even if the content of their output has been all but uniformly “straight.” But a new wave of operas is bringing LGBTQ issues onto opera’s stages. Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s Fellow Travelers, based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel about the McCarthy-era persecution of gay people, has already become part of the contemporary American canon, with nine productions since its 2016 Cincinnati Opera premiere. Another LGBTQ-themed work, Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed’s As One, has received a whopping 24 productions since its 2014

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K ARLI C ADEL (BLUE); M ARIA BAR ANOVA (PRISM)

OPERA IN AMERICA 50 YEARS OF 

premiere by the American Opera Project. Much of recent American opera is dark stuff: a logical state of affairs, considering how much it focuses on our most vexing social concerns. Still, music’s transformative power can give an element of catharsis to even the most harrowing scenarios: For instance, Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s Blue depicts the grief of a mother and father whose son has been felled by a policeman’s bullet, while its soaring music underlines the humanity we share with its heartbreakingly afflicted characters. Not all recent works dwell in tragedy. John Musto and Mark Campbell’s 2007 Later the Same Evening is full of gentle humor. William Bolcom and Campbell’s 2017 Dinner at Eight is an adaptation of a beloved stage and film comedy. John Corigliano and William M. Hoffmann’s The Ghosts of Versailles, which weaves together pathos and knockabout farce, made a splash at its 1991 Met world premiere; more recently, a chamber-orchestra version has occasioned a number of revivals by smaller companies. Unlike the operas of past eras, which were overwhelmingly adaptations of preexisting material, most recent American works have used original stories. Nonetheless, our era has seen some notable adaptations of literary properties: not just Fellow Travelers, Shalimar the Clown (based on Salmon Rushdie’s novel) and Bel Canto (based on a best-selling novel by Ann Patchett); but also The Great Gatsby (John Harbison, 1999), The Grapes of Wrath (Ricky Ian Gordon/Michael Korie, 2007) and The Scarlet Letter (Lori Laitman/David Mason, 2016). Meanwhile, Heggie’s musically and dramatically vivid Moby-Dick has been performed more than 49 times since its 2010 Dallas Opera premiere. Much American work of the past half-century has expanded the boundaries of the art form, occupying a territory that encompasses music theater and performance art as well as traditional opera. Recently, the Met engendered grumblings that Akhnaten was “not an


The 80s Words, With Music: The Supertitles Revolution OPERA IN THE 80S

KEY OPERA America The field at large The world

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The introduction of supertitles in the mid1980s transformed opera in America. The Canadian Opera Company pioneered the technology with a 1983 Elektra; a few months later, New York City Opera used supertitles for Massenet’s Cendrillon. Within a short six months, the concept spread to over 100 American opera companies.

1980 Ted Turner launches his Cable News Network.

1981 Foundings: Greensboro Opera, Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria

Martin Kagan becomes executive director of OPERA America.

Beverly Sills retires with a star-studded New York City Opera gala

Prince Charles of England marries Lady Diana Spencer.

Foundings: The In Series, Nashville Opera, Opera Colorado, Opera Columbus

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OPERA IN AMERICA

A NYCO audience survey found a 96 percent approval rating of surtitles. Speight Jenkins, then general director of Seattle Opera, was in the audience at that Toronto Elektra. “I went to Canada thinking it was just something crazy,” he confesses. “It took me less than three minutes to realize, ‘My god, this is the future!’” He brought supertitles to Seattle for a 1984 production of Tannhäuser. “Supertitles are the largest single factor in making opera successful in the late 80s and afterward,” Jenkins says. “It brought a whole group of people to the opera who didn’t go before — specifically businesspeople in their 40s and 50s. Before, they did not like to come to something like Trovatore or Ballo in maschera and be lost. With Wagner, it made

all the difference in the world. Prior to 1983, everybody thought that Wotan’s monologue [in Die Walküre] was boring; now nobody does.” The original supertitle system used a carousel slide projector. “The machine was vulnerable,” says Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Some operas had as many as 989 slides. They could get jammed, and scratches would make them unusable.” The Metropolitan Opera famously resisted supertitles, but introduced its trademark back-ofseat “Met Titles” in 1995; in 1998, the Santa Fe Opera installed a

similar system in its newly built opera house. Elsewhere, supertitles are ubiquitous, generally employing sophisticated computer technology rather than the carousel trays of yore, while still needing personnel to run them in real time. As a result of supertitles, audiences have now long been able to go to the opera without doing homework beforehand. Still, Jenkins wonders if something has been lost. “It takes away, in a strange way, from the singing itself,” he says. “People are paying attention instead to the text. It has made opera a theatrical rather than a vocal form.” —Nicholas Lord

ABOVE: Seattle Opera’s first use of supertitles, in its 1984 Tannhäuser RIGHT: Back-of-seat titles at the Metropolitan Opera

Premiere of E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial

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1983 Foundings: Center for Contemporary Opera, Opera North, Soundstreams Canada

Jessye Norman makes her U.S. opera debut, in Dido and Aeneas and Oedipus Rex, at Opera Philadelphia.

Launch of the first U.S. cell phone network

Foundings: Opera Atelier, Opéra de Québec, Opera Modesto and Pensacola Opera

A Quiet Place, Leonard Bernstein’s last work for the stage, has its premiere at Houston Grand Opera.

DES G ATES (SE AT TLE OPER A)

50 YEARS OF 

1982


NEWS

New Opportunities for Creators of Color

C

Hu Tong

The Veil

Composer: Kui Dong Librettist: Monica Datta

Composer: Daniel Reza Sabzghabaei Librettists: Mina Salehpour and Yashar Saghai

» In this fantasy chamber opera, a Beijing

hu tong — courtyards and alleyways of traditional Chinese urban living — is under siege to make way for new construction. Through 15 interrelated scenes, the work reveals stories of members of the community; among them, a French architect, a blind Norwegian sailor, a musician-turned-detective, a phoenix and a Chinese immigrant worker. The opera examines the ways in which human connections are determined by architectural structures and the personal reckonings spurred by cultural and environmental change.

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» Interconnected vignettes trace the

history of the veil in Iran. The piece draws from anecdotes, stories, poetry and prose from a prominent women’s movement that fights for equality for the women of Iran and against the country’s mandatory veiling laws.

DUO HUANG (DONG), JONATHAN ESTABROOKS (S ABZG HABAEI), K ATRIN RIBBE (S ALEHP OUR)

ontemporary opera is continually looking to expand the array of stories it tells and reflect the diversity of our society. With its newly established IDEA Opera Grants (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) program, OPERA America aims to support these efforts while providing platforms for artists of color. Fostering the works of these artists will enrich the opera landscape, increase diversity on our stages and welcome new audiences who may have previously felt underrepresented. Supported by the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation, the grants award composer-librettist teams who identify as African, Latinx, Arab, Asian or Native American with $12,500 to develop their work through workshops, readings and other activities. In addition to the funding, OA will hire videography teams to create promotional videos of the works. Grantees will also receive complimentary registration at a New Works Forum and the Opera Conference, where they can discuss their work with industry leaders. For the program’s inaugural year, two composer-librettist teams have received grants for works in development:


(projection design) — have recast the story as a tale that an immigrant father tells at the southern border to calm his children. This transforms their ordeal into a kind of magical escape, turning the smugglers, officers and aid workers that they encounter into mythical beings. The set is a white box with three portholes, representing a prisonlike detention center. As the story develops, the walls come alive with lighting and projection displays, depicting the Prince’s fanciful visions, and making the setting a place of both imprisonment and imagination. Shapiro argues that the innovative concept stays true to the opera’s source material, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel. “Exupéry himself was in exile,” he says. “Embedded within his story is the experience of being lost in a world you do not recognize. It’s about people who are searching for a safer home.” The Little Prince crew is among the four finalist teams for the 2019 Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase. This biennial OPERA America program awards each team $2,000 and gives the artists the opportunity to showcase their designs at both the National Opera Center and the Opera Conference, where they are introduced to industry leaders from around the country. 

The Little Prince on the Border

F

antasy abounds in The Little Prince. But a production concept now on display at the National Opera Center is grounded in a harsh reality, using the Rachel Portman/ Nicholas Wright opera to examine the experience of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States. Director Noam Shapiro and his collaborators — Santiago Orjuela-Laverde (scenic design), Tamrin Goldberg (choreography), Haydee Zelideth (costume design), Reza Behjat (lighting design) and Yana Birÿkova

The Director-Designer Showcase is supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund.

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SIS TER HELEN PREJEAN

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efore Dead Man Walking, I didn’t have much exposure to opera at all. When I was 15, my family took a trip to Europe and we went to the Baths of Caracalla to see Aida. All I remember about it is the spectacle, especially the camels on stage. I couldn’t tell you anything about the music. Years later, one of the sisters in my convent, an opera lover, took me to see La bohème at New Orleans Opera. The arias of Mimì and Rodolfo cut me wide open. I realized how susceptible I was to music. But I still didn’t know anything about opera when I started working with Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally on Dead Man Walking, their adaptation of my memoir about working with death-row prisoners. When I first agreed to the project, I extracted two promises from Jake: 1) It would have to have the theme of redemption, and 2) It wouldn’t have that atonal stuff, where nobody can whistle the tunes. I already knew from working with Tim Robbins on the movie version that my book had to be distilled in order to be shaped into dramatic form. We had to get to the essential struggle: If someone hurts me or somebody I love, how do I heal from that, and get away from the idea that I should hurt that person as I’ve been hurt? This is the fullness of opera: It can bring people closer to that reality. You don’t just have live drama; you have music to instruct the heart. When he was working on the libretto, Terrence asked me if I had forgiven the murderers. “It’s not for me to forgive; it’s for the victims’ families, and God.” He didn't buy that. On reflection, I realized that a part of me had to forgive. The most profound experience with people who have done terrible acts is to experience their dignity — the transcendence of their existence. Flicka — Frederica von Stade — played Mrs. De Rocher

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Sister Helen Prejean’s most recent book is River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

SCOT T L ANG LE Y

My First Opera

at the San Francisco Opera premiere. Since I wasn’t an opera fan, I really didn’t know her from a hole in the wall. But we’ve become friendly, and I’ve seen her over the years. Honest to goodness, what a beautiful woman! So much warmth and generosity. I’ve recently been looking at her clips on YouTube. Just to see her perform, with that voice — clear as a bell — and that control is a revelation. She is as outstandingly beautiful in her voice as in her person. Experiences like that bring me to the height of appreciation for the humility of performers. They have put hours and hours and hours of practice into developing a fine-tuned instrument. It lets them be part of an ensemble of talented, dedicated people to give the art form of opera to the world. I stand in awe of them. At the San Francisco world premiere, Susan Graham was Sister Helen, and in between performances, her father died. She had brought nurses around his hospital bed and sung Dead Man Walking’s “God will gather us around.” After his death, she came back to do the last performance. I saw her just before, but I didn’t want to say too much, because she was so fragile. In the Epistle to the Philippians, there’s a line “Christ emptied himself,” and that’s what I saw Susan do that night. At the end of the opera, hers is the last “Gather all around,” a capella, and when the curtain fell, she collapsed in a pool of tears. How she did that performance, I don’t know. To be able to give yourself to an audience and to leave tragedy behind — that’s really dedication. I’ve seen Dead Man Walking at least 20 times since then — all over the United States, and in Adelaide, Madrid and Dresden. It never gets old for me. The thing that always moves me is the minute and half of silence at the end. The journey’s all done. Now we have to witness the so-called justice, and it’s done in silence, so all we hear is the machinery of death. Jake said, “I want people to hear the sound of their own heart beating.” The witnessing is the thing that I’m most happy about. Its gets people close to a ritual they would never otherwise see. It makes you think about the euphemism of “execution.” You execute a business plan; you execute a forward pass in football. The death certificate is the truth-teller: “Cause of death: homicide.” I haven’t seen much other opera. I’m so busy. I spend much of my time writing letters to people on death row, some of whom are innocent. I would like to go to plays, but I don’t; I don’t even have time to watch the New Orleans Saints. When I’m an old lady…maybe then.


CELEBRATING 10 YEARS

SUZHOU, CHINA July 27 - August 28, 2020

This year marks the 10th season of the iSING! International Young Artists Festival. Held at state-of-the-art Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, the iSING! Festival continues to attract the finest young artists. The 2020 year of this full-scholarship program will offer: • Intensive 4-week training in both Western and Chinese opera repertoire, Mandarin lessons and immersion in an “East Meets West” cultural exchange • Faculty includes coaches from the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Carlo Felice, Komische Oper Berlin • Performances of opera scenes from Western and Chinese classics with Suzhou Symphony Orchestra The momentum is building for the iSING! Opera Center, dedicated to producing Chinese contemporary operas, commissioning new works, and providing iSING! artists an opportunity to perform and participate in original creations. After nine triumphant seasons, the iSING! Festival has garnered critical acclaim:

Artistic Director

• Nurturing over 285 singers from 38 countries • Peforming in major venues internationally • Creating opportunities for iSING! artists to star in world premieres of three modern Chinese operas on tour in top venues in China, Austria, Germany, Italy and the US • Ushering alumni onto the stages of some of the world’s preeminent opera houses

Co-sponsored by

Asian Performing Arts Council of USA New Era Group Hosted by

For application due dates please visit our website.

Founded by

Audition Cities: • New York • Houston • Bologna • Berlin • Santiago de Chile • Moscow • Beijing • Suzhou • Guangzhou

Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre Asian Performing Arts Council of USA

www.isingfestival.org


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Profile for OPERA America

Opera America Magazine: Winter 2020 Preview  

Opera America Magazine: Winter 2020 Preview