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▼ Annual Field Report

▼ ▼ Angel Blue’s DiDonato First Opera Visits Sing Sing


in Review


▼ Houston’s Hurricane

W I N T E R 2 018  $ 5.9 9

The premier global festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre in New York City. January 7–20, 2018 PRESENTING NEW WORKS BY

Gregory Spears & Greg Pierce Michael Gordon & Deborah Artman Mikael Karlsson, Elle Kunnos de Voss, & Kathryn Walat Roman Grygoriv & Illia Razumeiko Matthias Bossi, Jeremy Flower, & Carla Kihlstedt


by purchasing a 7-show proto pack for $170 and receive a 24% discount off the regular price! Buy tickets online: PROTOT YPEFES TI VAL .O RG

Claron McFadden and the MassotFlorizooneHorbaczewski jazz trio Dylan Mattingly & Thomas Bartscherer Tori Wrånes Alicia Hall Moran

“Essential to the evolution of American opera.” THE NEW YORKER

Dez Mona

“The best news in opera in New York these days is the prototype Festival, an intense annual burst of new and cutting-edge opera that’s presenting and generating some of the most interesting work around.” T H E WA S H I N G T O N P O S T

W I N T E R 2 O18


Fred Cohn


The magazine of OPERA America – the national service organization for opera, which leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera


Made Visible Studio THE YEAR IN REVIEW


Nicholas Wise


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

Vincent Covatto


VCovatto@operaamerica.org PRODUCT ION, A N N UA L FIELD REPORT

Adam Towers




Patricia Kiernan Johnson





Illustration by Matt Chase

Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in September, December, March and June. Copyright © 2017 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 deadline for advertising submissions is 45 days before publication date. The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered. For advertising rates, e-mail Advertising@operaamerica.org. OPERA America 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620























Laura Kaminsky

Timothy O’Leary Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Carol Lazier Trustee, San Diego Opera


Barbara Leirvik

Frayda B. Lindemann, Ph.D. Trustee, The Metropolitan Opera

Charles MacKay The Santa Fe Opera


Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera VICE - CHAI R MAN

Susan F. Morris Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera

Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes Esther Nelson Boston Lyric Opera John F. Nesholm Trustee, Seattle Opera


Nicole Paiement Opera Parallèle

Kathryn Smith Madison Opera

Bill Palant Étude Arts


Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Calgary Opera TREA S U R E R

William Florescu Florentine Opera Company SECR E TA RY

Marc A. Scorca PRES I DE N T/ CE O

BOARD OF DIRECTORS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Daniel Biaggi Palm Beach Opera Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre Ned Canty Opera Memphis

Yuval Sharon The Industry Matthew Shilvock San Francisco Opera Jill Steinberg Trustee, VisionIntoArt John Turner Trustee, Houston Grand Opera Dona D. Vaughn Opera Maine, Manhattan School of Music Francesca Zambello The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS Christina Loewen, Opera.ca

Rena M. De Sisto Bank of America

Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa

Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera


David B. Devan Opera Philadelphia

Robert Tancer, CHAIRMAN James M. Barton John E. Baumgardner Jr. L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Elizabeth Eveillard Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed.D. Jane A. Gross Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters Jane A. Robinson Anthony Rudel Michael Scimeca, M.D. Jeri Sedlar Thurmond Smithgall Brett Stover Gregory C. Swinehart Barbara Augusta Teichert Darren K. Woods Carole Yaley

Carol E. Domina Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera, Opera Parallèle James Feldman Trustee, Washington National Opera Barbara Glauber Trustee, New England Conservatory Denyce Graves-Montgomery Christopher Hahn Pittsburgh Opera

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46th summer festival June 22 - July 15, 2018

die fledermaus rusalka flight the tender land desmoinesmetroopera.org 515-961-6221

Strides — and Stresses 2017 has proven to be a landmark year for OPERA America and all our members. New programs that support artistic enterprise and experimentation promise to advance the field. At the same time, changes in fundamental public policies present substantial challenges to a sector that already feels the stress of rising costs and changing audience attitudes and behaviors. As always, the winter edition of our magazine provides a summary of the financial performance of our Professional Company Members. The companies in our constant sample group reveal, on average, stable and improving conditions, with higher levels of individual philanthropy, slight increases in the number of performances offered to the public and stronger balance sheets. While modest gains in ticket sales between FY2015 and FY2016 do not reverse significant declines over the last decade, the improvement is nonetheless welcome. It demonstrates the value of increased audience research and of programs that build relationships with audience members before and after the ticket transaction. Digging deeper into the data, the numbers indicate an increase in performances in smaller, alternative venues. Companies continued the recent trend of offering new and unusual works in unconventional theaters and “found spaces,” moving company activity into locales outside the walls of traditional opera houses and attracting new audiences in the process. American operas continue to gain traction, with growing numbers of premieres and productions of recent works. Many resonate powerfully with the world we live in, affirming opera’s role in contemporary cultural expression. More than half our companies performed new and recent American works last year, almost always accompanied by far-reaching community conversations about the subject matter and creative process. OPERA America is an investor in this experimentation. This year we awarded nearly $2 million in grants to members. Our New Works Forum (supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) has become the largest annual convening of composers, librettists and producers in the world. Innovation Grants (funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation) have supported a new season format at Arizona Opera, a new director of audience experience position at Austin Opera and a new Community Opera Fellows program at Opera Omaha, to name just a few. Grants to female opera composers, made possible by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, are improving the field’s gender equity, while the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund is helping us discover stage-design and directing talent. In addition to providing support that underpins many of

OPERA America’s core programs, a special two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is guiding our members to increase their impact as cultural citizens, encouraging them to address community priorities through opera. As companies amplify their civic impact, they are finding new partners, new audiences and new funders who recognize the importance of opera. Looking ahead, we will have to intensify all these efforts. The recent tax bill contains provisions that will reduce the number of donors and contributions to the nonprofit sector. A growing federal deficit will make it even more difficult to defend the budget — and the very existence — of the National Endowment for the Arts. The recent reversal of net neutrality by the FCC threatens the accessibility of information about arts organizations on the internet, while travel restrictions on foreign visitors to the United States makes it more complicated than ever for artists from other countries to perform on our stages. OPERA America’s government affairs staff will collaborate with colleagues from across the arts and charitable sectors to create the most supportive legislative and regulatory environment possible for our work. OPERA America will work with members, too, to promote hiring and management practices that protect every individual working in our field from harassment and discrimination. We have encouraged all member organizations to review their harassment policies and practices, and to examine their organizational cultures as an essential step in creating a respectful environment for full-time staff and visiting artists. Brandon Gryde, our director of government affairs, has taken on the duties of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) officer, leading the staff in a series of workshops as a prelude to conducting workshops for our member organizations. We are creating resources and reference materials for our website and are working to stimulate understanding, dialogue and openness about topics that have challenged the entire country for many, many years. OPERA America will use every possible means to make our organization, our field and our nation more just for all. We could not sustain these many efforts without the steadfast support of our members — for which we remain deeply grateful.

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO WINTER 2018  3


Harvey’s floodwaters reach the Wortham Center’s stage door

but also backstage facilities like dressing rooms and warmup areas. The theater requires 2,000 amps of power to operate. “That’s three times as much power as the convention center uses for its conferences and trade shows — a 60-foot skyscraper pulls less,” Leech says. “And I know much more about portable toilets than I ever thought I would need to know.” HGO has had to make concessions to the ad hoc nature of the Resilience Theater. The convention center was obviously not constructed as an opera venue, so the theater’s acoustics have required tweaking. “We could do with more reflective surfaces,” Leech says. “Concrete is concrete; it doesn’t hold the sound the way wood does. You lose warmth.” The full 19th-century orchestra of Traviata filled the space with sound. But the delicate orchestration of Giulio Cesare, the second of the season’s offerings, required “acoustic enhancement” to register with the requisite warmth. The storm hit at a time that would normally have been a peak period for ticket sales: While HGO usually has $1 million in box office revenue by its season opening, the figure was just $300,000 in 2017. Leech guesses that it will take three years for ticket sales to reach their pre-Harvey level. An even greater challenge lies ahead: Although HGO will stay in the Resilience Theater through its January–February mountings of Elektra and The Barber of Seville, the convention center is booked solid with conferences for all of spring. As of press time, the company had still not identified a venue for its season-end productions of Norma and West Side Story. The hurricane forced Opera in the Heights, Houston’s smaller opera company, to reschedule its planned opening production, Daughter of the Regiment, for next season. “We would have had to begin production the weekend after Harvey,” says Paige Myrick, the company’s executive director. “We deliberated over what to do, and decided to postpone it.” The company plans to rehire the entire cast for next season’s mounting: Myrick says that deferring the cast’s contracts was “the most heartbreaking aspect” of the decision. But Amy Owens, the production’s scheduled Marie, came to Houston to volunteer for relief efforts and sing at an Opera in the Heights concert benefiting the victims of the hurricane. Harvey has delivered a significant financial battering to Houston’s companies: Leech estimates HGO’s losses, between physical damage, lost revenues and unexpected expenses,


ts facilities may be ravaged, but its season is intact. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in late August, it flooded out the Wortham Theater Center, home of Houston Grand Opera. Aside from its impact on the company’s two theaters, the Brown and the Cullen, the storm damaged the company’s wig and costume shops, along with the Wortham’s parking garage, air handling units and elevators. Assessing the impact, the company realized that neither of its two theaters would be usable at any time during the 2017–2018 season. But HGO wasn’t going to let its season disappear. In a mammoth effort, spearheaded by Managing Director Perryn Leech, it built a temporary theater within the George R. Brown Convention Center and named it, appropriately enough, HGO Resilience Theater. Its season-opening La traviata bowed on October 20 — right on time, and less than two months after Harvey hit. It was a festive evening, marked by the presence of Mayor Sylvester Turner, who passed up a Yankees-Astros playoff game to come and celebrate HGO’s recovery. The project was familiar territory for Leech. As head of lighting at the Edinburgh International Festival, he worked on venue-relocation efforts when the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre suffered fire damage in 1993. “I’d done this before; I knew what was achievable,” he said, in an October conversation. “One of the biggest challenges was getting other people to understand that.” The makeshift theater required not only a stage and seats, 6  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Kirill Kuzmin

Hurricane Season

Marion Firzzel

to total $12–15 million, little of it recoverable through insurance. The situation has made fundraising, always a central concern for administrators, more vital an issue than ever. Still, in a region where so many nonprofits have needed extra infusions of cash, opera may seem less urgent a cause than food, shelter and health care. “It’s a touchy situation — asking people to give when there are so many who’ve lost everything,” Myrick says. “It’s going to be a challenging arts season. But the arts provide a connection that is very nourishing for the soul. I hope that the community understands that.” “It’s been a brutal couple of months,” Leech says. “But people need to get the arts back in their lives. That’s what we’re here for.” — Fred Cohn

The world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s The House Without a Christmas Tree at HGO’s Resilience Theater

FEBRUARY 10 • 16 • 18 - 2018



THE STUDEBAKER THEATER 410 S MICHIGAN AVE • CHICAGO, IL 60605 Directed by David Schweizer

Based on the novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree by Peter Ackroyd

WINTER 2018  7

I N N OVAT I O N S Joyce DiDonato and Joseph Wilson performing at Sing Sing Correctional Facility

DiDonato Heads Up the River n the first Saturday afternoon in October, 4,000 well-to-do folks, paying as much as $400 a seat, packed the Metropolitan Opera House to see Bellini’s Norma. Few of them could have known that Joyce DiDonato, the production’s Adalgisa, had spent most of the previous day up the river, rehearsing and performing alongside prisoners in a concert at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Nor would they have known that DiDonato’s guest of honor at the Met matinee, seated in the general director’s box, was Renée Wilson, the wife of Joseph Wilson, a Sing Sing inmate. Joe is a 38-year-old man with a linebacker’s build who’s serving 25 years to life for killing a man on a Brooklyn street in 2005. When DiDonato first visited Sing Sing in 2015, under the auspices of Carnegie Hall’s Musical

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Connections program, her performance sparked a newfound passion for Joe: composing classical music. He wrote an aria, “Starlights,” that she performed during her 2016 visit. Now he’s writing an opera: Tabula Rasa, a story of murder and retribution set in a futuristic dystopia. In this year’s concert, he joined DiDonato on stage to perform “Katham confronts Eohis,” a scene from that work. Like Joe, I have come to understand the redemptive power of the arts. I, too, murdered a man on a Brooklyn street. I’ve served 16 years of a 28-years-tolife sentence, starting at the Attica Correctional Facility. It was there that I landed a spot in a creative writing workshop, and I learned to craft stories about my peers. It was as a journalist that I sat in on the Friday afternoon rehearsal with DiDonato, pianist Craig Terry and the Sing Sing Resident Ensemble,

preparing for that night’s performance. In the scene from Tabula Rasa, DiDonato plays Eohis, the lover a murdered man, while Joe plays Katham, the man’s killer. “I can be free again if you can forgive me,” he sings. “I will not forget. I will not forgive,” Eohis responds. Then, in the gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice for which DiDonato is so well known, she lashes out: “I want revenge!” “That’s so hard for me to sing,” says Joyce to herself during a break. “Let’s do it again.” Sitting near me is Sarah Johnson, the spunky and intense director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which oversees Musical Connections. The program sends professional musicians into prisons and juvenile justice facilities for workshops in voice, instruments and composition.

Stephanie Berger


by John J. Lennon

Symphony Space and American Opera Projects present

For the past nine years, the musicians have come to the prison’s band room to collaborate with prisoners on pieces that get performed throughout the year. I attended my first Musical Connections concert soon after I transferred to Sing Sing a year ago, and experienced a joy that had eluded me for many, many years. During a break in the rehearsal, I see DiDonato and Johnson chatting at the edge of the stage — they’re good friends — and slide in next to them. They tell me how the idea of sending Joyce to perform at Sing Sing came up over dinner three years ago. She was especially receptive to the idea because of her long involvement with Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking, about the bond between a death row murderer and a nun. Sister Helen Prejean, the opera’s real-life heroine, offered guidance when Joyce first visited Sing Sing; six visits later, the mezzo has forged connections with prisoners similar to Sister Helen’s — especially in this latest project with Joe Wilson. It’s seven o’clock; the concert is about to start. The men stroll in from different cellblocks, greeting one another with hand daps and half hugs. “This white girl ’bout to sing her ass off,” says a man with a razor scar from the side of his mouth to his ear. “That’s a fact,” says another guy. “I heard her last year.” Joyce takes the stage, sporting a black leather jacket embroidered with red roses. She opens with some arias from Italian operas. When she hits the high notes, our mouths hang open and my spine tingles. Joe takes the stage for “Katham confronts Eohis,” sporting a crisp dress shirt along with the state-issued green pants we all wear. “Is Brooklyn in the house?” he shouts. “Is Harlem in the house?” “Kansas City’s in the house!” Joyce responds, to groans and chuckles. Joe briefly explains what the scene is about, and then he and Joyce begin to sing. When Eohis rebuffs Katham — “I want revenge!” — it captures how people on the outside often rebuff violent offenders like us, preferring retribution to forgiveness. Near me, a man who seems to have mental illness (one in five in prison do) breaks the spell by laughing maniacally. When I see Joe a few days later, we’re passing each other in the dark tunnel that connects the prison’s buildings. We only have a few seconds to speak, and I ask him how his wife liked the Met. “She told me it was great,” he says. “She’s one of the .01 percent who have sat in box seats at the Met!” I think about that “.01 percent.” It’s those people who need to hear Tabula Rasa and who need to think about what it means to offer a prisoner a clean slate. John J. Lennon is currently at Sing Sing, serving a sentence of 28 years to life in the New York State prison system. He is a contributing writer for The Marshall Project, and his work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Quartz, Vice, Pacific Standard, The Hedgehog Review, Harvard Law Record and PEN America.






s Davis Thoma


re de ctor si gn & er




Adam rank F

with the Momenta Quartet and David Bloom musical director


Jacqueline k Horner-Kwiate Andrew Fu chs Ariadne Greif

When an oddball couple, their sassy housekeeper, a sewing machine, and a deranged radio all start singing, Gertrude Stein’s playful language is transformed

into the ecstatic and uncannily beautiful new opera from composer Daniel Thomas Davis, librettist Adam Frank, and director-designer Doug Fitch. From a shopping expedition that turns into an erotic adventure to a presidential election party that goes prophetically wrong, Stein’s genius for upending convention is made startlingly relevant to our own cultural and political moment.


With support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

tickets and info: www.symphonyspace.org W I N T E R 2 0 1 8   11



Anthony Barrese, the artistic director of Opera Southwest, has assumed the additional role of music director at OperaDelaware. Aurelien Eulert has joined OperaDelaware as chorus master.


Soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, formerly executive/artistic coordinator for Virginia Opera, has joined Washington National Opera as executive and artistic assistant.

for the 2017–2018 season, succeeding the recently retired Michelle Krisel.


Alexander Neef, general director of Canadian Opera Company, has extended his contract with the company for five years, through 2026. After six years with Festival Opera, Sara Nealy has stepped down from her post as general director. Gayletha Nichols has been appointed director of The Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers, effective this May. Joshua Winograde succeeds her as executive director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.



Matthew Buckman, former general director of Townsend Opera and Fresno Grand Opera, has become the general manager of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.

George Steel, former general director of New York City Opera, has been appointed curator of music at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Washington National Opera has appointed Timothy O’Leary, the board chairman of OPERA America, as its new general director. He will remain as general director at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis through the end of its 2018 summer season. Xavier Roy has joined Opéra de Montréal as director of marketing.

The Atlanta Opera has appointed Micah Fortson as managing director.


Noah Stern Weber, OPERA America’s former manager of artistic services, has become director of development at Beth Morrison Projects. Lyndsay Werking, formerly managing director of American Lyric Theater, has become American Composers Orchestra’s director of development. Chad Whittington has been promoted to president and CEO of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts. The organization oversees seven arts and culture organizations, including Opera Columbus.



The recipients of the 2018 Opera News Awards are conductor William Christie, mezzo-soprano Fiorenza Cossotto, tenor Vittorio Grigolo, and sopranos HeiKyung Hong and Sonya Yoncheva. They will be feted at an April gala at New York’s Plaza Hotel.



Keith Cerny is joining Calgary Opera as its general director and CEO. He is leaving his post as general director of The Dallas Opera. Charlottesville Opera has chosen Steven Jarvi to serve as interim artistic director 12  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Seattle Opera has appointed two new members to its executive team: Jane Repensek, formerly a senior vice president with Seattle Foundation, as COO/CFO, serving as second in command to general director Aidan Lang. The company’s new director of production is Doug Provost, who previously held the same title at Arizona Opera.


Musical America named soprano Sondra Radvanovsky its 2018 Vocalist of the Year. Composer of the Year was Mason Bates, whose first opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, premiered at The Santa Fe Opera last summer.

Todd Rosenberg (Bates), Glenn Fajota (Bird), Milano Photography (Buckman), Karen Almond (Cerny), Lisa Kohler (Hong), Bo Huang (Neef), Ken Howard (O’Leary), Genevieve Hathaway (Repensek)


P E O P L E David Neely and stage-directed by Kristine McIntyre.

DMMO’s Manon


American Lyric Theater has selected seven resident artists for its 10th annual Composer Librettist Development Program: composers Shuying Li, Andy Tierstein and Liliya Ugay; librettists Lorene Cary, Julian Crouch and Lila Palmer; and dramaturg Antigoni Gaitana. The training and residency program provides financial support and mentorship from opera creators such as Jake Heggie and Mark Campbell, and gives public showcases of the artists’ work.



American Opera Projects and the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, Florida, awarded their second Opera Genesis Fellowships to composer Joseph N. Rubinstein and librettist Jason Kim. During a six-week Hermitage residency, the duo will develop their new opera, Legendary, about drag balls in New York City in the 1980s Andrew Eggert, head of opera at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, was selected for the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Specialist Program. He led a two-week Fulbright workshop on 20th- and 21stcentury opera at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary.

Iowa Public Television won an Upper-Midwest Emmy in the Arts/ Entertainment division for its broadcast of Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon. The performance was conducted by



n November 17, 1967, Plácido Domingo took the stage of Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the very first time, as a young tenor on tour with New York City Opera. It was in the title role of Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, which he had sung to acclaim at its U.S. premiere the previous year in New York. Fifty years later to the day, Domingo stepped on the same stage, this time under the auspices of LA Opera, in a gala celebrating his contribution to Los Angeles’ cultural life over the past five decades. Domingo has been a key player in LA Opera’s history since its founding in 1984, serving as an artistic consultant to the company and also singing in its inaugural performance, Otello, in 1986. He has performed in every LA Opera season since then, singing 28 roles and conducting more than 100 performances of 18 different operas. He became the company’s general director in 2003 and under his leadership established the Domingo-ColburnStein Young Artist Program. In conjunction with this half-century milestone, the University of California, Los Angeles, bestowed its highest honor, the UCLA Medal, to Domingo on November 12. Following the medal ceremony, Domingo led a masterclass for young artists from UCLA and LA Opera — a testament to his longstanding role as a mentor to emerging singers. OPERA America has its own plans in the works to honor Domingo’s contributions to the field. On April 7, the National Opera Center’s rehearsal hall will be dedicated as Plácido Domingo Hall, thanks to a special fundraising campaign to name the space after him. The centerpiece of the hall is a nine-foot Hamburg Steinway piano, donated by Domingo from his personal collection, which visitors to the Opera Center have already been using for performances and rehearsals. At the April event, Domingo will be feted by opera colleagues and other luminaries. To contribute to OPERA America’s Plácido Domingo campaign, or to learn more about naming opportunities at the National Opera Center, contact Dan Cooperman at 646.699.5266.

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Katerina Goode (Sharon) ,Michael Rolands (Des Moines), Getty Images (Domingo), Mac Shafer (Kim), David Slotnick (Rubinstein)

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship (commonly known as a “genius grant”) to opera director and producer Yuval Sharon, founding artistic director of The Industry and board member of OPERA America. The fellowship provides $625,000 in nostrings-attached funding, disbursed over five years.

Oregon governor Kate Brown gave Portland Opera a Governor’s Arts Award, the state’s highest honor for exemplary service to the arts. The award recognizes the company’s engagement, though mainstage offerings and public programs, of more than 350,000 people annually.



Joel Bissell

By Fred Cohn

18  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Students produce and perform their own operas as part of Opera Grand Rapids’ Creative Connections program

W I N T E R 2 0 1 8   19

connecting to the community is no longer an elective: It’s an imperative. If in the past a company’s identity rested in its staged and ticketed artistic offerings, it must now define itself as a participant in a greater civic discourse, forming connections not just to a core audience, but to the community at large, reaching constituents who may have never attended a mainstage opera — and conceivably, may never do so. Al fresco series like Annapolis Opera’s Pop-Up Opera, Nashville Opera’s 30 Days of Opera and Portland Opera’s Opera a la Carte bring performances to audiences who in many cases may have never before encountered live opera. Partnerships with local organizations, like Houston Grand Opera’s “Seeking the Human Spirit” alliances with Houston Methodist Hospital and The Women’s Home, aim at synergistic social impact. When Florida Grand Opera works with victims of human trafficking, or when Des Moines Metro Opera invites veterans to its Soldier Songs production, it’s a sign that opera has the potential to connect with the pressing social issues of our day. Meanwhile, San Diego Opera, which in 2014 nearly ceased operations, has bounced back with a new identity, placing its civic role at the core of its mission statement. “Community engagement feels increasingly necessary to the survival and growth of opera institutions,” says critic Alex Ross. The field’s ever-increasing emphasis on community connections is a response to both internal and external circumstances. With earned revenue supplying on average less than a third of companies’ budgets, it becomes ever more essential for funders to understand that they aren’t underwriting simply a slate of opera productions, but a community resource with far-reaching benefits. Meanwhile, the political shifts of the past year have exerted another degree of pressure on the arts in general. In particular, the proposed elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts has given new urgency to arts organizations’ need to emphasize their cultural vitality. “There’s a lot of dialogue now about demonstrating civic values and civic impact,” says Cayenne Harris, head of Lyric Unlimited, the community-programming arm of Lyric Opera of Chicago. “The nonprofit status of performing-arts organizations is based on the idea that we’re providing a service, like food banks and social-service agencies. Since opera in particular is associated with luxury, it’s important to demonstrate that as a company you’re connecting the various parts of the city you live in — not just the people who buy tickets.” 20  O P E R A A M E R I C A

A young musician at Seattle Opera’s Summer Fest

But for all of the civic success of programs like Lyric Unlimited, Harris notes that mainstage offerings still often leave much of the community behind. “It’s not enough for an opera company to say, ‘Through our work in the community, we’re fulfilling our civic obligation,’” she says. “That’s just one part of the equation. Canonical works by dead white men are important to our identity. But we have to look at what isn’t being included — the artists who aren’t included in our production teams, the additional audience members we might add to our community.” Reviewing the season-opening offerings of the Met and the New York Philharmonic in the pages of The New Yorker, Ross delivered a sharp rebuke to business as usual. “The implicit message is reactionary,” he wrote. “As the nation contends with its racist and misogynist demons ... leading musical institutions give us canonical pieces by white males, conducted by white males, directed by white males.”

Jonathan Vanderweit (Seattle Opera),

In the world of American opera 2017,

The diversity problem of classical music is partly an effect of “our extreme fixation on the past,” Ross explained in a later conversation. “Without any malign agenda, it’s essentially all white men who’ve historically had dominance over music — more so than literature,” he says. “Composing music is not a purely independent act; you need to persuade others to perform it, which can be a monumentally complex exercise. For women and members of minorities it has been a closed business for a long time.” A longtime advocate for the performance of new music, Ross notes: “If you shift your music more to the present, you automatically get a more broadly diverse repertory and audience.” Contemporary operas bear out his point. Highprofile premieres of recent years have featured the music of female composers (Du Yun’s Angel’s Bone, Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves, Laura Kaminsky’s As One, Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint) and composers of color (Daniel Bernard Roumain’s We Shall Not Be Moved, Mohammed Fairouz’s The Dictator’s Wife, Huang Ruo’s An American Soldier).


Naomi Barrettara/Met Opera Guild; Maury Bowie; Kathleen Behnke; Michael Brosilow; Karen Almond

Works like Shalimar the Clown and The Summer King provide performance opportunities for multiracial casts. “I’m thrilled that there are many more active choices being made to seek out composers and directors and performers of color,” says Cayenne Harris. “These are positive signs that make me hopeful.” “We need to keep trying to think about what is possible, and where we can move the bar in our choices for community partnerships and what we present on the mainstage,” Harris says. “We’re seeing a clearer demand from the public, from younger generations coming up. I’m excited by the possibilities.”

Clockwise, from top: Conductor and composer Victoria Bond gives a pre-performance talk at the Met Opera Guild; a student performance from the Opera for All program at Chicago Opera Theater; Anchorage Opera’s dress-up photo booth for children at the city’s PrideFest; a member of the senior citizens group YOLO Boomers performs onstage as part of Lyric Unlimited’s Community Created Performances program; The Dallas Opera’s simulcast of Moby-Dick. W I N T E R 2 0 1 8   21

Jessica Osber

Visitors to OPERA America’s National Opera Center

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By Nicholas Wise


he year 2017 was a period during which the need to help opera thrive across North America — the essential mission of OPERA America — became more crucial than ever. This year, OA pursued that mission in varied, targeted ways: advocating for the arts on Capitol Hill, providing professional-development programs for artists and administrators, granting funds to opera companies and creators, and providing research on field trends to help inform opera-company leadership. Underpinning OA’s activities, as always, is the organization’s ingrained commitment to serve its members. At forums and the annual Opera Conference, members come together to share learning and voice common concerts; OA listens and responds. These conversations help shape OA’s initiatives in ways that address the needs of all opera companies, from one-person operations to the largest opera houses in the nation. Over the past year, women’s issues have been forefront of national conversations, including those related to gender parity in the arts, and these have informed OPERA America’s support activities for both administrators and artists. OA’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, established in 2014 with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, has to date given $700,000 in support of operas by women, part of an effort to increase the visibility of works by women on opera stages. Grant recipients have seen their works gain traction across the country. One of the inaugural grant recipients, Laura Kaminsky’s As One, made a decisive showing on the list of 2017’s most-produced operas (see page 23). The membership of the Women’s Opera Network, formed two years ago to support female professionals and encourage discussion about gender, has soared to include nearly 1,200 people, both women and W I N T E R 2 0 1 8   27


Seven Days of Fun


hen OPERA America launched National Opera Week in 2009, it was intended as an opportunity for companies to present entertaining free events and attract new audiences to the art form. It has since become much more: a focal point for the industry, allowing companies to showcase the role of opera in their communities and connect with loyal audiences and newcomers alike. From October 27 to November 5, more than 300 organizations and individuals from 42 states and provinces hosted 280 Opera Week events, breaking previous records for the fourth year straight. The spirit of fun prevailed in pop-up concerts, trivia contests, opera singalongs

and behind-the-scenes tours. Knoxville Opera partnered with the local zoo to present a family-oriented “BOO! at the Zoo” program; at Minnesota Opera, the costume shop hosted a seminar for stage-struck teenagers; and in Richmond, Virginia Opera’s “Tap into the Opera” program paired young-artist performances with local beers. “Opera has a stereotype of being this elitist art form that you can’t understand, but I tell people all the time, ‘Just go,’” said mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, National Opera Week’s honorary chair, in a special welcome video. “People come to me and say, ‘I had no idea that this is what the opera was. I love this, and I want to come again and again and again.’” For this year’s Opera Week, OPERA America encouraged companies to share videos featuring celebrated community personalities as Local Opera Week Chairs. Soprano Nadine Sierra told her story of debuting with Palm Beach Opera at age 16, while at The Santa Fe Opera, former news anchor Sam Donaldson and his wife, Sandy, discussed


ways that New Mexicans can become involved in opera. A key part of this year’s activities was Opera Advocacy Day on November 1, in which opera professionals urged lawmakers to back the policies and legislation that will sustain the art form, like tax reform and its impact on charitable giving, visa processing for foreign artists, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and regulations on wireless microphones. (See “The Year in Arts Advocacy, p. 28). Denyce Graves

Audrey Saccone



Little Women in 2018 Mark the 150th anniversary of Alcott’s book and 20th anniversary of Adamo’s opera in 2018.

A New Holiday Classic Experience Adamo’s new tale of Santa Claus’s origins with Dallas Opera’s premiere DVD available from CD Baby.


MS8259 Music Sales Opera 7.25x4.75 Ad v2.indd 1

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6/12/17 09:37


He overcame poverty, abuse, and incarceration… to f ind his voice.

Meet Us in St. Louis

Vern Evans


he theme for Opera Conference 2018 is “Lifting Many Voices,” and its keynote session, fittingly enough, will feature composer John Adams, whose new opera Girls of the Golden West gives voice to the unrecognized denizens of Gold Rush California: women, Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans. Adams will kick off the conference with a consideration of how political, social and cultural issues are stimulating topics for operatic treatment. His speech will kick off four days of discussion about civic action, equity and inclusion, governance, and audience experience, featuring a diverse roster of artists, administrators and friends of opera. In addition to addressing opera’s big-picture issues, the conference, as always, will provide specialized sessions for the full range of opera vocations. For the first time, it will also feature new-works sessions designed specifically to allow attendees who work outside the creative realm — trustees, marketers, development staff — to explore all aspects of producing, funding and promoting contemporary American repertoire. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, long regarded as a leader in fostering equity and inclusion, as well as in the presentation of new works, will be this year’s host company. Attendees will not only gain first-hand insights into OTSL’s many community-oriented projects, but they can also take in all the company’s festival offerings, including the new full-length version of An America Soldier by Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang; Marc Blitzstein’s rarely performed Regina, starring Susan Graham; and a new production of La traviata, with Patricia Racette making her directorial debut. To explore the preliminary conference schedule and register, visit conference.operaamerica.org. Advance Registration, featuring discounted rates, lasts through February 8.

“RIVETING…Ryan Speedo Green’s story is harrowing and rewarding in unexpected ways.” —Renée Fleming

“DEEPLY MOVING…. A testament to the limitlessness of the human spirit.” —New York Times Book Review

Also available in ebook and downloadable audio leeboudreauxbooks.com |


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The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts By Charity Tillemann-Dick Atria Books

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics Edited by Kate Bailey V&A Publishing

American soprano Charity TillemannDick, who twice received double lung transplants, chronicles her recuperative journey — from struggling to draw a single breath to singing at venues around the world.

This exhibition catalogue from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum examines seven opera premieres over the past 400 years, from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea to Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, each an instance of the intersection of politics, art and social history.

Verdi’s Exceptional Women: Giuseppina Strepponi and Teresa Stolz

Wieland Wagner: Opera Work

By Caroline Anne Ellsmore Routledge

This investigation offers new perspectives on Giuseppe Verdi’s attitudes toward women, focusing on two singers: Giuseppina Strepponi, Verdi’s second wife and the star of several of his early operas; and Teresa Stolz, a leading interpreter of his later heroines, and his companion after Strepponi’s death in 1897. 36  O P E R A A M E R I C A

By Jens Neubert Hatje Cantz

The director, painter and set designer Wieland Wagner, grandson of Richard Wagner, is known for introducing a modern, minimalist production style to the Bayreuth Festival following World War II. The present volume offers a critical assessment of Wieland’s work as a reformer, showing how his innovations in staging reverberate to this very day.

Four Saints in Three Acts: A Snapshot of the American AvantGarde in the 1930s Edited by Patricia Allmer and John Sears Manchester University Press

This volume offers the first in-depth exploration of the role of photography in the premiere of Four Saints in Three Acts, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s 1933 opera. The book presents a wide selection of images from the premiere production — many never before reproduced — alongside essays on dance, fashion, music, photography and avant-garde writing.

Grand Opera Outside Paris: Opera on the Move in 19thCentury Europe Edited by Jens Hesselager Routledge

The author, a professor at University of Copenhagen, examines how the 19th-century musical and cultural phenomenon of grand opera spread well beyond of its birthplace, Paris, to stages across Europe. Case studies shed light on everything from opera in small German and Swiss towns, to the grand operas adapted for cockney audiences in London.


It’s a Wonderful Life

Angel’s Bone


Three Way

By Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer Pentatone

By Du Yun and Royce Vavrek VIA Records

By Robert Paterson and David Cote American Modern Recordings

This adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film was recorded live during its worldpremiere run at Houston Grand Opera in December 2016. Leading the cast is tenor William Burden as George Bailey and Talise Trevigne as the angel Clara. Patrick Summers conducts.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel’s Bone tells the story of two angels whose nostalgia for earthly delights draws them back to the mortal world. This studio recording reunites the singers from the opera’s 2016 world premiere at the PROTOTYPE Festival, with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY under the baton of Julian Wachner.

This studio recording uses the worldpremiere cast of Three Way, a trio of one-act operas exploring themes of love and desire, first seen at Nashville Opera in January 2017. Dean Williamson conducts the Nashville Opera Orchestra.

The Canterville Ghost

Becoming Santa Claus

By Gordon Getty Pentatone

Based on the novella by Oscar Wilde, this one-act opera centers on an American family that purchases a haunted English mansion, only to be completely unfazed by its ghostly inhabitant. The recording was made in conjunction with work’s 2015 world premiere at Leipzig Opera, with Matthias Foremny conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Fellow Travelers

By Mark Adamo CD Baby

By Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce Fanfare Cincinnati

Released on DVD and Blu-ray, Adamo’s family-friendly holiday work imagines a spoiled elf-prince (tenor Jonathan Blalock) who matures into the magnanimous Claus. Recorded live during the opera’s 2015 worldpremiere run at The Dallas Opera, the performance, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, also features mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera and bass Matt Boehler.

Cincinnati Opera’s very first commercial album, this live recording captures the 2016 world-premiere run of Fellow Travelers, which describes a love affair between two men during the McCarthy era in D.C. Tenor Aaron Blake and baritone Joseph Lattanzi sing the leads; Mark Gibson conducts members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

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Angel Blue

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When I was getting ready to go to college, I applied to a lot of conservatories, but I didn’t get into any of them. When you’re 18 and something like that happens, your world collapses. I thought, “Maybe I’m not supposed to be a singer.” I was accompanying a lot of church choirs at the time, and I thought maybe that’s where I’d end up, and I entered the University of Redlands as a piano and voice major. When I was 20, I changed my major to opera performance because, frankly, opera singers didn’t seem to have to practice as much as pianists. I met Plácido Domingo in 2007, and he invited me to the young artist program at LA Opera. As wonderful as this moment was, I couldn’t help but be a little sad: My father, who was such a huge Domingo fan, had died only a few months before. But Maestro Domingo became a mentor to me during that time. I was a finalist in his Operalia in 2009, and I toured with him in concert in 2011. I felt the same twinge of sadness at my Met debut this fall. My father would have been so happy! It was the night after the horrible Las Vegas massacre, and I spent the day watching the news, fixated, and thinking, “How important is it for me to make my debut at the Metropolitan Opera”? But a lot of people wrote after listening to the broadcast to tell me it made them feel better. My brother-in-law, a navy nurse who was called back to work in Las Vegas, said, “You have no idea how much joy that broadcast brought to people and calmed them down.” I’m a determined person, but I don’t think “determination” is such a bad word, where something positive is concerned. I hope that through my singing, I’m giving back to humanity in some way. A 2009 finalist in the Operalia Contest, Angel Blue has gone on to sing the great roles of the lyric soprano repertoire at companies like San Francisco Opera, La Scala and the Wiener Staatsoper. This fall she made her acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut as Mimì in La bohème.

Sonya Garza


GREW UP SURROUNDED BY all kinds of music, but classical music was what grabbed me the most. My mom played piano and my dad was a pastor and gospel singer. He loved singing, and he played his favorites all the time: Jussi Björling, Lily Pons, Luisa Tetrazzini, Mario Lanza. He was a huge fan of the Three Tenors. My parents took me to my first opera when I was about five. It was Turandot, at Severance Hall in Cleveland. The singing, the people dressed up in costumes, the orchestra booming — I remember feeling so happy. I was hooked. Even now, the big, passionate strain from “Nessun dorma” haunts me all the time. I wasn’t always sure that I would end up as a singer. I played piano and bass guitar when I was young; I even studied ballet. But I always liked singing, and I really enjoyed being louder than other people. My parents even scolded me for this, saying, “Angel, if you’re going to sing louder than everybody, you have to learn the music.” When I was 15, at one of my father’s Sunday-night services at the West Angeles Church of God in Los Angeles, the people next to us turned during one of the hymns to see who was making such a big sound. My brother whispered to me, “Isn’t that the guy from The Preacher’s Wife?” I realized we were right next to Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance! We talked after the service, and I asked them, “Could you help me be an opera singer?” They said, “We can’t — but we know someone who can.” That “someone” was Denyce Graves, who became a mentor to me, and is now a good friend. Denyce told me, “Keep working toward what you desire,” and the words stayed with me. I saw her in Bluebeard’s Castle at LA Opera, and it was one of those experiences like that first Turandot. It was like watching a film, but it was also innig — it spoke to the deepest part of me. I thought, “That’s what opera is — it’s part of your spirit.”


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