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WINTER 2016/2017  $5.99



“The go-to spot for brilliantly produced new indie chamber opera.” The Wall Street Journal “This vibrant festival becomes more central to the future of opera with every passing year.” The New York Times “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.” The Washington Post


Fifth Anniversary Season The premier global festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre in New York City. January 5–15, 2017 Presenting new works by Matt Marks & Paul Peers; Missy Mazzoli & Royce Vavrek; David Lang & Mark Dion; M Lamar & Hunter Hunt-Hendrix; Sahba Aminikia, Jeff Beal, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Shara Nova, Toshi Reagon, DJ Spooky, & Brooklyn Youth Chorus; Sarah Small; Julian Wachner & Cerise Lim Jacobs

Buy tickets online: prototypefestival.org

W I N T E R 2 O 16 / 2 O 17 T H E M A GA Z I N E O F OPERA America – THE NATIONAL SER VICE ORGANIZ ATION FOR OPERA, WHICH LEADS AND SERVES THE ENTIRE OPERA COMMUNITY, S U P P O R T I N G T H E C R E AT I O N , P R E S E N TAT I O N A N D E N J O Y M E N T O F O P E R A EDITOR Fred Cohn FCohn@operaamerica.org ART DIRECTOR Andrew M. Prinz APrinz@operaamerica.org ASSOCIATE EDITOR Nicholas Wise NWise@operaamerica.org ADVERTISING MANAGER Vincent Covatto VCovatto@operaamerica.org DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS Patricia Kiernan Johnson PKJohnson@operaamerica.org ON THE COVER Seattle Opera's 2016 Frost Fest event for children (photo: Philip Newton). Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in September, December, March and June. Copyright © 2016 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











By Marc A. Scorca

By Marc A. Scorca


By Fred Cohn






40 41 45


By Susan Stroman


OFFICERS Timothy O’Leary Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Carol F. Henry Trustee, Los Angeles Opera Laura Kaminsky


Barbara Leirvik

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

Charles MacKay The Santa Fe Opera


Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera VICE-CHAIRMAN

Susan F. Morris Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera VICE-CHAIRMAN

Stephen Trampe Trustee, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis VICE-CHAIRMAN

Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Calgary Opera TREASURER

William Florescu Florentine Opera Company SECRETARY


BOARD OF DIRECTORS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP David Bennett San Diego Opera Daniel Biaggi Palm Beach Opera Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre Matthew Buckman Fresno Grand Opera, Townsend Opera Ned Canty Opera Memphis Keith Cerny The Dallas Opera Emilie Roy Corey Trustee, National Guild for Community Arts Education Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera, Opera Parallèle James Feldman Trustee, Washington National Opera Barbara Glauber Trustee, Boston Lyric Opera Christopher Hahn Pittsburgh Opera


Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes Esther Nelson Boston Lyric Opera Eric Owens Nicole Paiement Opera Parallèle Bill Palant Étude Arts




Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago Yuval Sharon The Industry Kathryn Smith Madison Opera Jill Steinberg Trustee, VisionIntoArt John G. Turner Trustee, Houston Grand Opera Dona D. Vaughn PORTopera, Manhattan School of Music Francesca Zambello The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS Christina Loewen, Opera.ca Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa Robert Tancer NATIONAL OPERA CENTER BOARD OF OVERSEERS Robert Tancer, CHAIRMAN James M. Barton John E. Baumgardner Jr. L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Elizabeth Eveillard Sanford Fisher Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed. D. Jane A. Gross Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters Stephen Prystowsky, M.D. 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

FEATURING Marjorie Owens (pictured)

Simon O’Neill Celena Shafer



ny document titled “The Year in Review” or “Annual Field Report” is bound to report on recent accomplishments, but this year some of our accomplishments are important beginnings. OPERA America fulfilled its core functions in good fashion in 2016. In our role as the leading convener of experts from within and outside the field, we held a very successful annual conference in Montreal, marking the first time an OPERA America conference took place in a city whose first language was not English. The many forums we organized in the course of the year in New York, Chicago and San Francisco gathered companies’ staff and trustees in robust discussions about ways opera company operations can be strengthened. Our professional development activities bore fruit throughout the year. We applauded enthusiastically when program participants rose to general director positions at Austin Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria and San Francisco Opera. These leaders succeeded through a combination of talent and hard work, of course, but we were cheered that at least some of their experience was gained through OPERA America initiatives! OPERA America remains the foremost champion for new opera. Repertoire Development Grants, Opera Grants for Female Composers and meetings of our New Works Forum supported composers and their work, and led to commissions and productions of new operas. A string of successes across the country last year demonstrated the value of continued investment in a 21st-century American repertoire. Increasing the civic impact of opera and opera companies has been a top priority for several years. Over the past season, companies across the country demonstrated the artistic and public value of working with other community organizations to serve veterans, Alzheimer’s patients and refugees, among others. Through new works and excellent productions of standard repertoire pieces, opera proved again and again its power as a multimedia, story-based art form that resonates with the world around us. We take the role of advocate very seriously. National Opera Week was enlivened by hundreds of public programs, while Opera Advocacy Day, a new feature of National Opera Week, generated a record number of letters to legislators in support of arts education, charitable giving and the National Endowment for the Arts. Two vital new initiatives made their debut this year. With special funding from the NEA, we launched a Civic Action Group, which will bring together a first-year learning cohort from seven member companies, meeting with an international faculty of community-arts experts to improve their civic practice, and eventually to share case studies with the field. Thanks to tremendously generous support from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, we launched a new Innovation Grants program that will distribute $1.5 million annually, with the aim of addressing urgent operational issues and generating learning across the industry. (You’ll find details about both initiatives in the back pages of this issue of Opera America.) OPERA America’s 50th anniversary is approaching! A strategic planning process was initiated this past summer and will continue through the spring to establish goals through the year 2020 and beyond. You will read more about this in the months ahead, but hundreds of members have already offered suggestions about ways we can work together to ensure that opera thrives as a vibrant cultural expression and an agent for community strength for decades to come. All this work on behalf of the art form we love is made possible by the support and active participation of our members, and for this, we are truly grateful. With warm wishes for health and success in the new year,

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO WINTER 2016/2017  3





he recent history of San Diego Opera shows a company determined to connect with its community. Its Opera Exposed program sends young singers to the city’s libraries and community centers. This fall, its Opera on Track initiative (funded by an OPERA America Building Opera Audiences grant) brought an abridged version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola to trolley stops throughout the metropolitan area. Its November production of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs prompted partnerships with local military organizations and veterans’ groups. Working with a local memorycare center, the company’s scenic department is now building a simulated old-fashioned town square, scheduled to open in 2018, as a means of providing “reminiscence therapy” to people with Alzheimer’s disease. What’s most remarkable about all this visibility is that, less than three years ago, San Diego Opera nearly vanished entirely. In March 2014, the board of directors, working with its then-general manager, Ian Campbell, voted to close the company’s doors. But a group of renegade board members, backed by staff and stage personnel, spearheaded an effort to bring it back from the dead. Their efforts met with an astonishing level of community support, especially a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $2 million, much of it from first-time donors. The outcome was a “new” San Diego Opera, with a smaller budget, an increased emphasis on contemporary repertoire, a reliance on rising young singers rather than international stars and a deliberately less elitist, more welcoming image. “We knew what we had been doing wasn’t going to cut it in the future,” says Board Chairman Carol Lazier, explaining the company’s redefinition as a communitycentered organization. “The community told us they wanted us to exist, but they wanted more of a connection to the company,” says Community Engagement Director Nicolas Reveles. “It meant a major shift in the way we approach quote/unquote ‘outreach.’” He points to the Opera on Track program, presented as a lead-in to the company’s mainstage Cenerentola: “People pouring out of the trolley would be literally surrounded by opera —



Top to bottom: The inaugural concert of San Diego Opera’s Opera on Track program; SDO artists ride the rails.


question is: How do we put ourselves in a position where this doesn’t happen again? The key to survival is relevance — if we are truly relevant and an important part of the fabric of this community, support will follow in both contributions and sales.” As Carol Lazier sees it, though, the rationale behind community engagement is even more basic: “What’s the point of having an arts organization if you don’t reach people?” — Fred Cohn

From top: Megan Miller (at right) with Opera Carolina’s 2016–2017 season dress, designed by Kristen Alyce and modeled by Courtney Quinn; a gown designed by Malou Cordero and inspired by La traviata

The SDO scenic department’s “Town Square” for Alzheimer’s reminiscence therapy


they could not miss it.” The al fresco audience members received programs, and they had a chance to sign up for ticket giveaways. “The public reaction was positive and big and loud,” Reveles says. David Bennett, who took over as general director in 2015, points to the bottom-line goals of the company’s revamped image. “The important thing to drive home is the message ‘Yes, we are going to stay,’” he says. “Since we came so close to the precipice, the



RUNWAY hen Megan Miller joined Opera Carolina as its director of development in 2015, one of her first tasks was to dispose of a stockpile of brochures from previous seasons. Few things are more painful to an arts marketer than tossing aside boxes of obsolete print collateral, but Miller saw an opportunity: “There’s no way I’m throwing these brochures away — they’re like pieces of art,” she recalls. “I sat there and thought, ‘What’s the best way to market art? Through art.’” Miller’s art form of choice became couture fashion, and so was born Opera Recycles, a program that has since transformed more than 10,000 marketing items into custom dresses, their designs inspired by Opera Carolina’s productions. Over the past two years, the initiative has yielded 12 dresses, the majority crafted by Charlotte-area talent. For the 2016– 2017 season, designers transformed the company’s season brochures and posters into crinoline, corsets and lace suggesting the 1850s demimonde of Verdi’s Traviata, as well as into fringed and feathered frocks evoking the American frontier of Puccini’s Fanciulla del West. The company’s poster art for The Barber of Seville was dissected and reassembled into a dress mimicking stained glass. The dresses have hit the


runway not only at Charlotte’s Fashion Week, but at New York’s Couture Fashion Week, as well. The initiative has made a case for sustainability through creative reuse, while also yielding mobile billboards for the art form, building brand awareness for Opera Carolina among people who may have had little previous exposure to opera: environmentalists and government officials, as well as fashionistas. “The heart of this,” says Miller, “is to say that opera is for everyone.”









ustin Opera has appointed Annie Burridge as its new general director. She previously served as managing director of Opera Philadelphia.


Plácido Domingo has renewed his contract as Los Angeles Opera’s general director through the 2021–2022 season. Kal Gajraj has taken up the post of director of marketing and public relations at Florida Grand Opera.


California’s Livermore Valley Opera has named soprano Erie Mills as artistic director. In recent years, Mills has also served as an English diction coach for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Metropolitan Opera and The Santa Fe Opera. Tina Levy Friedman has joined San Diego Opera as the company’s chief development officer. Katherine Kozak, chorus master at Florida Grand Opera, has taken on the additional role of head coach of the company’s young artist program. Pianist Howard Lubin has joined FGO as senior coach. Michigan Opera Theatre has appointed Stephen Lord to the newly created position of principal conductor, with a contract through the 2018–2019 Lord season. Lord is also CHRISTIAN STEINER


music director emeritus of Opera Theater of Saint Louis. Tenor Ryan MacPherson has announced that he will transition to a career in arts management, joining OperaDelaware as a development associate. Tom Patane has been appointed investor services director at Florida Grand Opera. Wichita Grand Opera has named bassbaritone Samuel Ramey to the newly created position of WGO ambassador and artistic advisor. OPERA America’s Nicholas Roberts has been promoted from manager of the National Opera Center to its director. Florida Grand Opera has announced that soprano Diana Soviero and opera director Bernard Uzan will serve as artistic directors of FGO’s young artist program. David Craig Starkey has been hired as general director of Indianapolis Opera. He previously served as general and artistic director of Asheville Lyric Opera, which he founded in 1999. San Diego Opera has named Bruce Stasyna as chorus master and music administrator, replacing Charles Prestinari, who departed the company at the end of last season for a teaching position at Indiana University. Bradley Vernatter, formerly director of production at Boston Lyric Opera, has joined Opera Omaha as director of operations. Erin Wenzel has been hired as director development of Opera Colorado.

KUDOS he composer Tom Cipullo won the 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize, administered by SUNY Potsdam. Cipullo will receive $25,000 to develop Mayo, an opera about America’s early 20th-century fascination with eugenics, scheduled for a 2018 premiere by SUNY’s Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra. The Pellicciotti Prize, given every four years, seeks to promote new operas that explore themes of tolerance, inclusion and diversity.


Composer Philip Glass was one of 12 recipients of the 2015 National Medals of Arts. Bestowing the honor at a September 22 White House ceremony, President Obama lauded Glass for expanding “musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores and wide-ranging collaborations.” Mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh was awarded First Prize at the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Ensemble Studio Competition. Baritone Samuel RAYMOND MEIER


Chan won Second Prize ($3,000), baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg took home Third Prize ($1,500) and soprano Myriam Leblanc received the Audience Choice Award ($1,500). Contestants in the competition, held November 3 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, were selected from among 119 applicants to the 2017–2018 COC Ensemble Studio, the company’s young artist program. Musical America named bass-baritone Eric Owens its 2017 Vocalist of the Year. Since his breakthrough Wagnerian debut as Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Ring cycle, Owens has become



irector Sofia Coppola had never staged an opera before she got the assignment to mount La traviata at the Rome Opera. But she knew she could get advice from a terrifically authoritative source: her great-uncle, composer/ conductor Anton Coppola. “She came over one afternoon, and I went over every detail with her,” the elder Coppola says. “I told her that opera is the most artificial form of theatrical expression there is. People are singing instead of talking! Not only singing, but facing a sonic wall called the orchestra. That’s ridiculous! In a movie, they’ve got a mic over their heads, but in opera the hero can’t look at the heroine when he says ‘I love you’ — he has to face the audience. Opera cannot be based in reality. You can try to make it as realistic as possible, but always within the confines of sonority.” Sofia took her uncle’s advice to heart, and her lavish Traviata, with costumes by Valentino, sold out its 16-performance run. “I’ve always been fascinated by the theatrical aspects of music, which means opera,” Coppola says. As a boy, he would check out opera scores from the public library to play them at home. His professional involvement with opera began when he was nine and joined the Met’s children’s chorus, singing in the American premiere of Turandot. As a teenager, he found a mentor in the Met conductor 10 OPERA AMERICA

Gennaro Papi, who had served as a rehearsal pianist for Puccini. Coppola would watch Papi conduct at night and then the next day head over to his apartment to learn why and how the maestro had made his interpretive decisions. “It was an education you can’t buy,” says Coppola. “Papi would let me in on things that Puccini would tell him in the course of rehearsals — intimate details that don’t appear in the score. He told me he’d be playing something and Puccini would come, put his arm around his shoulder and say: ‘Play that a little faster. Never mind the metronome marks; I wrote those 30 years ago.’ I was getting this right from the horse’s mouth.” At age 18, Coppola got a job with the Works Progress Administration, working with conductor Fulgenzio Guerrieri to bring opera to all five boroughs of New York City. “The WPA was one of the greatest things FDR did,” Coppola says. “It gave work to everybody, whether you were a plumber or a carpenter or a bricklayer or an actor or a musician. I was Guerrieri’s assistant, his gofer — I’d do anything he wanted me to do. He was brilliant, but he had a weakness: He was a wino. He had prepared Samson et Dalila, and he had already done four performances. The last one was a Sunday matinee, but he called me on that morning and said, ‘I just can’t make it — please go on for me.’” That 1936 Samson marked



Coppola’s conducting debut, at 18 years old. During World War II, Coppola led an army band and then emerged to work with the touring San Carlo Opera Company. A period in mainstream showbiz included a stint at Radio City Music Hall, where he met his wife, dancer Almarinda Drago. In 1954, he led Julie Andrews in The Boy Friend, her Broadway debut. He conducted at companies across the U.S., including San Francisco Opera and New York City Opera. In 1996, he became founding artistic director of Opera Tampa, which in 2001 presented the world premiere of his opera Sacco and Vanzetti. This March, Coppola reaches a significant milestone: his 100th birthday. In celebration of the occasion, he’ll head down from New York to lead Opera Tampa forces in a program of his own music, including excerpts from Sacco and Vanzetti, along with a tone poem he composed last year in honor of his nephew, director Francis Ford Coppola, called Fa-Fa-Do (FFC). The March 25 concert will mark the first time in history that a centenarian has led an orchestra in performance. “I see this concert as a final statement, as complete as I can make it,” Coppola says. “It’ll be an overwhelming event, giving me the satisfaction of fulfilling my duty as a musician in this life.” — Fred Cohn


The Human Connection


Timothy O’Leary (far left) and Terence Blanchard at a panel discussion for Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s Champion


PERA America’s board chairman, Timothy O’Leary, became general director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2008. Under his aegis, OTSL has launched its New Works, Bold Voices series of commissions and attracted new audiences through its Engagement and Inclusion Task Force and Young Friends programs. Here he talks with OPERA America President/CEO Marc A. Scorca about his career path, his OTSL achievements, and his faith in opera’s capacity for forging community bonds.

Marc A. Scorca: Who brought you to your first opera? Timothy O’Leary: I was in high school in Trumbull, Connecticut, and my choir teacher mentioned that the Connecticut Opera had an open rehearsal of The Magic Flute. I went with a friend, thinking we’d leave at intermission, but halfway through the Queen of the Night’s first aria, I realized that this was nothing like I had thought it would be. I loved it! As it happens, I was singing in multiple choirs at the time, and the tenor who sang next to me in a church choir was Matthew Polenzani. I sang next to him for two years, feeling bad about my voice every week. MAS: What a coincidence! TO: So later that year, Yale Opera was also doing The Magic Flute, starring Matthew. They needed more chorus tenors, which are always more in 12 OPERA AMERICA

demand than other voice parts, so Matthew and the head of the choir asked if I would join. Shortly into the Magic Flute rehearsals, I really fell head over heels. Then the next year I signed up to do Yale’s The Marriage of Figaro. As I got to know that opera, I started to understand that this was not just something that was beautiful, but something that really was meaningful and important. MAS: When did it occur to you that a career in opera was something that you might pursue? TO: I was an English major at Dartmouth College, and I started to develop this idea that I wanted to spend my life helping make beautiful things possible in the world. I took voice lessons and learned to sing classically. I took Italian so that I’d be able to understand The Marriage of Figaro. When I was an

exchange student in Italy, I went to a performance of La traviata. The musical values were great, but the dramatic values were so bad that I started thinking what the opera world needed was better balance between the musical and the dramatic. Back at Dartmouth, I took more and more music and theater courses, and I also took a course in directing. I started to direct plays, and my roommate wrote an opera, which I got to direct. Then I was lucky to get an internship at the Lincoln Center Festival between my junior and senior years of college, and got to know people at New York City Opera. Eventually, I got a job in development there to get to know opera better. I dreamed of being a stage director. Above all, I just loved the people at that company. MAS: Were you any good as a stage director?


TO: [laughs] I had a good run for a while! At first, I did my own selfproduced plays in the evenings and on weekends: Samuel Beckett short plays in storefront theaters and things like that. I got involved in New York’s chaotic entrepreneurial scene of hopeful young artistic people. MAS: So where did you go from there? TO: After three years in City Opera’s development department, I worked up the courage to make an appointment with Paul Kellogg [then general director of New York City Opera and Glimmerglass Opera] to mention to him my hope of being a stage director. It was one of those moments of real risk when you sort of “out” yourself. Paul was incredibly kind, and helped me get a job at Glimmerglass on James Robinson’s production of La bohème. I had to leave my steady administrative job to accept a 10-week contract, but luckily I found more work, went back to Glimmerglass and did a total of three seasons on the stage-directing staff of City Opera. I had a season as the resident assistant stage director at Florida Grand Opera. In between, I directed small-venue productions, like education and outreach tours. Then I became the apprentice stage director with [San Francisco Opera’s] Merola program, which was a tremendous opportunity. But at a certain point, I had to be honest with myself: I actually didn’t want to keep living a stage director’s life of constant travel. I went back to City Opera to work on Mark Lamos’ production of L’Étoile, which was a wonderful swan song in the stage-directing world. MAS: Where did the decision to stop directing lead you? TO: You know, after I’d worked at various companies, I realized that you could have wonderful artists, but if the company itself wasn’t well-run, the artists’ work could never really achieve its potential. So I started to think that I would really like to be running a company [laughs]. I cobbled together a living for a little while in New York as a freelance grant writer, and then one night I attended a double bill of Martinů operas at what was called the Henry Street Chamber Opera. MAS: Which later became Gotham Chamber Opera… TO: I thought this kind of intimately scaled work, with excellent musical and dramatic values, was exactly the kind of thing the opera world needed more of. I wrote [founder] Neal Goren an e-mail the next day to say that I’d love to be involved in whatever way could

Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and choristers, in “With Normandy: A Concert for Peace and Unity”

be useful. It just so happened that they were on the search then for a managing director who could help the company establish itself as its own 501(c)(3). I was able to learn on the job thanks to a really wonderful collaboration with Neal and the board. And I simultaneously enrolled in the Theater Management and Producing program at Columbia University. I was lucky, because the course work kept coinciding with what I needed to learn in order to run Gotham. On the very day I realized I needed to do a cash flow projection, that topic was covered in my finance course. MAS: Two and a half years later, you returned to City Opera. TO: I was the administrative director, supporting the executive director, Jane Gullong, and taking on a variety of interdepartmental projects. I was put in charge of the Opera for All project, a weekend where all tickets were $25. I became the point person for labor relations: We had, I think,13 unions that we had to work with. I became responsible for negotiating and managing coproduction arrangements, and as time went by, gained more and more strategic-planning and financialmanagement responsibility. MAS: Then OPERA America played a role in getting you to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

TO: Yes! You personally were very kind and encouraged me to apply for what was then called Leadership Advance, the first year it was offered as part of the OPERA America conference. I had been coming to the conference for a few years by then, but now we were getting instruction and mentoring from the greats in the field, like Speight Jenkins and Plato Karayanis, and that was the first time I met Charles MacKay [then general director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis]. I admired his style of leadership tremendously: a complete commitment to artistic significance and excellence paired with institutional strength and a real sense of valuing people. MAS: What aspect of your work are you most proud of? TO: My interest in art has always been about human connection, so I’m proudest of those times when our work has brought people together and built understanding in our community. It happens in performances, when a thousand people at a time are pulled together into a common emotional state. And it happens in the planning work. I think of the first time [composer] Terence Blanchard came to a meeting of our Engagement and Inclusion Task Force. We had built this wonderful group from diverse faith communities, the African-American community, the WINTER 2016/2017











F I E L D •

Madison Opera’s Little Women, with Eric Neuville and Courtney Miller


Kiera Duffy in Breaking the Waves at Opera Philadelphia

oday’s operatic repertoire shows tectonic change beyond established classics,” Robert Marx wrote in the spring issue of Opera America, and this year’s bumper crop of world premieres definitely bears out his observation. Marx’s essay notes that in the 1983–1984 season, OPERA America’s constituent companies offered but one world premiere. Compare that to the years 2010–2016, in which the organization’s members offered no fewer than 225 new North American works in their debut productions.


Aaron Blake in Cincinnati Opera’s Fellow Travelers



• T H E




But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. The field’s attitude toward contemporary opera has also changed. No longer does the presentation of a new work feel like a dutiful chore, tangential to the real business of mounting the standard repertory. On the contrary, operas like Breaking the Waves (Opera Philadelphia), Fellow Travelers (Cincinnati Opera), The Scarlet Letter (Opera Colorado), The Shining (Minnesota Opera) and Sister Carrie (Florentine Opera Company) — among many others — served as flagship productions in their companies’ seasons: generating outsize



Jennifer Rivera, Dennis Jesse and Amy Pfrimmer in Dead Man Walking at New Orleans Opera


Cellist Joshua Roman, composer/pianist Gregg Kallor and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Pojanowski in On Site Opera’s The Tell-Tale Heart

Micaela Aldridge in Central City Opera’s Later that Same Evening

operas during the 2015–2016 season included (alongside the expected Madama Butterfly, La bohème and Carmen) Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (nine productions) and his Three Decembers (eight productions). In the past year, Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been staged by Eugene Opera, Madison Opera and Pittsburgh Opera. Kevin Puts’ Silent Night showed up at The Atlanta Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre, and his Manchurian Candidate at Austin Opera. Des Moines Metro Opera staged Philip Glass’ Galileo Galilei and Los Angeles Opera, his Akhnaten. Of the three works in Opera Saratoga’s summer 2016

Brenda Harris in Austin Opera’s The Manchurian Candidate



media attention, attracting donor dollars and bringing new audiences to the art form. The vitality of contemporary opera can be seen not only in world premieres, but also in myriad revivals of recent works. A common complaint of the not-so-distant past cited the tendency of new operas to disappear from view after their premieres. All the prestige, the thinking went, clung to first productions; after that, the works themselves languished. No longer. In 2016, companies presented second, third — or 47th — mountings of numerous works from recent decades. OPERA America’s accounting of the most-performed

Florentine Opera’s Three Decembers, with Lucy Schaufer and Rena Harms WINTER 2016/2017







Lucy Fitz Gibbon in the New Opera Showcase, a concert of excerpts from five operas in development


Stage director Alison Moritz speaks with OPERA America President/CEO Marc A. Scorca at an event benefitting the Waomen’s Opera Network.

n what was a banner year for world premieres at its member companies, OPERA America saw the dividends of its sustained investment in new work and in audience engagement. At Fort Worth Opera, an Audience Development Grant yielded a six-month-long symposium series on John F. Kennedy’s legacy, leading up to the premiere of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s JFK; Opera Philadelphia raised the curtain on Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves, funded in part by the Opera Grants for Female Composers program; and New York’s Opera on Tap embarked on an episodic virtual-reality opera


by Kamala Sankara and Jerre Dye, The Parksville Murders, with support from a Building Opera Audiences Grant. Dozens of other companies premiered new works, experimented with audience-building techniques, and established new educational programs thanks to OPERA America grants. The organization administered $1 million in grant money, awarded to opera companies and individual composers, with funds coming from OPERA America’s own granting endowment, The Opera Fund, as well from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon



Vira Slywotzky and Aleksandra Romano in the New Opera Showcase



The Emerging Artist Recital Series, featuring Florentine Opera Studio Artists (left to right): baritone Leroy Y. Davis, soprano Ashley Puenner, mezzo-soprano Ariana Douglas and tenor Thomas Leighton


Composer Jake Heggie in a Creators in Concert event

The 2016–2017 class of the Leadership Intensive

Foundation and the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. That number is set to rise dramatically next year with the recently launched Innovation Grants, funded by the Getty Foundation to invest some $1.5 million annually in OPERA America’s member companies (see p. 30). OPERA America has long coupled institutional support with a promise to develop the careers of both administrators and artists. Leadership Intensive, a program that identifies promising emerging opera leaders and provides them with specialized training, remains a cornerstone of OA’s service to

Soprano Alaysha Fox has headshots taken as part of the Career Blueprints for Singers program.

administrators. The newest Leadership Intensive class came together in August at the National Opera Center, OPERA America’s headquarters, for a week of discussions and seminars designed to address strategic issues, build essential skills and foster strong professional connections. This group will convene again in May at Opera Conference 2017. For singers, OPERA America provides a suite of services to help bridge the gap between conservatory and career. One such program, offered in September, is Career Blueprints for Singers: a three-day intensive workshop that equips young singers with WINTER 2016/2017






A student dress rehearsal of La bohème at Opera Omaha

Opera Tampa’s “Straz LIVE! in the Park” concert





Heartbeat Opera's Queens of the Night: Mozart in Space at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York Michigan Opera Theatre’s Family Fun Day Open House at the Detroit Opera House

ight years into its history, National Opera Week has grown into a focal point for the industry. The annual event, created in 2009 by OPERA America, is aimed at showcasing the vitality of opera across North America, and encompasses everything from behind-the-scenes tours and pop-up concerts to familyfriendly performances and opera singalongs. For the third year straight, National Opera Week broke previous records of participation: From October 28 to November 6, nearly 250 organizations and individuals from 41 states and provinces hosted 244 Opera Week events. In Wisconsin, you could find Madison Opera’s studio artists singing Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet in a museum exhibition devoted to Shakespeare’s First Folio; at Charlotte’s Opera Carolina, there was a flash mob of zombies — just in time for Halloween — that celebrated the company’s new namesake beer, HOPera Carolina; and under the Manhattan Bridge, a crowd of nearly 200 donned VR goggles to preview The Parksville Murders, a new virtual-reality opera from New York’s Opera on Tap. Online engagement using #OperaWeek on Facebook and Twitter further amplified the conversation about opera’s diversity and vibrancy across North America. As part of Opera Week, OPERA America coordinated Opera Advocacy Day on November 1, during which opera professionals urged lawmakers to back policies and legislation that support the art form. Through the Performing Arts Alliance (of which OPERA America is a founding member), individuals representing 37 states and D.C. sent 569 letters to Congress, calling for action on issues such as charitable giving, visa processing for foreign artists, arts education and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. National Opera Week’s honorary chairman, the fashion designer and television personality Isaac Mizrahi, brought visibility to the event and spoke out about his love for the art form. “Opera is like a dream that surrounds you an all sides,” said Mizrahi. “If you just go to the opera and let it wash over you, you’re bound to take something away from it.”

To watch a special Opera Week message from Isaac Mizrazhi, visit OPERA America’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/OPERAAmerica. WINTER 2016/2017




An Art Deco-inflected production design for Four Saints in Three Acts



he celebrated 1934 premiere of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Three Acts set the action in a stylized 16th century. But the designs for the work now on view at the National Opera Center move Four Saints up to the period of its composition. “Our production is a pageant as American as Thomson’s music,” says director Mary Birnbaum. The Four Saints installation is the fourth and final exhibition from the 2015 group of finalists in OPERA America’s Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase. The program, launched in 2008 and supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, provides emerging designers and directors with a national platform to introduce their work to industry leaders. Every two years, directors and designers submit production concepts for a select group of operas, with the most promising proposals receiving funding for further development. The finalist teams present their concepts at OPERA America’s annual conference, and then their designs are shown in rotating exhibitions at the National Opera Center in New York. The original Four Saints in Three Acts was celebrated for its all-black cast: a novel concept at the time. But Birnbaum and her colleagues — set designer Grace Laubacher, costume designer Moria Clinton, lighting designer Anshuman Bhatia and choreographer Adam Cates—have conceived their production for color-blind casting. Their designs evoke key elements of early 20th-century culture: the vaudeville theater of the 1930s, the tableaux vivants of the Follies and the gestural acting of post-Bernhardt divas. Clinton’s glittering costumes reference entertainers such as Josephine Baker and female impersonator Barbette Dressing, while also drawing inspiration from traditional gilded religious 28 OPERA AMERICA

icons. The saints cavort through Laubacher’s Art Deco-inflected scenic designs, which mimic naively painted vaudeville sets and incorporate stage tricks from the era. Incandescent foot lights and carbon-arc lamps in the wings complete the period look. “Here, theatrical magic stands in for divinity,” says Birnbaum. The Four Saints in Three Acts exhibition runs through June 2017. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. in the Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase Gallery, located on the eighth floor of the National Opera Center. The creative team’s presentation from Opera Conference 2015 is available on OPERA America’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/OPERA America.

Costume designs for St. Teresa I, St. Teresa II and St. Plan




Carlisle Floyd Florentine Opera Company/Reference Recordings This worldpremiere recording of Floyd’s Wuthering Heights, first performed at The Santa Fe Opera in 1958, is the latest in a modern American opera series from the Milwaukee-based Florentine Opera Company. Recorded live during concert performances in winter 2015 — with Floyd himself serving as artistic adviser to the project — the album brings together a cast including soprano Georgia Jarman as Catherine (a role originated by Phyllis Curtin) and baritone Kelly Markgraf as Heathcliff. Joseph Mechavich conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

John Corigliano/William M. Hoffman Pentatone

Jennifer Higdon/Gene Scheer Pentatone

Part of Pentatone’s newly launched American Opera Series, this first-ever CD release of The Ghosts of Versailles was recorded live at Los Angeles Opera in 2014, with James Conlon at the podium. (The Metropolitan Opera’s 1991 world-premiere recording of the opera is available on DVD.) Leading the cast are soprano Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette and baritone Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais, with Broadway star Patti LuPone in the cameo role of Samira.

A commission of The Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera, Cold Mountain is captured here in its initial 2015 run at Santa Fe, starring mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and baritone Nathan Gunn as the opera’s central couple, Ada and Inman. Based on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel, the opera — Higdon’s first — describes an injured Confederate soldier’s struggle to return home and his beloved’s efforts to survive in his absence. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts.




Tom Cipullo/Mason Bates

David T. Little/Royce Vavrek VIA Records

CAPITAL CAPITALS Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein BMOP The first of Thomson and Stein’s two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) is a landmark of American opera and musical theater. Thomson’s score couples the traditional music of his Midwestern youth — waltzes, tangos, folk dances, marches and hymns — with Stein’s text, featuring her trademark technique of building subconscious meaning through sound. Although originally performed by an all-black cast, Boston Modern Opera Project’s recording uses Caucasian performers. Also included on the disc is Thomson’s setting of the Stein poem "Capital Capitals," for four male voices and piano.


IN SLEEP THE WORLD IS YOURS Lori Laitman/Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger Naxos Records The oneact, threecharacter After Life, a 2015 commission of the Seattle-based Music of Remembrance, poses questions about the artist’s role in confronting inhumanity. Bates’ libretto imagines an encounter between the ghosts of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein, who debate what duty they should have borne, as leading avantgarde artists, to intervene in the Nazi occupation of France (Picasso lived out World War II in Paris, Stein in Vichy). Lori Laitman’s song cycle In Sleep the World Is Yours (2013) sets three poems by Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, who perished at age 18 in a Nazi labor camp in Ukraine.

This worldpremiere recording of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s 2012 Dog Days, the duo’s first fulllength opera collaboration, brings together the opera’s original cast and Little’s ensemble, Newspeak, under conductor Alan Pierson. Based on the short story by Judy Budnitz, Little’s dystopian electro-rock opera describes a family’s attempts to survive the scourges of wartime in a post-apocalyptic future. The performance was recorded live during the work’s 2015 run at Los Angeles Opera.



They were really reaching out for character direction. I loved working with them as actors. Every production I do is a steppingstone to the next project. I became so immersed in the Merry Widow waltzes that I decided to do a whole evening in three-quarter time. It’s a version of Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle and the music is by John Kander — who’s a huge opera fan himself. At some point, though, I really want to do a brand-new opera. I would love to work with a wonderful film composer like Alexandre Desplat or Hans Zimmer or Thomas Newman. Those artists understand how to tap into an audience’s emotions with their music — they’re real storytellers. Working in the opera world has been one of the highlights of my career. And I’d love to stay a part of it.

Director/choreographer Susan Stroman, a five-time Tony Award winner, is known for her work on shows like The Producers, Contact and Crazy for You. In 2015, she made her debut as an opera director with The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.


pera wasn’t a part of my life when I was growing up in Delaware. But I began going to the opera when I came to New York in the late 1970s, starting with Don Giovanni at the Met. I got hooked on the grand scale of it: the music, the sets, the artists. The two big stars from that era who have most stuck with me are Luciano Pavarotti and Beverly Sills. When they were on stage, you could tell they loved being there: nothing skittish about them. You had a sense while watching them that anything could happen, even though they were doing exactly what they were supposed to do. Some productions, like the Zeffirelli Carmen, I just can’t get out of my brain. I can still see that raked hillside. But the production that moved me more

than any other is Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly. It’s a full evening of magical art, from every point of view — the big, grand package. Coincidentally, my first opera as an audience member became the first opera I ever worked on professionally, when I choreographed Hal Prince’s New York City Opera production of Don Giovanni in 1989. I saw immediately how very unlike opera is from musical theater In opera, the voice is the most important thing. On Broadway, all the actors are miked, so the performers have the freedom to sing into the wings or facing upstage or hanging upside down. Not in opera! When I did The Merry Widow with Renée Fleming, I knew it was essential to put her in the positions where she was most comfortable singing. I had to come to The Merry Widow really well prepared. You don’t have nearly as much rehearsal time in opera as in theater. I did a lot of homework. I wanted to know the names of all 75 people in the chorus so I could make sure everybody was comfortable with the movements I was giving them. I used flashcards! At both the Met and Lyric Opera, I felt the singers wanted to try things, wanted to know things.




At left: Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson in Stroman's Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Above: The Act I marriage procession in New York City Opera’s 1989 Don Giovanni, with Dean Peterson as Masetto and Erie Mills as Zerlina.


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Opera America Winter 2016/2017 Preview  

Opera America Winter 2016/2017 Preview