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Ausrine Stundyte as Cio-Cio-San, Elizabeth Janes as Butterfly’s child and Sarah Larsen as Suzuki in Seattle Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Photo by Elise Bakketun.
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Original Article:
How Companies Commission Opera
Staff Linda Golding, The Reservoir, Lowell Liebermann, composer; J.D. McClatchy, librettist; Peggy Monastra, G. Schirmer Inc.
Making Connections
Each new opera commission has a unique process and path. In this session, panelists will discuss:
  • Reasons opera companies commission new works
  • How operas and creative artists are chosen
  • Best practices for creative artists to reach opera companies

Related Article(s):
Support for New Works in Canada
Staff ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900 recently awarded a total of $185,000 for the development and production of seven new Canadian operas through the Canadian Opera Creation Fund. Funding decisions are made by an independent panel of Canadians; the most recent panel met in Toronto in November and consisted of Mel Braun, baritone and educator, University of Manitoba; Sophie Galaise, general director of Orchestre symphonique de Québec; Morris Panych, playwright and dramaturge; and Canadian composers Abigail Richardson and James Rolfe.
A Bright Future for Canadian Opera
Colin Eatock ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
Everyone involved in the arts knows that raising money is hard work. But what about giving it away? As it turns out, that’s hard, too.

This point was underscored last November, when assembled a panel of Canadian opera experts in New York to consider applications for financial support from the Canadian Opera Creation Fund (COCF). The panelists — baritone Theodore Baerg of London, Ontario; Marcus Handman, executive director of the Victoria Symphony Opera; technical director Julian Sleath of Toronto; and Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic — found themselves faced with the daunting task of comparing very different proposals and making some tough decisions.
The Role of the Dramaturg in the Creation of New Work
Andrew Eggert ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
The successful development of Tnew work for the opera stage is a complex and often elusive process. Ask anyone who has contributed to the making of a new opera, and they will tell you there is no single formula that works every time. Composers, librettists, directors, designers and producers who collaborate on new work must always reinvent the process to suit the unique musical and dramatic needs of the piece they are creating.
The Operatic Evolution of John Adams: Remaking Opera for Our Time
Thomas May ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
Nixon in China was an unlikely success when it premiered over two decades ago. But John Adams has continued forging new paths for American opera with his subsequent stage works and, in the process, evolving his own language as a composer.
Refining the Dramatic Rhythm
Kelley Rourke ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
In an interview for Opera Canada, author and librettist Margaret Atwood likened the writing of a libretto to the construction of a coat-hanger: “If it’s a bad coat-hanger, that will be unfortunate, but if it’s a good coat-hanger, nobody will notice it.”

Is it possible for librettists to assess the sturdiness of their creation before entrusting the extravagant weight of an opera score to its delicate structure? Can words meant for music be evaluated in the absence of that essential element?

The Libretto Reading Series at Brooklyn’s American Opera Projects attempts to do just that, giving artists opportunity to hear a work read aloud and then discuss its structure, characters, themes and pacing. “While obviously spoken theater and opera are two very different art forms, you can look at the dramatic rhythm in a particular way, figuring out where the important beats are before the composer spends months writing music,” says Ned Canty, who is director of the series. “It is useful for a composer to think about beats from a performance perspective, to make sense of where you need a big shift in emotion, to see the amount of time an actor needs to get from one beat to the next.”
In the Works
Megan Young, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
By Daron Hagen and Gardner McFall

Commissioned by Seattle Opera, Amelia is a two-act opera based on a story by the production’s director, Stephen Wadsworth. The piece uses the theme of flight as a motif to explore the human condition and takes place during the 30-year period from 1966 to 1996. Amelia addresses such issues as man’s fascination with flight, the Daedalus/Icarus myth and the American experience in Vietnam. Workshops will begin in December 2007, and a projected premiere is set for May 2010.
In the Works
Megan Young, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America ,
Opera America Magazine1/1/1900
By Zack Settel and Yan Muckle

Set to premiere during the 2010-2011 season at Chants Libres, Alexandra chronicles the life of Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969). An anarchist, opera singer, journalist, freemason, feminist, free thinker, reporter, lover of the Orient, philosopher and explorer, she was the first Western woman to enter the forbidden Lhassa, Tibet in 1924. This one-hour chamber opera uses her life and writings to touch upon the themes of courage, righteousness and wisdom.
Singers and North American Repertoire
Kelley Rourke ,
The operatic tradition has long traded in exoticism—over the centuries, audiences and artists alike have been drawn to faraway places, mythological figures, and ancient regimes. In North America, one of the more recently established venues and breeding grounds for “the extravagant art,” opera often has been far removed from the everyday experiences of its artists and audiences. But as the century comes to a close, a quick look around yields evidence of a sea change: Opera companies, large and small, are regularly programming North American repertoire, and today’s singers are finding that a mix of old and new works is an artistically satisfying—and professionally viable—way to conduct a career.
VOX 2007: Showcasing American Composers
Anne Choe, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America ,
Opera has an enormous capacity to convey the human experience. The energy of this possibility to express emotions was incredibly palpable at VOX, the annual new works showcase produced by New York City Opera (NYCO) and presented at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, New York University, on May 12 and 13, 2007. Each piece performed at VOX was preceded with a short video introduction consisting of interviews with the artists about their inspirations and creative processes. The weekend also included panel discussions and other presentations. More information, including 2008 application forms, can be found at
Pathways to a Premiere for Composers and Librettists
Anne Choe, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America ,
Committed to the development of new works and creative artists, OPERA America has begun to host workshops for composers and librettists across the country. The next workshop will take place in Syracuse, NY on December 8 and 9, and will cover topics including obtaining a commission, working with singers, self-producing, the role of the publisher, self-publishing, finding creative partners and ideal projects, and much more. Below is a summary of a recent workshop that OPERA America hosted in partnership with San Francisco Opera with panelists Paul Dresher, Jake Heggie, Joan La Barbara, Gene Scheer and moderator Kip Cranna, musical administrator for San Francisco Opera.
Pushing the Boundaries between Opera and Musical Theater
Anne Choe, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America ,
The edge between opera and musical theater is definitely becoming more permeable as artists explore different ways to tell stories through music. OPERA America recently hosted a panel discussion on this subject as part of the Making Connections series — "Pushing the Boundaries between Opera and Musical Theater" — with composer Richard Danielpour; Sarah Schlesinger, director of the graduate musical theater writing program at New York University (NYU); and Kris Stewart, executive director of New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMTF). The discussion was moderated by the producing director of Music-Theatre Group, Diane Wondisford.
New Opera for Young People — Creating a Repertoire
Stephen McNeff, composer ,
Most composers write music for young people at some point, and authors and poets also write for that audience, yet the Cornish poet Charles Causley said there was no such thing as "children's" poetry. Writer Philip Pullman, who came to prominence through the Whitbread Prize, startled critics as a "children's" author succeeding in an adult world. Pullman barely recognizes that there is a divide — "Children deserve the best," he says.
Workshopping Your Opera
Staff Diane Wondisford, Music-Theatre Group , Ricky Ian Gordon, composer; Charles Jarden, American Opera Projects; David Schweizer, stage director
Making Connections10/28/2008
Important components of the creative process include assessment and feedback. The creative artists on this panel will discuss:
  • Innovative ways they have workshopped pieces
  • Factors to consider when planning to workshop
  • Processing evaluation and feedback
New Works Opportunities with Music Schools
Staff , Conrad Cummings, composer; Gordon Ostrowski, Manhattan School of Music;
Making Connections11/18/2008
Academic institutions can be great settings for new opera workshops and productions. This session will cover:
  • Music schools that develop adventurous programming and how they offer a unique
    experience for composers and librettists
  • Working with young musicians
  • Using the longer rehearsal periods for feedback and evaluation
How Companies Commission Opera
Staff Linda Golding, The Reservoir, Lowell Liebermann, composer; J.D. McClatchy, librettist; Peggy Monastra, G. Schirmer Inc.
Making Connections2/25/2009
Each new opera commission has a unique process and path. In this session, panelists will discuss:
  • Reasons opera companies commission new works
  • How operas and creative artists are chosen
  • Best practices for creative artists to reach opera companies
Designing for 21st-Century Opera
Staff Allen Moyer, scenic designer, Jessica Jahn, costume designer; Wendall K. Harrington, projection designer;Joachim Schamberger, stage director and virtual theater designer
Making Connections5/21/2009
New opera productions and new works provide designers endless possibilities to be creative. A panel of experts will explore:
  • Design trends in the field
  • Numerous multimedia options for the opera stage
  • Bringing film, fashion and other art forms onto the opera stage in exciting ways
To Promote the Expansion and Growth of the Art Form:
OPERA America and American Opera

Kelley Rourke ,
Opera America Magazine12/1/2009
When 17 opera companies came together to create OPERA America in 1970, they articulated a number of goals toward the advancement of the opera. However, it was not until the 1980s that field-wide momentum began to gather around new work.

In 1979, members voted to include a Composer-Librettist Showcase in conjunction with the organization’s annual conference. The first showcase took place in New Orleans in 1981. Fifty-two works were submitted for consideration; seven were chosen for concert presentation, followed by a discussion with composers, librettists and producers. A 144-page volume was published to accompany the showcase and seminar; in addition to a catalog of all the nominated works, it included essays on the state of contemporary opera production. The conversation had begun.

In the years that followed, OPERA America led several initiatives to promote the expansion and growth of the art form. Three landmark regranting programs lessened the financial risk and encouraged companies to add commissions or subsequent productions of American work to their seasons. The success of these programs eventually led to the creation of The Opera Fund, a growing permanent endowment dedicated to enhancing the quality, quantity and creativity of new opera and music-theater. The Opera Fund and its precursor programs have awarded nearly $11 million in funds to companies throughout North America in support of their efforts to expand and enrich the repertoire.
Composing Opera: A Backstage Visit to the Composer’s Workshop
Daniel Catán, Composer ,
Original Content4/14/2010
It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon. The title of my presentation mentions a backstage visit to the composer’s workshop, and that is precisely where I intend to take you.

So I will start very simply; but we don’t have to start at the beginning. We will get there slowly, anyhow. I would prefer to start with Florencia en el Amazonas, my most recent opera.

Of all my three operas, this was certainly the most enjoyable one to write. From the start, which is finding a libretto to work on, it was a happy experience. But, first of all, how did I decide on the subject? How did I go about composing it? And how on earth did I get to the Amazon?
Compose to Win
By Miriam Piilonen ,
Original Content3/1/2011
Entering a composition competition is a great way to gain exposure, practice professional printing and possibly win a performance or grant money. Competitions are usually judged by a panel of professionals who will assess your work for style, skill, innovation and playability. Assembling a flawless application package is as important as writing a great piece of music and an important skill for composers. Here are a few things to consider when assembling your competition package:
Reading to Write: A Book List for Composers
Staff ,
Original Content6/1/2011
Composers are rarely limited by the domain of music; they are inspired by all of their senses. Writing a piece is an extension of your experiences and reflects the language you speak musically and otherwise. At OPERA America, we love using books as a tool for inspiration. We discussed literature and reference texts with industry experts and compiled a reading list for opera composers with topics in technical skills, biographies, history, business, publishing, vocal reference and a few from other art fields. As you explore these resources, take your investigation beyond the page. Interact with singers, work backstage, listen and analyze scores to form an intimate relationship with opera writing.
Tips for Composers and Librettists
Staff ,
In this month’s ArtistLink, opera professionals who receive a great deal of score and libretto submissions offer some suggestions to composers and librettists on how to present their work for consideration.
Stages of Developing a New Work
John Glover, Beth Greenberg, John Musto, Jim Schaeffer ,
Making Connections1/4/2012
The road to creating a new opera is paved with questions. Who should be on the creative team? How do you know when a work is ready for the next stage of development? When do you let the public hear it? At this session, hear from artists and administrators at the forefront of contemporary opera and gain insight into how new works are created, developed and produced.
How to be a Teaching Artist
Thomas Cabaniss, Neil Ginsberg, Amy Kirkland, Camille Zamora ,
Making Connections1/4/2012
Teaching artists educate and engage with community members through work in schools, hospitals and other social services organizations. To be successful, teaching artists must possess a wide range of business and interpersonal skills in addition to talent and artistry. At this session for all opera artists, panelists will discuss the types of opportunities available to teaching artists and how you can obtain the skills needed for success.
Living Opera
Darren K. Woods, General Director, Fort Worth Opera ,
Original Content10/1/2012
Fort Worth Opera’s Darren K. Woods on setting a new festival agenda

I guess you could say that opera festivals are in my blood. My first opera job as a professional singer was as an apprentice artist for Santa Fe Opera. I worked at Santa Fe most summers for the next 14 years, along with the festivals in Saint Louis, Chautauqua, Glimmerglass, Sarasota and several others, but eventually I retired from singing and became a general director. When I came to Fort Worth, the board charged me with breathing new life into our 60-year-old stagione company, and the idea of changing into a festival format was a natural leap for me — albeit an exciting and frightening one. It would necessitate altering our business model completely, trying something that had never been done in north Texas, and risking a patron base that was comfortable attending operas spaced out over the year. However, facing stiff competition from the hundreds of other arts organizations serving a population of over six million people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, it was a matter of change or die.
A Composer's Cohort: Secrets of Collaboration
Miriam Piilonen ,
Original Content10/10/2013
Writing an opera is an undertaking unlike any other in a composer's repertoire. The time commitment, depth of knowledge and scope of such an ambitious project make writing an enormous challenge in and of itself. What many aspiring opera composers overlook is the test waiting beyond the solitude of the studio: collaborating with other artists involved in the production of a staged vocal work. OPERA America has gathered leading experts in the fields of composing, directing, publishing and administration to advise composers in working with everyone from singers to stage managers from the initial idea to final curtain call. Whether you are staging a small student performance with one singer and a tambourine or mounting an opening at the Metropolitan Opera, collaboration can make or break your show
An Evening with Librettist Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell, Jennifer Aylmer, Wallis Giunta, Troy Cook, Matthew Tuell, Timothy Long ,
Salon Series8/14/2014
Excerpts from Silent Night, Rappahannock County, Lucrezia, The Inspector, A Letter to East 11th Street and Songs from an Unmade Bed performed by soprano Jennifer Aylmer, mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, tenor Matthew Tuell, baritone Troy Cook and pianist Timothy Long.

Mark Campbell is one of the most in-demand librettists working in opera today. In the past year alone he premiered four new works, including Silent Night for Minnesota Opera (music by Kevin Puts, directed by Eric Simonson), The Inspector for Wolf Trap Opera (music by John Musto, directed by Leon Major) and Rappahannock County for Virginia Opera, Virginia Arts Festival, University of Richmond and the University of Texas (music by Ricky Ian Gordon, directed by Kevin Newbury).

Fall 2014 Magazine Issue
  • Are Women Different?
  • Preparing for Klinghoffer
  • Emerging Artists: Act One

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