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Press Released: 26 Jan 2015

OPERA America Announces Recipients of Opera Grants for Female Composers: Commissioning Grants

Supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

A Total of $100,000 Awarded for Six Operas

OPERA America, the national service organization for opera, is pleased to announce the first recipients of Commissioning Grants from the Opera Grants for Female Composers program, made possible through the generosity of The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. These grants help support the commissioning of works by talented women composing for the stages of OPERA America Professional Company Members.

The Opera Grants for Female Composers program, launched in December 2013, is implemented in two-year cycles. The focus of the program alternates between Discovery Grants, in which $100,000 is awarded directly to composers, and Commissioning Grants, which are given to opera companies. This year’s Commissioning Grants are the first to be awarded.

A total of $100,000 was awarded to six companies:

  • American Opera Projects (Brooklyn, NY) for To Kill That Bird by Wang Jie;
  • Arizona Opera (Phoenix and Tucson, AZ) for The Last Dream of Frida and Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank;
  • Beth Morrison Projects (Brooklyn, NY) for Winter’s Child by Ellen Reid;
  • The Glimmerglass Festival (Cooperstown, NY) for Wilde Tales by Laura Karpman;
  • The Industry (Los Angeles, CA) for the selection within HOPSCOTCH by Ellen Reid; and
  • Opera Philadelphia for Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli.

OPERA America has awarded nearly $13 million over the past 30 years to Professional Company Members in support of new American operas. Fewer than five percent of the organization’s grants supporting repertoire development have been awarded to works by female composers. Opera Grants for Female Composers provide support for the development of new operas by women, both directly to individual composers and to opera companies producing their work, advancing the important objective to increase diversity across the field.

“OPERA America is uniquely positioned as the field’s convener and connector to advance the careers of the most talented creative artists,” declared Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “The Opera Grants for Female Composers program enables us to identify and support the development of new works by emerging and established female composers. By helping to increase the quality and quantity of works by women, we will broaden and deepen the existing opera repertoire with exciting new works. We are grateful to the Toulmin Foundation for enabling us to continue this important work.”

The independent adjudication panelists for the Commissioning Grants included director/librettist Kenneth Cazan, librettist Donna Di Novelli, composer Rinde Eckert, soprano Elizabeth Futral and conductor/coach Timothy Long.

Information for the second round of Commissioning Grant applications will be announced later in 2015.

2015 Commissioning Grant Recipients

American Opera Projects (Brooklyn, NY)
To Kill That Bird
Wang Jie, composer
Anne Babson, librettist

Wang Jie’s To Kill That Bird, written with librettist Anne Babson, is a double bill chamber opera united by the theme of strong female artists contending against the oppressive bureaucracy of the zodiac animal overlords. Campy, whimsical and evocative, the 30-minute “From the Other Sky” portrays the fable of how the 13 animals of the Chinese zodiac downsized to 12. Experiencing human compassion for the first time, this 13th zodiac goddess loses her place in the heavens to share her musical powers with mankind. The 70-minute second piece, “From the Land Fallen,” tantalizes the audience with a tragic and haunting transgender love story. In a New York City from a parallel universe, the zodiac animals rule the human world, headed by the Rat. As human rebellion erupts, a war widow finds her late husband’s spirit embodied in a deranged woman and falls in love with her.

Arizona Opera (Phoenix and Tucson, AZ)
The Last Dream of Frida and Diego
Gabriela Lena Frank, composer
Nilo Cruz, librettist

The Last Dream of Frida and Diego examines the complex and powerful relationship between the highly influential artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In a fantastical, imagined reunion, Frida is brought back from the land of the dead for a single day to help Diego as he struggles to cope with her passing. As Frida attempts to ease Diego’s despair, the couple explores the complicated nature of their lives together in parallel with their art. The story unfolds across the aesthetically vibrant backdrop of an extraordinary Día de los Muertos celebration in Mexico. An affecting new Spanish libretto by Nilo Cruz, the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, will complement the soaring musical landscape provided by Gabriela Lena Frank, winner of the 2009 Latin Grammy award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.

Beth Morrison Projects (Brooklyn, NY)
Winter’s Child
Ellen Reid, composer
Amanda Jane Shank, librettist
Story by Ellen Reid, Amy Tofte and Julianne Just
Additional story development by Amanda Jane Shank

Set in a Southern gothic landscape, composer Ellen Reid and librettist Amanda Jane Shank’s Winter’s Child is a world of rough earth, quiet prayer and a mother’s fight to change her youngest daughter’s fate. This new opera juxtaposes two contrasting settings: The House, a quiet and folky space rigidly controlled by Mama, and The Lake, a lush mystical expanse that holds Child’s sisters. Mama and Child’s lives in The House are ruled by routine and order; the sisters’ lives in The Lake are surreal and ethereal.

The Glimmerglass Festival (Cooperstown, NY)
Wilde Tales
Laura Karpman, composer
Kelley Rourke, librettist

Three of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales — “The Happy Prince,” “The Remarkable Rocket” and “The Selfish Giant” — are brought together by composer Laura Karpman and librettist Kelley Rourke into Wilde Tales, a three-act opera written for adults as much as for children. Wilde applied his wit and talent for shrewd observation to these stories, which retain the enchantment and multiple meanings of traditional fairy tales. The stories address rivetingly prescient and timeless issues: poverty, selfishness, materialism, isolation, faith and redemption.

The Industry (Los Angeles, CA)
Ellen Reid, composer
Mandy Kahn, librettist

Ellen Reid joins forces with librettist Mandy Kahn, along with five other composer-librettist teams, to collaborate on the world premiere of HOPSCOTCH, The Industry’s groundbreaking opera that will unfold in 18 different cars zigzagging throughout Los Angeles, telling a single story of a disappearance across time. Audiences can experience the work in both the intimacy of a car, where artists and audiences share a confined space, or in a larger central hub, where all the journeys are live streamed to create a dizzying panorama of life in Los Angeles. With HOPSCOTCH, The Industry aims to disorient the audience and ask them to notice the city’s street life in a vivid new way, while also drawing them into another, idealistic reality.

Opera Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA)
Breaking the Waves
Missy Mazzoli, composer
Royce Vavrek, librettist

Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek’s adaptation of Lars von Trier’s 1996 film Breaking the Waves tells the story of Bess McNeill, a woman with a history of psychological problems, and her complex relationship with her husband, Jan. Childlike Bess gets the blessing of the elders of her strict Calvinist community in coastal Scotland to marry an “outsider”: Jan, a Scandinavian oil rig worker. She undergoes a sexual and spiritual enlightenment with Jan, but when he returns to offshore work, an anguished Bess begs for God’s intervention. When Jan is paralyzed in a rig accident, Bess blames her prayers, and her guilt allows her to entertain Jan’s appeal that she take on surrogate lovers to fulfill their marital compact. Though repulsed, Bess dutifully complies with her husband and has sexual encounters with strangers, and when discovered by the tight-knit community, she is excommunicated. But Jan’s improvement seems to be tied to her extramarital encounters, so she continues. Bess is brutally assaulted by sailors and dies as Jan wakes from successful surgery. The elders insist she be buried a sinner, but a fully recovered Jan steals the body and buries her at sea.


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