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Press Released: 14 Apr 2015

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

Seven composers awarded a total of $100,000

Discovery Grants identify, support and help advance the work of female opera composers

OPERA America, the national service organization for opera, is pleased to announce the recipients of Discovery Grants from the Opera Grants for Female Composers program, made possible through the generosity of The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. From among 61 eligible applicants, an independent adjudication panel selected seven composers to receive a total of $100,000 to support the development of their opera compositions.

The recipients of Discovery Grants are:

  • Kitty Brazelton for The Art of Memory
  • Laura Karpman for Balls
  • Patricia Leonard for My Dearest Friend
  • Jing Jing Luo for Ashima
  • Odaline de la Martinez for Imoinda
  • Kamala Sankaram for The Privacy Show
  • Su Lian Tan for Lotus Lives

See below for composer biographies and summaries of their operas.

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.

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, which are awarded directly to composers, and Commissioning Grants, which are given to opera companies. This recent group of Discovery Grants initiates the second cycle of granting. Discovery Grants aim to identify, support and help develop the work of female composers writing for the operatic medium, raising their visibility and promoting awareness of their compositions. In addition to receiving financial assistance, grant recipients will be introduced to leaders in the field through a feature in Opera America Magazine and at future New Works Forum meetings and annual conferences. Supported works will be considered for presentation at future annual conference New Works Samplers.

“Through this second round of Discovery Grants, we continue our commitment to supporting talented female composers and connecting them with other artists and producers who can advance their careers,” declared Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Our field will be strengthened by a more diverse repertoire that reflects the skill and sensibilities of these extraordinary composers. We are grateful to the Toulmin Foundation for enabling us to continue this important initiative.”

The independent adjudication panelists for the Discovery Grants included director Sam Helfrich, composer Laura Kaminsky, composer Libby Larsen, mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, conductor Anne Manson and coach/conductor Laurie Rogers.

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

2015 Discovery Grant Recipients

Kitty Brazelton, composer
The Art of Memory
Libretto by Miriam Seidel

Composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer Kitty Brazelton has embraced music beyond categorization since age 18, when she incorporated medieval plainchant, jazz improvisation and 20th-century serialism into the repertoire of her band Musica Orbis, which toured the U.S. Time Out New York has called Brazelton “a totalist composer ... stylistically inclusive because she simply wants to make interesting and original sounds.” That “totalism” has come to fruition in her compositions and performances with 1990s art-rock nonet DADADAH and chamber sextet Bog Life, 2000s cyber-punk duo What is it Like to be a Bat?, and vocal quartet Hildegurls, which peformed at Lincoln Center Festival. Other credits include her vernacular opera Fireworks; ecclesiastes, a modern oratorio, commissioned by Gina Gibney Dance; her one-woman show at Manhattan’s Flea Theater; and the long-running Real Music Series at CBGB. Recently, Brazelton has wed contemporary vocal stylizations to medieval chant, language and faith in her “O Joy!” setting of Psalm 77 for VocalEssence; Earthquake, comprising verses from the Koran; her prize-winning setting of Psalm 104 for mixed choirs, organ and percussion; and her current Essential Prayers project. Her recordings include Love Not Love Lust Not Lust (1999), Chamber Music for the Inner Ear (2002); What is it Like to be a Bat? (2003), called “hellacious ... totally original” by the Boston Herald; and Hildegurls’ Electric Ordo Virtutum (2011). Brazelton is professor of music composition at Bennington College in Vermont. For more information, visit kitbraz.info.

The Art of Memory reimagines two early Christians, Augustine and Ambrose, in fourth-century Milan. But these two men (sung by women) reflect our “now” — the eerie mirror of the crumbling Roman Empire, Ambrose’s nonviolent resistance to intolerance and Augustine’s struggle for spiritual absolution. Singing, the art of memory, saves them both.

Laura Karpman, composer
Libretto by Gail Collins

Through a rigorous musical approach, coupled with conceptual and progressive uses of technology and recording, Laura Karpman creates music that reflects the acoustic lens of a true 21st-century American composer. Karpman’s concert music is widely performed, with recent commissions from The Glimmerglass Festival, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Pacific Symphony, Los Angeles Opera, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, percussionist Evelyn Glennie and clarinetist David Krakauer. The recording of her Carnegie Hall-commissioned multimedia work, ASK YOUR MAMA, will be released this summer. With four Emmys and an additional seven nominations, an Annie nomination, and two GANG awards for her video game music, Karpman is one of a handful of female composers scoring visual media. She recently collaborated with Raphael Saadiq, scoring the musical Black Nativity for Fox Searchlight. She was tapped by Steven Spielberg to create an epic score for his 20-hour miniseries Taken. She received her doctorate from The Juilliard School, where she studied music composition with Milton Babbitt, and she is currently a professor at UCLA in the School of Theater, Film and Television. The New York Times wrote of the composer: “Ms. Karpman’s music, melding Ivesian collage with club-culture remixing, morphed from one vivid section to the next in a dreamlike flow ... the audience thundered its approval.” For more information, visit laurakarpman.com.

Balls is a multimedia opera dramatizing the famed September 20, 1973, tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The match, dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes,” changed not only the perception and treatment of women in sports, but significantly advanced the women’s rights movement.

Patricia Leonard, composer and librettist
My Dearest Friend
Libretto based on the letters of John and Abigail Adams

Patricia Leonard’s early musical training began with piano studies with Helen Hiller, followed by composition studies at the New England Conservatory. She received a degree in composition from The Boston Conservatory of Music. Principal composition teachers include Larry Thomas Bell and David Del Tredici. Leonard’s music is frequently performed in the U.S. and Europe. In October 2014, her song cycle My Dearest Friend had its world premiere, featuring soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer, baritone John Moore and an orchestra led by conductor Sean Newhouse, at Boston’s Jordan Hall. My Dearest Friend will next be transformed into a one-act opera to premiere in Quincy, MA, in July 2016 in cooperation with the Adams National Historical Park. Leonard was a recent semifinalist for the American Prize in Composition for her piano trio Strangely Close, Yet Distant; this trio is also featured on the CD Songs for Mahler in the Absence of Words, released in September 2012 by Urlicht Records. Leonard is a founding member of New York Composers Circle. She is also a member of the International Alliance of Women in Music and the New York Women Composers. For more information, visit patricialeonardmusic.com.

My Dearest Friend is about John and Abigail Adams, whose correspondence of over 1,100 letters from 1762 to 1801 detailed significant events in American history. Their accounts of America's political tensions with Great Britain are underscored with Abigail's personal sacrifices to support her husband’s political career.

Jing Jing Luo, composer
Libretto based on a narrative poem of the same name by the Yi people of China

Jing Jing Luo was recently named composer in residence at Princeton Symphony Orchestra by the League of American Orchestras’ Music Alive: New Partnerships program. Luo previously received a Commissioning Award from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation (2006) and a Rockefeller Foundation residency at the Bellagio Center (2001). She has also held fellowships from the Asian Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, the Ford Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation. Other honors include ASCAP Standard Awards (1994–2014); third prize in the International Composers Competition of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (2001), for The Slough; an honorary prize in the Competition for Women Composers of Color in Washington, D.C. (2000); first prize in the Music From China International Composers Competition for Traditional Chinese Instruments (1999), for Slash and Burn; third prize in the Chinese Overseas Composer Competition (1996), for No Home to Return; the Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996), for The Spell; a Dale Warland Singers Reading Competition award (1995), for An Huan, a Chinese Requiem; third prize in the Fanny Mendelssohn competition in Germany (1993), for Mosquito; and second prize in a national symphonic composition competition in China (1984). Luo’s music, which can be heard throughout North America, Europe and Asia, has been published by the China National Publishing House, New World Records, Innova, CRI, Innocent Eyes & Lenses, Subito Music Corporation and C.F. Peters. For more information, visit jingjingluo.com.

Ashima, based on a narrative poem of the Yi minority in China, is about a dead female soul with rare beauty and a loving heart. The 50-minute opera creates a surreal and haunting multisensory experience. Each musician plays a role onstage, and the provocative music is sung by one countertenor who acts out three characters: Ashima, Ahei and Azhi.

Odaline de la Martinez, composer
Libretto by Joan Anim-Addo

Cuban-American composer and conductor Odaline de la Martinez pursues a demanding and successful career composing, particularly operas; conducting repertoire ranging from Mozart symphonies to the latest contemporary music; and recording CDs, often with LORELT (Lontano Records), which she founded in 1992. Martinez studied at Tulane University and the Royal Academy of Music, where she founded her ensemble, Lontano, in 1976. She has gone on to perform with Lontano throughout the world. Martinez has received numerous awards, including a Marshall Scholarship from the British government and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her first opera, Sister Aimee: An American Legend, was premiered at Tulane University in 1984, followed by two subsequent productions at the Royal College of Music (1987) and Marin County College, CA (1995). Martinez’s second opera, Imoinda, from her Slavery Opera Trilogy (2005–2008), was commissioned by the Caribbean Women Writers’ Alliance (CWWA) with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund in England. The Crossing, also from the Trilogy, was commissioned by Tulane University and premiered in New Orleans in April 2013, when Martinez was composer in residence at the university. The opera received its U.K. premiere in November 2014 at the opening concert of the Fifth London Festival of American Music. Martinez was the first woman in history to conduct at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. Visit lontano.co.uk for more information.

Imoinda is very loosely based on a short novel by the 17th-century author Aphra Behn. The opera will look at slavery through the eyes of two lovers, Oko and Imoinda. The other main characters are The King, The Chief and Esteizme, Imoinda’s servant. The story takes place in Africa and unfolds over a 24-hour period. It begins with a ball in the palace and ends with the two lovers being sent to slavery in the Americas.

Kamala Sankaram, composer
The Privacy Show
Libretto by Rob Handel

Praised as “strikingly original” by The New York Times, Kamala Sankaram writes music for opera, theater, concert and film. She has received commissions from Beth Morrison Projects, HERE Arts Center, Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra and Opera on Tap. She has been honored with awards and grants from American Theatre Wing, NEA Art Works, MAP Fund, Meet the Composer and the Asian Women Giving Circle. Sankaram has held residencies with Civilians Research and Development Group, CAP21 Writer’s Residency, HERE Artist Residency Program (HARP), the MacDowell Colony, the Watermill Center, the Hermitage, Con Edison/Exploring the Metropolis and American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program. While with HARP, Kamala developed Miranda, winner of the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical. Her second opera, Thumbprint, premiered in the 2014 PROTOTYPE Festival and was featured on NPR, Agence France-Presse and media outlets around the world. Also a performer, Sankaram has collaborated with the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Wooster Group, Anthony Braxton and Petr Kotik, among others, and she is the frontwoman of world music ensemble Bombay Rickey. In addition to her musical pursuits, Kamala holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and researches the impact of the Internet on the human mind. She can also be heard as a voice on the Cartoon Network show Superjail! For more information, visit kamalasankaram.com.

The Privacy Show is a 75-minute techno-noir opera confronting the issue of privacy in our increasingly digitized society. With music created from data mined in real time from the audience, The Privacy Show asks how much of our individual right to privacy we are willing to relinquish in the name of security.

Su Lian Tan, composer
Lotus Lives
Libretto by Anne Babson

Su Lian Tan has been commissioned by the Grammy-winning Takács Quartet, Da Capo Chamber Players, Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Meridian Arts Ensemble (for Lotus Lives). Recent commissions include a piano quintet for cellist Sophie Shao, a trumpet concerto for Joe Burgstaller and a cello concerto for Darrett Adkins. She has also collaborated with author Jamaica Kincaid. Upcoming recording projects feature the Jupiter String Quartet and Bruce Brubaker. Tan has given master classes and lectures at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Tan will be featured in upcoming classes and events as part of her residency at Oberlin Conservatory. She has received numerous accolades and citations for teaching as well as for her music, including awards from ASCAP and the Walter M. Naumburg Foundation. She holds degrees from the Trinity College, Bennington, Juilliard and Princeton University. Tan is professor of music at Middlebury College. Her music is published by ECS Publishing and Theodore Presser. Tan, who is also a flutist, has been featured in Flute Talk and has released a CD of her performances of new works dedicated to her, as well as a CD of her own works. For more information, visit suliantan.com

Lotus Lives, a chamber opera for singers and brass ensemble, explores themes of growth, discovery and crossing cultures. On-screen and live action features a shifting panorama of singers, dancers, instrumentalists and shadow puppetry. The music blends contemporary styles with rap, Chinese folk music and dance-club music into an exuberant romp.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

For press inquiries, contact Press@operaamerica.org or 212.796.8628.