Login failed. Please try again.

Press Released: 31 Jul 2017

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 and the nation’s leading champion for American opera, is pleased to announce the latest recipients of Commissioning Grants from the Opera Grants for Female Composers program, made possible through the generosity of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

A total of $100,000 was awarded to the following companies in support of six projects:

  • Houston Grand Opera for Home of My Ancestors by Nkeiru Okoye;
  • Minnesota Opera (Minneapolis, MN) for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Paola Prestini;
  • Opera Parallèle (San Francisco, CA) for Today It Rains by Laura Kaminsky;
  • Sarasota Opera for Rootabaga Country by Rachel J. Peters;
  • Seattle Opera for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Sheila Silver; and
  • Washington National Opera (Washington, D.C.) for Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli in a consortium with Opera Omaha and Miller Theater at Columbia University (New York, NY).

These grants, which were awarded by an independent adjudication panel, provide funds that cover up to 50 percent of each composer’s commissioning fee. (See below for descriptions of the funded works.)

Over the past 30 years, OPERA America has awarded $13 million to its Professional Company Members in support of new American operas. Until the launch of Opera Grants for Female Composers in 2013, fewer than five percent of the organization’s grants for repertoire development had been awarded to works by female composers.

Opera Grants for Female Composers seek to promote the development of works by women, as well as raise the visibility of women writing for the operatic medium and increase diversity across the field. The program consists of two granting components: Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 that are awarded to opera companies for commissions by female composers, and Discovery Grants of up to $15,000 that are awarded directly to female composers to advance new works. Since its inception, the program has awarded a total of $700,000 to opera companies and composers.

“Thanks to the continued support of the Toulmin Foundation, works by women are gaining traction on stages across North America,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “This year, we received more applications for Commissioning Grants than ever before — a testament to our members’ investment in works by women — and among the funded works, three are by composers who previously received Discovery Grants. We are grateful to the Toulmin Foundation for enabling us to continue this important work, which has brought noteworthy composers to the forefront and has enlivened our operatic repertoire with new works.”

The adjudication panel for this round of Commissioning Grants consisted of William Burden, tenor; Tyson Deaton, conductor; Michael Korie, librettist; Rita Shapiro, former executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra; and Du Yun, composer.

The program’s next round of awards will be Discovery Grants, for which applications will open on October 5, 2017. Applications for the next round of Commissioning Grants will open on March 1, 2018. Visit operaamerica.org/Grants for more information.

2017 Commissioning Grant Recipients

Houston Grand Opera (HGOco)
Home of My Ancestors
Nkeiru Okoye, composer
Anita Gonzalez, librettist

It’s Juneteenth (the holiday commemorating the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas). Olivia, a Chicago-based African American doctor, returns to her childhood home in Houston’s Third Ward for her Grandma Rose’s memorial service. Her ex-boyfriend Barron hopes to rekindle their relationship as they reminisce and pack her grandmother’s living room. When Olivia falls asleep and dreams of her ancestors, she awakens with a new understanding of home and heritage. Home of My Ancestors was proposed as part of HGO’s Song of Houston initiative that has been telling the stories of those who call Houston home since 2007.

Nkeiru Okoye was the recipient of a 2016 Discovery Grant for We’ve Got Our Eye on You (libretto by David Cote).

Minnesota Opera
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Paola Prestini, composer
Mark Campbell, librettist

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a family-friendly opera based on the young adult novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. It follows the adventures of an aloof toy rabbit named Edward whose comfortable life in a loving household abruptly ends when he is thrown into the sea from the Queen Mary. Edward ventures to many places: He is adopted by a kindly fisherman and his wife, rides the rails with a drifter and his dog, provides solace to an ailing young girl and performs on the streets of Memphis. He finally opens his heart and finds his way back home. This opera will feature an ensemble cast, advanced puppetry and state-of-the-art projection design.

Opera Parallèle (San Francisco, CA)
Today It Rains
Laura Kaminsky, composer
Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, librettists

Today It Rains is a chamber opera inspired by a real event in the life of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. On the rainy morning of April 29, 1929, O’Keeffe boarded a train in New York with fellow artist Rebecca Strand. Yearning for escape and creative fulfillment, O’Keeffe left behind a tumultuous marriage with photographer and influential curator Alfred Stieglitz. Three days later, she arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, soon to be inspired by the power of the area’s landscape and ready for a new artistic experience.

Laura Kaminsky was the recipient of a 2014 Discovery Grant for As One, and her opera Some Light Emerges garnered a 2016 Commissioning Grant for Houston Grand Opera. (Both works feature librettos by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed).

Sarasota Opera
Rootabaga Country
Rachel J. Peters, composer and librettist

Rootabaga Country is an adaptation of selections from Carl Sandburg’s 1922 Rootabaga Stories, a collection of whimsical American fairy tales. The opera’s main characters — Gimme the Ax and his two children, Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions — travel to Rootabaga Country, a land in the sky that the children’s long-lost mother, Alelia, frequently visited when she was a child. The children’s adventures in Rootabaga Country provide them with a connection to the mother they never knew and an understanding that each family is unique. Rootabaga Country is the sixth opera commissioned by the Sarasota Youth Opera program, which offers young people ages 8–18 the opportunity to experience opera through participation in after-school choruses, a professionally produced Youth Opera production on the mainstage and more.

Seattle Opera
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Sheila Silver, composer
Stephen Kitsakos, librettist

Adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on two Afghan women from different backgrounds, Mariam and Laila, who are forced to share a physically and psychologically abusive husband, Rasheed. Mariam and Laila are initially suspicious of one another, but they eventually form a loving relationship and make incredible sacrifices for one another in order to survive the abuse. During an escape attempt, Mariam kills Rasheed and bears all responsibility. Standing before the firing squad, Mariam finally finds spiritual peace. With A Thousand Splendid Suns, Seattle Opera seeks to illuminate new stories and perspectives on its main stage.

Sheila Silver previously received Discovery Grant in 2014 for A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Washington National Opera
Proving Up
Missy Mazzoli, composer
Royce Vavrek, librettist

Co-commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and Miller Theater at Columbia University

Based on a coming-of-age short story by Karen Russell, Proving Up depicts a group of Nebraska families who struggle to claim their land under the Homestead Act of 1862. In order to meet one of the requirements of the Act, or “prove up,” their homes must each have at least one glass window. Unable to afford such a luxury, the families recruit young Miles Zegner to ferry a single window from one home to the next, each time the inspector visits. This co-commission with Opera Omaha and the Miller Theatre at Columbia University will be presented as part of Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative.

Missy Mazzoli’s opera Breaking the Waves garnered a Commissioning Grant in 2015 for Opera Philadelphia (libretto by Royce Vavrek).


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

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