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Press Released: 10 Jul 2018

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

Supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

A Total of $98,000 Awarded for Five 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.

Opera Grants for Female Composers promote the development of works by women and raise the visibility of women writing for the operatic medium. The program consists of two granting components: Discovery Grants of up to $15,000 that are awarded directly to female composers to advance new works; and Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 that are awarded to opera companies for commissions by female composers. Since its inception, the program has awarded a total of $898,000 to opera companies and composers.

A total of $98,000 was awarded to the following companies to support the commissioning of five projects:

  • Beth Morrison Projects (New York, NY) for Adoration by Mary Kouyoumdjian
  • On Site Opera (New York, NY) for Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji (working title) by Michi Wiancko
  • Opera on Tap (New York, NY) for Looking at You by Kamala Sankaram
  • Opera Philadelphia for Ashes (working title) by Jennifer Higdon
  • Washington National Opera for Taking Up Serpents by Kamala Sankaram

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 nearly $18 million to its Professional Company Members to support the work of opera creators, companies and administrators. However, 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.

“Works by female composers are gaining traction on stages across North America, as our member companies commission an unprecedented number of operas by women,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “We are grateful to the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation for enabling us to continue this important work, which has brought noteworthy composers to the forefront and enlivened our operatic repertoire with new works.”

An independent panel of experts reviewed a total of 13 applications. This cycle’s panelists were Jeremy Geffen, senior director and artistic adviser, Carnegie Hall; Heather Johnson, mezzo-soprano; Kristin Kuster, composer; John de los Santos, director, choreographer and librettist; and Viswa Subbaraman, conductor.

Information about the next round of Commissioning Grants will be available in winter 2018/2019.

2018 Commissioning Grant Recipients

Beth Morrison Projects 
Mary Kouyoumdjian, composer
Royce Vavrek, librettist

Based on the Atom Egoyan film of the same name, Adoration follows the fictitious and actual circumstances of how a child became an orphan, and how religious intolerance and hatred can lead to viral hysteria and justification for death. This gripping drama fosters a challenging discussion about the root causes of hate and how we can strive for a more just society.

On Site Opera
Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji (working title)
Michi Wiancko, composer
Deborah Brevoort, librettist

On Site Opera will present the world premiere of Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji, composed by Michi Wiancko with libretto by Deborah Brevoort. The site-specific opera will be staged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Court. The opera is inspired by The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century novel written by a lady-in-waiting in Japan’s imperial court. This one-act, family-friendly opera will be co-commissioned and developed by On Site Opera, MetLiveArts and American Lyric Theater.

Opera on Tap
Looking at You
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Rob Handel, librettist

Looking at You is an immersive techno-noir music-theater piece confronting the issue of privacy in our digitized society. Directed by Kristin Marting, it is a story of love and espionage fusing Edward Snowden with Casablanca, driven by a dynamic score for three saxophones, piano and electronics. Set inside a corporate headquarters — and integrating data mined from the audience in real time — it lays bare urgent questions of our time.

Kamala Sankaram previously received a Discovery Grant in 2015 for Looking at You.

Opera Philadelphia
Ashes (working title)
Jennifer Higdon, composer
Jerre Dye, librettist

Opera Philadelphia will produce the world premiere of Ashes (working title), the first chamber opera from Jennifer Higdon. The opera will draw from the true story of an art heist to describe a woman who claims to have destroyed priceless masterpieces to save her son, who is accused of the crime. Directed by Christian Räth, Ashes will be part of Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O20, its annual multi-venue urban opera festival.

Washington National Opera
Taking Up Serpents
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Jerre Dye, librettist

WNO will present the world premiere of Taking Up Serpents, an hourlong work exploring the controversial world of religious snake-handling. Members of the WNO Orchestra will be conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of Chicago Opera Theater. Taking Up Serpents, directed by Alison Moritz, will be presented January 11 and 13, 2019, at the Kennedy Center.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

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