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Press Released: 18 Mar 2018

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

Supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

Eight Composers Awarded Discovery Grants Totaling $100,000

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 Discovery 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 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: 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 $800,000 to opera companies and composers.

The most recent round of Discovery Grants attracted 47 applicants, and an independent adjudication panel selected eight composers to receive a total of $100,000 to support operas in development. The recipients are:

  • Lisa DeSpain for That Hell-Bound Train
  • Alexa Dexa for Be a Doll
  • Germaine Franco for ¡La Capitana!
  • Elizabeth Kelly for Losing Her Voice
  • Leanna Kirchoff for Friday After Friday
  • Veronika Krausas for Ghost Opera
  • Julia Meinwald for REB+VoDKa+ME
  • Liza Seigido for Cyborgs Are Dancing

These grants, the only ones awarded by OPERA America directly to individual artists, provide the composers with financial assistance to advance and promote their operas. (See below for descriptions of the supported projects.)

Over the past 30 years, OPERA America has awarded $13 million to its Professional Company Members in support of new American operas. 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.

“Opera is experiencing a groundswell of support for gender parity across all sectors of the industry, both artistic and administrative, and we are proud to be a part of that movement through Opera Grants for Female Composers,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Through the generosity of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, these grants have invigorated our art form with a wealth of new works that display the extraordinary skill of their composers, as well as a diverse range of artistic sensibilities.”

The independent adjudication panelists for the Discovery Grants were Michael Ching, composer; Lillian Groag, director; Sari Gruber, soprano; Justina Lee, pianist and coach; Vanessa Rose, executive and fundraising consultant; and Gene Scheer, librettist.

Information about the next round of Discovery Grants will be available in October 2018.

Applications for Commissioning Grants are currently open, and Professional Company Members may submit intents to apply by April 10, 2018.

2018 Discovery Grant Recipients

Lisa DeSpain, composer
That Hell-Bound Train
Libretto based on a short story by Robert Bloch

Lisa DeSpain is a New York City-based jazz composer and pianist. Her awards include the ASCAP Commission Honoring the Duke Ellington Centennial, an NEA Jazz Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award and a Dramatists Guild Fellowship. Notable commissions include Into the Realm of the Gods (U.S. Air Force), Rise & Fall (Cassatt String Quartet) and the oratorio American Nativity. DeSpain is currently working on a musical adaptation of the novel A Gracious Plenty, as well as Storyville, an original musical set during the final days of New Orleans’ red-light district, with lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

In That Hell-Bound Train, Martin, a petty thief and drifter makes a bargain with “The Conductor” for the chance to find perfect happiness and live forever. Armed with a magical watch that can stop time, Martin spends his life searching for that perfect moment in which to live forever. Will Martin cheat death and avoid that final ride to “The Depot Down Yonder”?

Alexa Dexa, composer and librettist
Be a Doll

Alexa Dexa is a composer, sound designer and performer noted as “an example of pure charm and whimsy” by The New York Times and as “unarguably personifying DIY for the millennium” by Creative Loafing. Her “toychestral” electroacoustic compositions showcase her soulful vocals, labyrinthine electronic sound-worlds, and an expansive collection of toy instruments, including toy piano, desk bells and typatune. Her self-booked tours have taken her throughout North America, Europe, Oceania and Asia.

Be a Doll is an electroacoustic opera for solo vocalist, performing choreographed play routines on musical and nonmusical toys with live and pre-programmed electronics. Living in a dollhouse, a woman carries out the traditional role of pretty plaything and keeper of the home. An existential game of hide-and-seek emerges as the distinction between woman and doll diminishes.

Germaine Franco, composer
¡La Capitana!
Libretto by Nancy De Los Santos and Alejandra Martinez

Germaine Franco is one of the few women working in Hollywood as a composer, songwriter and music producer. She is the first Latina composer to join the Music Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Franco is a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Music and Sound Design Labs. She co-wrote five original songs for Disney Pixar's Coco, the Academy Award-winning film for Best Animated Feature. She won an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music for Coco. Franco has performed as a percussionist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Spoleto Festival Opera Orchestra and the Belgian Radio Orchestra, among others.

¡La Capitana! is inspired by the true-life story of Petra Herrera, a soldadera in the Mexican Revolution, who, disguised as a man, fought with Pancho Villa in the battle of Torreón. She stood up for women’s rights, confronting the patriarchal social structure of early 20th-century Mexico.

Elizabeth Kelly, composer and librettist
Losing Her Voice

Elizabeth Kelly is an American composer currently based in the U.K. Her music embraces broad influences, running the gamut from “majestic Wagnerian lines aggressively punctuated” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) to “rasping jazzy exploration” (The Guardian). Her award-winning compositions have been performed by top ensembles throughout North America and Europe, at venues including Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (U.K). and Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Netherlands). She is director of composition and assistant professor at the University of Nottingham.

Losing Her Voice focuses on opera diva Geraldine Farrar as she films Cecil B. DeMille’s 1915 silent-film adaption of Bizet’s Carmen. The audience is invited to join Farrar’s throng of “gerryflapper” fans as she journeys from stage to silver screen to the screens of their personal devices.

Leanna Kirchoff, composer
Friday after Friday
Libretto by Rachel J. Peters

Leanna Kirchoff describes her music as a pathway through poignant moments, soulful reflections and beautiful ideas. She composes operas, musicals, choral pieces, chamber music and audiovisual works. Her music has been performed in the U.S. and internationally, at Carnegie Hall, the International Congress of Voice Teachers, the conferences of the National Opera Association and American Choral Directors Association, Minnesota Fringe Festival, and Gateway Opera, among others. She is a faculty member at the University of Denver.

Drawing upon documentaries, interviews and memoirs, Friday after Friday dramatizes the violence and poverty in present-day war-torn Syria, charting the resilience of women living through the country’s conflicts.

Veronika Krausas, composer
Ghost Opera
Libretto by André Alexis

Of Lithuanian heritage, composer Veronika Krausas was born in Australia and raised in Canada, and she currently lives in Los Angeles. She has directed, composed for and produced multimedia events that incorporate her works with dance, acrobatics and video. Her work has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Industry, New York City Opera, Ensemble Musikfabrik (at Darmstadt Music Festival), Piano Spheres, Vancouver Symphony and Fort Worth Opera. She is on faculty at USC Thornton School of Music.

Ghost Opera is a fantastically spooky dramma giocoso about a haunted house, flying dogs, madness and crossing the River Styx. The work is being created with Old Trout Puppet Workshop in collaboration with Calgary Opera.

Julia Meinwald, composer
Libretto by Gordon Leary

Julia Meinwald’s musicals include Pregnancy Pact (2012, Weston Playhouse), The Loneliest Girl in the World (2018, Diversionary Theatre) and REB+VoDKa+ME (2017, NYU Tisch). She has developed work through the Dramatists Guild Fellows Program, American Lyric Theater, Ars Nova, the Civilians/R&D Group, Fresh Ground Pepper’s Playgroup, the Musical Theatre Factory and the 92nd Street Y. She holds a B.A. in music from Yale and an M.F.A. from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

A girl turns 18 on September 11, 2014, the day that Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane escapes from an Ohio prison. REB+VoDKa+ME chronicles her search for community and her efforts to understand the misunderstood.

Liza Seigido, composer
Cyborgs Are Dancing
Libretto based on Petrarch’s Canzoniere

Liza Seigido is a composer and multimedia artist based in Miami who specializes in electro-acoustic composition. In 2015, she was commissioned by BC Dance Co. to build an interactive dance floor for a new work, TV NO, which premiered the following year. In 2016, her customized electronic đàn tỳ bà (a traditional Vietnamese string instrument) was featured in three online music-technology magazines. Miami Light Project awarded its Jennylin Duany Light Bulb Fund Honorary Award to Seigado in 2015.

Cyborgs Are Dancing is a musical drama, powered by interactive multimedia technology, that features two dancers, a three-piece electroacoustic ensemble, a live-processed vocalist, reactive lighting and video, and audience participation via wireless gaming controllers.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

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