Press Released: 10 Jun 2019

OPERA America Announces Six Recipients of Opera Grants For Female Composers: Commissioning Grants

Supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

OPERA America has awarded the fifth cycle of Commissioning Grants from its Opera Grants for Female Composers program to six professional opera companies across the United States. The grants support the creation of new theatrical works by women who compose for the trained voice and instrumental ensemble. As the national service organization for opera and the nation’s leading champion for American opera, OPERA America is committed to increasing diversity and gender parity across the field.

Grants were awarded to:

  • The Industry (Los Angeles, CA) for Sweet Land by Du Yun
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago (Chicago, IL) for an untitled opera by Caroline Shaw
  • Mill City Summer Opera (Minneapolis, MN) for Stone Arch: A Walking Opera by Mary Ellen Childs
  • Opera Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA) for Ten Days in a Madhouse by Rene Orth
  • Opera Steamboat (Steamboat Springs, CO) for Cookie by Leanna Kirchoff
  • Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston, SC) for an opera on the life of Omar Ibn Said (title TBD) by Rhiannon Giddens

See below for descriptions of the funded works.

The six grantees were selected from an applicant pool of 15 eligible OPERA America Professional Company Members, which applied to receive up to 50 percent of the composer’s fee for a full production of a commissioned work, with awards of up to $50,000. The independent adjudication panel of industry experts included Carmen Balthrop, soprano; Katy Clark, president, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM); Stephanie Fleischmann, librettist; Jay Scheib, director; and Daniel Sonenberg, composer.

The Opera Grants for Female Composers program promotes the development of new works by women and raises the visibility of women writing for the operatic medium. The program consists of two granting components: Discovery Grants, awarded directly to female composers to advance their work, and Commissioning Grants, awarded to opera companies for commissions by female composers. Since its inception in 2014, the program has presented almost $1.1 million to opera companies and composers. The grants are made possible through the generous support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

Over the past four decades, OPERA America has awarded nearly $20 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 new works had been awarded to operas 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 pieces.”

The letter of intent deadline for the next round of Discovery Grants is November 20, 2019. Information about the next cycle of Commissioning Grants will be available in fall 2019, with a letter of intent deadline of March 24, 2020. For more information about the Opera Grants for Female Composers program and other grant programs supported by OPERA America, visit operaamerica.org/Grants.

2019 Commissioning Grant Recipients

The Industry
Sweet Land
Music by Du Yun and Raven Chacon
Libretto by Douglas Kearney and Aja Couchois Duncan

The Industry’s grant supports Chinese American composer Du Yun and Sweet Land, which brings together a team of two composers, Du Yun and Raven Chacon, and two librettists, Douglas Kearney and Aja Couchois Duncan, to create a multi-perspectival opera exploring the grotesque myths of American identity, directed by Yuval Sharon.

Lyric Opera of Chicago
Title TBD
Music by Caroline Shaw
Libretto by Sarah Kay

As part of Lyric’s 2021–2022 mainstage season, a one-act opera commission by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw will explore the theme of loneliness and isolation in our contemporary world. Presented alongside two additional contemporary one-act commissions, making up one mainstage production, the work will be supported by ancillary audience-engagement activities to enhance the pieces’ resonance with diverse audiences across Chicago.

Mill City Summer Opera
Stone Arch: A Walking Opera
Music by Mary Ellen Childs
Libretto by Mary Ellen Childs (from found texts)

Mill City Summer Opera will commission and present Stone Arch: A Walking Opera, an interactive, a cappella performance experience with 100 singers, to be created by composer Mary Ellen Childs and performed on the historic Stone Arch Bridge, formerly a railroad bridge and now a National Historic Engineering Landmark that spans the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Opera Philadelphia
Ten Days in a Madhouse
Music by Rene Orth
Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch

Opera Philadelphia, with co-commission and co-production partner Tapestry Opera, will produce Ten Days in a Madhouse, a new chamber opera from composer Rene Orth and librettist Hannah Moscovitch. The opera is inspired by the 1887 literary exposé of Nellie Bly, a reporter who feigned insanity to investigate firsthand the abuse in a women's asylum. The world premiere will be at Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O21 (September 2021) and the Canadian premiere will be at Tapestry Opera (spring 2022).

Spoleto Festival USA
An opera on the life of Omar Ibn Said (title TBD)
Music and libretto by Rhiannon Giddens

Spoleto Festival USA has commissioned a new full-length opera by MacArthur Fellow and Grammy Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens on the life of Omar Ibn Said. Omar was a Muslim-African man who was captured in Senegambia in 1807 and sold into slavery at Charleston’s Gadsden’s Wharf. His autobiography, written in Arabic, is an account of his life, unedited by his owner — a singular, authentic manuscript in the U.S. This and other source materials inform the opera’s narrative, which follows Omar’s spiritual journey from West Africa to the American South. The opera will have its world premiere during the 2020 festival (May 22–June 7).

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