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Press Released: 20 May 2021

OPERA America Awards $100,000 in Discovery Grants to Support Seven New Works by Women Composers

Supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation

OPERA America is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Discovery Grants from the Opera Grants for Women Composers program. These composers will receive a total of $100,000 to support development activities of seven new theatrical works for the trained voice and instrumental ensemble. Opera Grants for Women Composers promote the development of new works by women and raise the visibility of women writing operas. The grants are made possible through the generosity of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Gelsey Bell for mɔːnɪŋ
  • Christina Campanella for The Visitation
  • Asako Hirabayashi for Hebi-onna (Snake Woman)
  • Angel Lam for Lost Shanghai
  • Shuying Li for When the Purple Mountains Burn
  • Nicole Paris and Katherine Skovira for ?this is my Body
  • Bora Yoon for 아가씨 Handmaiden [Mademoiselle]

See below for profiles of the composers and their works.

In addition to the cash awards, OPERA America invites and provides travel support for all grant recipients to attend its annual Opera Conference and New Works Forum, enabling them to develop relationships with potential creative partners and producers. Grant recipients also receive mentorship on the artistic and business aspects of new work development.

Grantees were selected from an applicant pool of 57 composers by a panel of industry leaders consisting of Kelvin Chan, general director, Vital Opera; Mila Henry, artistic director, The American Opera Project; Laura Kaminsky, composer; Sarah Meyers, stage director; Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, librettist; Damien Sneed, composer and conductor; and Karim Sulayman, tenor. 

“Until the launch of Opera Grants for Women Composers in 2013, fewer than five percent of the organization’s grants for repertoire development had been awarded to works by women composers,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Thanks to the generosity of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and initiatives like the Discovery Grants, we’ve been able to increase and diversify the voices, perspectives, and stories that comprise the American repertoire.”

OPERA America is committed to increasing gender parity across the field through multiple initiatives. These include the Opera Grants for Women Composers program’s Discovery Grants and Commissioning Grants, Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors (generously supported by the Marineau Family Foundation), the Mentorship Program for Women Administrators, and the Women’s Opera Network.

Since the inception of its granting programs, OPERA America has awarded over $20 million to the opera field to support the work of opera creators, companies, and administrators. Learn more at operaamerica.org/Grants.


Gelsey Bell, composer and librettist

Gelsey Bell is a composer, vocalist, and scholar who has been described by The New York Times as “one of New York’s most adventurous musicians.” She is a core member of thingNY, Varispeed, and the Chutneys, and her works include Cairns, Bathroom Songs, Scaling, shuffleyamamba (with Yasuko Yokoshi), Prisoner’s Song (with Erik Ruin), and This Takes Place Close By (with thingNY). Performance highlights include Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 and Ghost Quartet, Robert Ashley’s Improvement and Crash, and Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens. Bell holds a Ph.D. from New York University in performance studies.

About mɔːnɪŋ: Inspired by Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us, the opera imagines a world in which all humans have disappeared from Earth. The singers double as instrumentalists, embodying creatures who witness the Earth from afar as its forests grow back, its rivers overtake dams, and the human-made world gradually erodes away.

Christina Campanella, composer
The Visitation
Libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann

Christina Campanella is a composer, sound artist, and vocalist who works across disciplines. Her works for theater, film, and installation blend songwriting and music composition with sound design. They include All Things from Zero, Find Me, No Wake, Lighthouse 40°N, 73°W, Parts Are Extra (with Peter Norrman), Breathe (with Arthur Ganson), The Secret Lives of Coats (with Stephanie Fleischmann), and Red Fly/Blue Bottle (with Fleischmann and Mallory Catlett). Campanella has received three NYSCA commissions in the category of film, media, and new technologies. As a performer, she has appeared in operas by Joe Diebes, works by Richard Foreman, and others.

About The Visitation: This site-specific promenade opera, to be staged in Harlem’s Jackie Robinson Park, traces the fate of the one-antlered stag that roamed the park for two weeks in 2016, only to be taken into captivity and perish while the city and state battled over his fate. The work explores themes of humans’ relationship to nature, while also contemplating the Lenape people who originally inhabited New York.

Asako Hirabayashi, composer and librettist
Hebi-onna (Snake Woman)

Asako Hirabayashi is a harpsichordist and composer who has appeared as a guest soloist in festivals and concerts worldwide. Her debut album, The Harpsichord in the New Millennium, which features Hirabayashi performing her own compositions, was selected as one of the top ten albums of 2018 by Global Music Awards. She has received numerous other grants and awards, including McKnight Fellowships, a Jerome Fund for New Music grant from American Composers Forum, a Schubert Club Composer Award, and several first prizes in the Aliénor Harpsichord Composition Competition and NHK International Songwriting Competition. Minnesota Opera recently commissioned Hirabayashi for its MNiatures project. 

About Hebi-onna: Incorporating Japanese culture and language, the opera tells the story of a country man, Yoshizo, who saves a snake from a trap. The creature transforms into a beautiful woman named Miko, and he marries her. When Miko transforms back into a snake, Yoshizo and his family face scorn and deadly violence from their fellow villagers. 

Angel Lam, composer
Lost Shanghai
Libretto by Richard Caliban and the composer

Angel Lam is a composer and writer who has been praised for her “precious, soaring lyrical lines” (Opera News). She has received three Carnegie Hall commissions, including a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma, and her work has been performed and recorded by Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad Ensemble. Lam’s theatrical works have been performed at HERE Arts Center, Theatre Row, National Sawdust, and the Museum of Chinese in America, among others. Her works for orchestra and ensemble have been performed by groups including Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Yale Cellos, and NYU Symphony.

About Lost Shanghai: Set in 1940s Shanghai, the opera centers on star-crossed lovers who magically traverse time and space in a quest to find compassion, kindness, and love. Lush instrumentation evokes the sensuous, multicultural character of the ancient port city.

Shuying Li, composer
When the Purple Mountains Burn
Libretto by Julian Crouch

Shuying Li is a believer that music has the power to promote cultural diversity by connecting people through universal human passions and values. Her compositions have been performed by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, American Lyric Theater, Argus Quartet, Four Corners Ensemble, and Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, among others. Originally from China, Li holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the Hartt School. She is the founder and artistic director of the Four Corners Ensemble, an assistant professor of composition and music theory at Gonzaga University, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

About When the Purple Mountains Burn: The opera explores two figures connected with the 1937 Nanking Massacre: Iris Chang, the Chinese American author of the 1997 best-selling book The Rape of Nanking, and Shiro Azuma, a Japanese soldier who openly admitted to participating in the massacre and other war crimes against the Chinese during World War II.

Nicole Paris, co-creator
?this is my Body
Co-created with Katherine Skovira and Robert Whalen

Nicole Paris, composer, librettist, and beatboxer, was born and raised in St. Louis. After graduating with a degree in culinary arts, she decided to pursue a childhood passion — freestyle beatboxing — and founded the organization Drop the Beats. Paris now travels around the world sharing her talent to entertain and lift the spirit of all individuals. She is also working to translate the beatbox art form into a children’s book, slated for release by Reveal Publication. Paris appeared in the 2019 world premiere of Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun, by Augusta Read Thomas and Leslie Dunton-Downer, at the Santa Fe Opera.

Katherine Skovira, co-creator
?this is my Body
Co-created with Nicole Paris and Robert Whalen

Katherine Skovira, composer, librettist, and mezzo-soprano, is artistic director of the contemporary music ensemble SoundLAB and Zeller Chair of Opera at Willamette University. She has performed works of the 20th and 21st centuries under the artistic direction of Simon Rattle, Lorin Maazel, and Barbara Hannigan and with the Lucerne Festival Academy and Bard and Aspen Music Festivals. Skovira has collaborated with numerous composers and institutional partners, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, American Philosophical Society, American Composers Forum, University of Pennsylvania, and the Barnes Foundation. Skovira holds degrees in voice and pedagogy from Cornell University, Westminster Choir College, and University of Minnesota.

About ?this is my Body: Written for beatbox artist, mezzo-soprano, ensemble, and electronics, this work draws on the writings of Shoshana Zuboff, author of Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It asks questions about the unregulated power and delimitation of surveillance capitalism and art’s role in articulating thoughts on rights to digital privacy, agency, and the body.

Bora Yoon, composer/lyricist
아가씨’, Handmaiden [Mademoiselle]

Korean-American composer, vocalist, and sound artist Bora Yoon conjures audiovisual soundscapes using digital devices, voice, and found objects and instruments from a variety of cultures and historical centuries. Yoon composed the score for Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Edinburgh International Festival, Singapore Arts Festival) and created the music for the podcast Migration Watch and the documentary Faces of Seoul.  Her opera on cultural epigenetics and blood memory, Sunken Cathedral, premiered at the PROTOTYPE Festival. Yoon has composed works for Sympho, Alarm Will Sound, Sō Percussion, Modern Medieval, Trio Triumphatrix, Metropolis Ensemble, the NJ Symphony Orchestra, Musica Viva, Voices of Ascension, Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and many others.

About ‘아가씨: Set in Japanese colonial ruled Korea in the 1930s, the tale of 'Handmaiden' [Mademoiselle] challenges the longstanding patriarchal and oppressive practices in Asian traditions and cultures. This cinematic three-act opera tells the story of a Japanese countess and a Korean handmaiden who plot to cheat and steal from one another but instead fall in love and overthrow their oppressors. The opera seeks to bring the best of South Korean cinema and modern opera theater and create radical and empowering roles for AAPI artists for the evolving future of opera.


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