Press Released: 27 May 2021

OPERA America Names First Recipient of the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize

Conceived and funded by librettist/lyricist Mark Campbell

OPERA America is pleased to announce the selection of Douglas Kearney as the inaugural recipient of the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize (COLP). Kearney will receive a $7,000 award to support his creative and career development. Conceived and funded by acclaimed librettist and lyricist Mark Campbell, the Prize is the first award in American opera that specifically recognizes the work of the opera librettist.

"Douglas Kearney is a spectacular choice for the inaugural year of this prize. His words sing in a singular and electric voice, and his important and innovative work spotlights the crucial role of the librettist in successful musical storytelling,” said Campbell. “Douglas represents precisely the caliber of librettist this prize was created to honor."

Kearney’s most recent opera, Sweet Land which was produced by The Industry in 2020 in partnership with librettist Aja Couchois Duncan with music by Raven Chacon and Du Yun, received positive notices in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. In 2012, his opera Crescent City composed by Anne LeBaron marked The Industry’s inaugural performance. He had worked with LeBaron before in 2008 on Sucktion, a cybourg hyperopera, which premiered at Stanford’s REDCAT Center for New Music and later was performed upon invitation at The Connect Festival In Malmö, Sweden. Also, in 2008, he collaborated with composer Erling Wold to create Mordake, a solo opera, which was premiered at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. His latest opera, Comet/Poppea, written with composer George Lewis and commissioned by American Modern Opera Company, will premiere in 2023.

Kearney has published seven poetry collections, including Sho (Wave Books, 2021), of which Ken Chen (NPR) writes, “Kearney’s prosody is miraculous,” and Buck Studies (Fence Books, 2016), winner of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, the CLMP Firecracker Award for Poetry, and a silver medal from the California Book Awards. Kearney’s collection of writing on poetics and performativity, Mess and Mess and (Noemi Press, 2015), was a Small Press Distribution Handpicked Selection that Publisher’s Weekly called “an extraordinary book.” His work is widely anthologized in volumes including Best American Poetry (2014, 2015), Best American Experimental Writing (2014), The Creative Critic: Writing As/About Practice, What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America, and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. His newest LP is Fodder (Fonograf Editions, 2021), a collaboration with Val Jeanty.

Kearney’s work has been exhibited at the American Jazz Museum, Temple Contemporary, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and Visitor Welcome Center in Los Angeles. He has received a Whiting Award, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Cy Twombly Award for Poetry, and residencies and fellowships from Cave Canem, the Rauschenberg Foundation, and others. A Howard University and CalArts alum, Kearney is a McKnight Presidential Fellow and associate professor of creative writing and English at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Altadena, California, he lives in St. Paul with his family.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be the inaugural recipient of the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize. Writing librettos is a wild art and I am grateful to have had so many brilliant co-conspirators and troublemakers along the way,” said Kearney. “I hope Mark Campbell’s generous support helps draw attention to the efforts of the many librettists out there imagining new ways to work language, scene, and sound, and I look forward to the Campbell Prize winners to come.”

The winner was selected from an applicant pool of 88 librettists by a panel of industry leaders consisting of Kathleen Smith Belcher, stage director, the Metropolitan Opera; Matthew Gray, general director, The American Opera Project; David Lomelí, chief artistic officer, the Santa Fe Opera; Gene Scheer, librettist; Karen Slack, soprano, and artistic advisor, Portland Opera; and Gregory Spears, composer; with consultation from Mark Campbell. Kearney’s award will be announced to industry leaders and producers through Opera America Magazine, OPERA America’s digital and social media channels, and at future Opera Conferences and New Works Forum convenings.

The COLP was created to raise the profile of the librettist in the field. While librettists have gained more prominence in recent years, there has been little specific recognition for their work, which prompted Campbell to create and fund the award. One of opera's most successful librettists, he has penned the stories for 38 librettos, 2 oratorios, and 8 song cycles. Operas shaped by his masterful libretti have won numerous awards, including the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Silent Night and a 2019 Grammy Award for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Other successful works include The Shining, Sanctuary Road, Stonewall, Songs from an Unmade Bed, As One, Later the Same Evening, The Manchurian Candidate, and Elizabeth Cree.

“OPERA America is dedicated to supporting artists and creators, and the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize allows us to highlight and support the art of libretto-writing throughout the opera field,” attests Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America. “Thanks to Mark Campbell and his generous support, we are able to identify an unheralded group of artists and elevate their work and its importance.”

The Campbell Opera Librettist Prize is one of several OPERA America grants and awards that support individual artists. The IDEA Opera Grants (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), supported by the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation, and the newly formed IDEA Opera Residencies, supported by the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation, advance the careers of composers and librettists of color. Discovery Grants from the Opera Grants for Women Composers program, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, support gender parity for creators. The Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Prize, supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, recognizes promising stage directors and designers for their ingenuity in bringing operatic works to life for contemporary audiences.

The next application cycle of the COLP will begin next winter. To learn more about this and all of OPERA America’s grants, go to operaamerica.org/Grants.

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