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Press Released: 05 Dec 2023

OPERA America Announces Winners of the 2023 Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera

Supported by the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation

OPERA America is pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera. The awards recognize the best work created for digital platforms by individual producers and organizations in the United States and Canada, in four categories: Artistic Creation, Education/Enrichment Materials, University/Conservatory Projects, and Noteworthy Projects.

The 2023 winners are:

  • Svadba
    Produced by Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard
    Category: Artistic Creation

  • In Song
    Produced by Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride
    Category: Education/Enrichment Materials

  • Operas [in Place]
    Produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera
    Category: University/Conservatory Projects

  • Jess
    Produced by Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray
    Category: Noteworthy Projects

  • Whiteness: Part One
    Produced by Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub
    Category: Noteworthy Projects

The winners were selected from 16 finalists identified by expert judges from among the nearly 70 submissions. Audiences are invited to watch the winning projects online, as well as all finalist projects. Videos are available for a limited time: through March 4, 2024, for all finalists, and through June 4, 2024, for all winners.

The Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera are made possible by a generous and deeply appreciated grant from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, with special gratitude to foundation trustees, Joe Erdman and Melissa Young.

“The second annual Awards for Digital Excellence in Opera celebrate the ongoing learning and creativity of digital opera,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America. “None of us knew for sure if the digital opera momentum of the pandemic would continue once theaters reopened, but the variety and ingenuity of submissions to the second year of the program demonstrate that artists and producers are still innovating. We are thrilled to recognize five winners whose work represents the best in this medium.”

OPERA America received applications from 47 organizations and 22 individuals for the second annual awards, representing work from across the United States and Canada. The 2023 finalists were:

Artistic Creation

  • BEYOND a film by Marina Viotti | Marina Viotti, Guillaume Gamand, Avinarts; The Dallas Opera
  • The First Bluebird in the Morning | LA Opera
  • Identity: A Song Cycle | Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen, Jason Charters, Liam Romalis
  • In a Grove world premiere video broadcast | Pittsburgh Opera, Christopher Cerrone, Stephanie Fleischmann, RLG Creations, Evan Chapman, Mike Tierney, Kristian Tchetchko, Mary Birnbaum
  • Medusa’s Children | Produced by OperaQ
  • Handel: Orlando | the Baroque opera performed in a New York City community garden | Opera Praktikos, H. Paul Moon, Opera Essentia
  • Svadba | Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard*

Education/Enrichment Materials

  • Date with the Divas (Vol. 2) | Opera Sustenida
  • In Song | Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride*
  • Playground Opera's Hansel and Gretel | Dennis Whitehead Darling, Tanya Jones, Victoria Davis, Anne Hiatt, David Gordon, Ramona Ponce, Mila Henry, Daniel Stuart Nelson, and Giannina Gutierrez

University/Conservatory Projects

  • Operas [in Place] | Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera*
  • Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera | Cleveland Institute of Music, Dean Southern, Alexander E. Tennant, Eric S. Vaughan

Noteworthy Projects

  • BOUND | Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen
  • Jess | Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray*
  • THE WEB OPERA | Michael Roth
  • Whiteness: Part One | Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub*

*Indicates category winners
See below for project descriptions.

The awards were selected by a jury of independent experts including:

  • Jonathan Allen, recording producer
  • Rena Butler, choreographer and dance artist
  • Kiera Duffy, soprano; associate professor of voice, Eastman School of Music
  • Joshua Lubensky, visual and video artist
  • Jeremy Robins, filmmaker; director, Ibis Productions Inc.
  • Renate Rohlfing, associate professor, Berklee College of Music
  • Mark Shapiro, conductor
  • Davóne Tines, bass-baritone
  • Mo Zhou, stage director

For more information about OPERA America’s grant and award programs, visit Grants & Awards.

About the Winners

Produced by Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Bradley Vernatter, Jessica Johnson Brock, David B. Devan, Anderson Nunnelley, Hannah Shepard
Winner: Artistic Creation

Featuring an all-female cast and creative team, Svadba, by Ana Sokolović, is an a cappella chamber opera that explores themes of transition, telling the story of a young bride preparing for her new life as a married woman. The work dramatizes the traditions, rituals, and celebrations of the young woman and her gathering of close friends. This cinematized production reengages with the work in a multidisciplinary interpretation, telling a visual story through dance and eye-catching cinematography, enhanced by the contemporary tour-de-force score that combines operatic and Balkan folk vocal techniques to create a vivid, onomatopoeic sound world. Director Shura Baryshnikov stays true to the original Serbian folklore and language, enhanced by conductor Daniela Candillari’s Serbian background, while exploring the work through a larger lens — reflecting the variety of personal identities among the diverse all-female cast and creative team to tell a story that explores a deeply rooted feminine perspective.

About the Producers

Svadba is directed by American choreographer Shura Baryshnikov, daughter of the preeminent classical dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and actress Jessica Lange. For this story told primarily through movement, Baryshnikov brings her experience as a dancer, actor, improviser, and choreographer, as well as head of movement and physical theater at Brown University. Her sister, Hannah Shepard, serves as screenwriter for the production. Conducting the music is Daniella Candillari, who brings her Serbian roots to this production, in addition to her vast operatic experience, having conducted the Metropolitan Opera, Detroit Opera, Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and more.

Svadba is produced by Boston Lyric Opera, with co-production by Opera Philadelphia, for release on operabox.tv. Now in its 47th season, Boston Lyric Opera is dedicated to creating compelling operatic experiences throughout the greater Boston area that welcome new audiences, break new ground, and enrich community life. Since its founding in 1976, Boston Lyric Opera has produced world and U.S. premieres, Pulitzer Prize-winning operas, and notable commissions and coproductions, ranging from live stage shows to films streamed worldwide.


Produced by Rebecca Gray, Rachel Gray
Winner: Noteworthy Projects

An experimental fusion of opera and visual arts, Jess explores the impact of stroke and disability and the restorative power of friendship and imagination. A collaboration between composer/singer Rebecca Gray and visual artist/writer Rachel Gray, Jess is an adaptation of a graphic novel written by Rachel Gray about her friend Jessie, and it blends stop-motion animation, drawings, and footage to convey the earth-shattering experiences of joy, grief, and loss of cognitive and physical function. It was developed as part of Pacific Opera Victoria’s Civic Engagement Program, which aims to support the careers of emerging singers who are engaged in civic practice and have a self-directed, multi-disciplinary vision for operatic storytelling.

About the Producers

As sisters, Rachel and Rebecca have been combining their creativity for as long as they’ve been alive. Their first formal project together was Love, Dear Love, an interdisciplinary show they produced themselves involving singers, string quartet, large-scale drawings, and projection. The work was an imagined space in which the Shakespearean characters Cordelia, Emilia, and Desdemona came together to piece together the circumstances that led to their deaths. Rachel and Rebecca conceived the project together, and together assembled the text. Rebecca composed the score and sang the part of Cordelia and Emilia, while Rachel created large-scale drawings commenting on the characters’ emotional and mental collapses.   

Their first opera was TODAY !!!, an absurdist puppet opera chronicling the mental decline of an upbeat morning newscaster who insists on broadcasting in the face of an apocalypse. Rebecca and Rachel researched morning news headlines and created a libretto that Rebecca set to music and performed with cello, piano, and two clarinets. Rachel created life-sized papier-mâché puppets, the ghosts of clickbait past, that torment the newscaster. Winners of the Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes, they will develop Raccoon Opera — a fable of the housing crisis involving Toronto raccoons — which will be presented at Salle Bourgie in Montreal in May 2024.

Whiteness: Part One

Produced by Paul Pinto, Kameron Neal, CultureHub
Winner: Noteworthy Projects

This immersive music video cantata surrounds the viewer in a white void while a chorus of floating heads muse (in 4-40-part harmony) on privilege, appropriation, and the history (or plague) of “Whiteness” in the U.S.A. Written and performed by Paul Pinto, Whiteness: Part One is part of a series of mixed-media works setting the author’s maddening inner thoughts as a mixed-race American (visibly brown, and invisibly trying to not be so White) as a series of chants, rants, and micro-pop songs, set to a whirling video directed by Kameron Neal.

About the Producers

Paul Pinto and Kameron Neal are a duo that often spend months dabbling in self-portraiture that sparks intimate dialogue about identity. Pinto is an interdisciplinary performer and wordy operatic sermonizer. Neal is a video artist and typographically driven designer. Collectively, they are curious and exploratory artists obsessed with disembodied heads, choral armies, verbal gymnastics, immersive encounters, subtly sexual reverb, strong gestures, hidden agendas, hyperbole, and biting self-reflection. Their work looks to their past (maybe not your past, but it’s close enough) to unearth the drawbacks and celebrations of personal, collective, and national self-fashioning. Their heroes include Boyz II Men, Tony Oursler, Daniel Koren, Beyoncé, outer space, immigrants, and the American public school system.

In Song

Produced by Lumahai Productions, San Francisco Opera, Matthew Shilvock, Elena Park, Gregory Henkel, Nicole Potter, Molly McBride
Winner: Education/Enrichment Materials

In Song, created by San Francisco Opera (SFO) and Lumahai Productions, is a series of eight intimate video portraits featuring remarkable artists (Amina Edris, Jamie Barton, J’Nai Bridges, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Daniela Mack, Pene Pati, Pretty Yende, and Meigui Zhang) who draw us into distinctive spheres through stories and song — from classical to Zulu, spirituals, Samoan and Egyptian songs, and mariachi music. Launched in March 2021, it invites us into singers’ worlds as they share their personal and musical journeys, and how they express themselves through deep connections to song. 

Shot on location in cities from Buenos Aires to New York City to Cape Town and Cairo, each In Song features several visually arresting musical performances, with scenes illuminating diverse cultural traditions and roots. The series won the 2022 Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Music Video Series and Channel (in addition to being nominated for the 2022 Webby Award in that competitive category). Shared for free across SFO’s media channels, the ongoing series appeals not only to classical music fans, but to people from around the world who respond to extraordinary performers of music, beyond genres and borders.

About the Producers

In Song is produced by San Francisco Opera and Lumahai Productions, a creative partnership uniting a vital and dynamic artistic institution, which just celebrated its centennial season under the leadership of General Director Matthew Shilvock and Music Director Eun Sun Kim, and a nimble and creative independent production company founded by In Song series creator/director Elena Park. San Francisco Opera’s audience has witnessed the American debuts of operatic legends, and its training programs have equipped generations of new artists for stages around the world. SFO’s culture of innovation has led to pioneering uses of technology and repertory-expanding new works by leading composers, which has made it a great match for Lumahai, which looks for ways to explore ideas and connect the worlds of arts, culture, media, technology, and current affairs with live events as well TV/radio programs for organizations such as National Sawdust, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, the Onassis Foundation, Meyer Sound, and Amazon Studios.

Operas [in Place]

Produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Cleveland Opera Theater, On Site Opera
Winner: University/Conservatory Projects

Operas [in Place] — a virtual festival of micro-operas for our time — was produced by Baldwin Wallace Conservatory in collaboration with Cleveland Opera Theater and On Site Opera.

These nine new micro-operas were commissioned specifically for Baldwin Wallace voice performance students and composed with special attention to the rehearsal and performance parameters of university-mandated COVID-19 protocols and social distancing. This project was rehearsed and performed in a manner that was safe for the students and audience and responsive to the global situation. Operas [in Place] was produced by an award-winning design and production team and created by renowned composers and librettists including internationally recognized artists whose work is performed by the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Washington National Opera, and other top opera companies around the world.

About the Producers

The Operas [in Place] creative team is led by Scott Skiba (producer-director, project design videography, video editing), an award-winning stage director who has led more than 80 new productions with companies including Indianapolis Opera, Mobile Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Pensacola Opera, Opera Tampa, and Toledo Opera. Skiba serves as director of opera studies at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, executive artistic director of Cleveland Opera Theater, production director at Opera Western Reserve, and assistant artistic director at Hawaii Performing Arts Festival. Skiba is a pioneer in producing interdisciplinary collaborations in alternative and site-specific venues and a proponent of new opera.

Brittany Merenda (digital design, video FX, video editing) is the owner of Dark Lumen Productions. She is a projection designer, production designer, and creative director working in theater, opera, and dance throughout the country. In 2021, Merenda made her debut at Washington National Opera’s “Come Home” gala at the Kennedy Center as the associate projection designer. At the onset of the pandemic, she pivoted to fully virtual productions, including a real-time, six-live-camera-feed interactive play titled Deja Zoom! with Parallel 45 Theatre. She also served as the creative director for a state-of-the-art virtual national convention (summer 2020) and virtual/live gala for New England Conservatory.

Steve Shack (lighting design) is a fairly nomadic human who often finds himself designing light for various performances. His most recent work has been seen in Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Hilo, Boston, Traverse City, Cleveland, and New York City. Over the past 20 years, Shack has lit over 250 various productions of musical theater, opera, dance, and drama in addition to a few restaurants, museums, and art installations. He is the resident lighting designer at Dark Lumen Productions, Cleveland Opera Theater, Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, and Magnificat High School.

The Team:

  • Jason Aquila, Baldwin Wallace Voice Performance Music Director and Conductor for: The Stream, and Virtually Dead
  • Dean Buck, Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master, Cleveland Opera Theater and Music Director {NOW} Fest and Conductor for: Prepared, Cinderella 99600 Square Feet, and Family Adventures Volume 1 & 2
  • Dr. Soo Han, (Then Director of Orchestra Studies Baldwin Wallace) and Conductor for: Pandora Jones, and For Life
  • Dr. Gabriel Piqué, Assistant Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, and Conductor for: Men I Am Not Married To
  • Tim Michel, Audio Engineer
  • Brian Pattison, Audio Engineer
  • Eric Einhorn, Co-founder, General & Artistic Director, On Site Opera - Project Producing Partner
About the Finalists
BEYOND a film by Marina Viotti

Produced by Marina Viotti, Guillaume Gamand, Avinarts; The Dallas Opera
Finalist: Artistic Creation

Immerse yourself in the world of mezzo-soprano Marina Viotti as you follow several “crème de la crème” artists creating a concert together, from brainstorming on day one to rehearsals, meetings, costumes, location, budget, and showtime. BEYOND shares the message that music is what makes us go beyond musical, cultural, mental, or social borders. Performing pieces arranged by Marina Viotti and Gabriel Bianco, the artists show their audience how art creates a universal language that can build bridges and reunite humanity.

About the Producers

BEYOND, presented by The Dallas Opera on its digital platform, was conceived by Marina Viotti. In April 2019, Viotti was awarded the Best Young Singer of the Year at the prestigious International Opera Awards in London. She also won the third prize at the Concours de Genève in 2016 and the International Bel Canto Prize at the Rossini Festival in Wildbad in 2015.

After studying flute, Viotti first experimented with jazz, gospel, and heavy metal. She earned a master’s degree in philosophy and literature before beginning her vocal training with Heidi Brunner in Vienna and continuing at the Lausanne University of Music in the class of Brigitte Balleys. She completed her studies with a diploma as a soloist and studied bel canto with Raul Gimenez and Alessandra Rossi.

Viotti’s first steps on the operatic stage after her studies took her to the Lausanne Opera, the Lucerne Theater, and, as part of the young ensemble, to the Grand Théâtre de Genève. She made her debut as Isabella (L’italiana in Algeri) at the Rossini Festival in Bad Wildbad in 2015.

Since then, she has sung roles like Olga (Eugene Onegin) and Bradamante (Alcina) in Opera du Rhin; Elisabetta (Maria Stuarda) and Isabella in Lucerne; Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia) at the Bolshoi and in Dresden; and Melibea (Il viaggio a Reims) in Valencia and at the Liceu, where she also debuted Nicklausse/Muse (The Tales of Hoffmann). In 2021–2022, she made her debut as Dorabella (Così fan tutte) in a new production at the Staatsoper Berlin under the direction of Barenboim. Viotti’s concert repertoire includes, among others, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour, Beethoven’s Mass in D Major and Symphony No. 9, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, and Schumann’s Der Rose Pilgerfahrt. Viotti is regularly invited to festivals all over the world to present her very unique recitals and shows such as “Love has no borders” (voice, piano, sax, and contrabass), “Porque existe otro querer” (duo voice and guitar), and “About last night” (cabaret).

The First Bluebird in the Morning

Produced by LA Opera
Finalist: Artistic Creation

The First Bluebird in the Morning is composer Carlos Simon’s newly commissioned setting of verses by Sandra Seaton — sobering, heartfelt, and moving. Created by an all-Black artistic team, it portrays an incarcerated man’s thoughts on the day before his release. Shot in stunning black and white, the film is directed and choreographed by Jamar Roberts. In a breathtaking performance, solo dancer Lloyd Knight, a principal dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company, brings life and movement to the piece in combination with the voice of tenor Joshua Blue (who made his mainstage LA Opera debut in 2022 in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion).

About the Producers

Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be. Through imaginative new productions, world premiere commissions, and inventive performances that preserve foundational works while making them feel fresh and compelling, LA Opera has become one of America’s most exciting and ambitious opera companies.

In addition to its mainstage performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the company explores unusual repertoire each season through the LA Opera Off Grand initiative, featuring performances in a variety of venues throughout Los Angeles. The LA Opera Connects initiative offers a robust variety of educational programming and community engagement offerings that reach people throughout every corner of Los Angeles County. The company also offers a multitude of online content via its LA Opera On Now digital offerings, which launched in 2020. Learn more at LAOpera.org.

Identity: A Song Cycle

Produced by Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen, Jason Charters, and Liam Romalis
Finalist: Artistic Creation

Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) proudly presents Identity: A Song Cycle, a powerfully intimate filmed vocal work centered on the universal themes of individuality, alienation, and belonging. Starring acclaimed baritone Elliot Madore, the work features original music and poetry by Dinuk Wijeratne and Shauntay Grant and is directed by multi-award-winning AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany. 

This cinematic work-in-progress is a song cycle based on Madore’s personal journey exploring and embracing his multiple and shifting identities. Identity: A Song Cycle transforms Madore’s intimate struggles into a contemporary performance, interspersed with poignant interviews of the singer and infused with original Canadian poetry. The piece aligns with AtG’s mission to create boundary-breaking, genre-defying vocal works and films staged in surprising locations, emphasizing innovative storytelling and memorable artistic experiences.

About the Producers

Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) is a multi-award-winning Canadian experimental opera company dedicated to creating boundary-breaking, genre-defying vocal works and films staged in surprising locations, emphasizing innovative storytelling and memorable artistic experiences. AtG is the creator of the internationally acclaimed film Messiah/Complex and the ongoing Opera Pub series.

Established in 2010 and still evolving, AtG is committed to revitalizing the operatic art form by introducing diverse audiences to outside-the-box opera experiences, creating daring reinterpretations of classical repertoire, and offering thrilling, intimate, and unforgettable experiences shared between artists and audiences.

In a Grove world premiere video broadcast

Produced by Pittsburgh Opera. Music by Christopher Cerrone. Libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann. Video recording by RLG Creations. Video editing by Evan Chapman. Audio editing by Mike Tierney. Live audio mix by Kristian Tchetchko. Directed by Mary Birnbaum.
Finalist: Artistic Creation

On February 19, 2022, Pittsburgh Opera performed the world-premiere performance of In a Grove to a capacity crowd at the Bitz Opera Factory. The 56-minute opera, which had music by Christopher Cerrone and a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, was based on the short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, which in turn inspired Kurosawa’s renowned film Rashomon. The six-performance run exceeded ticket goals and garnered rave reviews from local, regional, and national media outlets. Wanting to make the production available to interested patrons outside the greater Pittsburgh area, Pittsburgh Opera produced a multi-camera video of the final dress rehearsal and unveiled it as a limited-time YouTube Premiere on May 15, 2022. Pittsburgh Opera did not put the video behind a paywall, as the company wanted it to be accessible to as many viewers as possible. The premiere drew over 1,000 views; of those that were geographically identifiable, almost 90% were out-of-market. The video is still public, which is how Pittsburgh Opera intends to keep it.

About the Producers

Established by five intrepid women in 1939, Pittsburgh Opera is viewed as one of the most vibrant opera organizations in the U.S., with a rich artistic tradition, outstanding educational programs, an acclaimed artist training program, and a progressive outlook toward the future.

Pittsburgh Opera, Inc., is a Budget Group 2 member of OPERA America and a constituent organization of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. We are a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization and an equal-opportunity employer.

Pittsburgh Opera enriches Pittsburgh and the tri-state area and draws national and international attention to the region by creating live opera at the highest standards of artistic excellence; making opera accessible to a diverse audience; developing young singers into tomorrow’s artists; and ensuring the future through responsible fiscal management.

The current leader of Pittsburgh Opera is Christopher Hahn, who became artistic director in 2000 and general director in 2008. During his tenure, he has considerably expanded the company’s repertoire to include Baroque and many contemporary works, and he has vigorously upheld Pittsburgh Opera’s high standards of management and artistic excellence. He has expanded the Resident Artist Program to include two annual productions, both of which are offered as part of the full subscription series. He led the move to Bitz Opera Factory in the historic George Westinghouse Air Brake Factory at 2425 Liberty Avenue, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, and developed a range of audience and community programs that take place there.

Pittsburgh Opera’s current music director, Antony Walker, was appointed in 2005 and has brought an engaged and highly informed leadership to the company’s musical forces and developed a music staff of note.

Medusa’s Children

Produced by OperaQ
Finalist: Artistic Creation

OperaQ’s 2022 Medusa’s Children is a new chamber opera with text by Charlie Petch (Mel Malarkey, Daughter of Geppetto, Why I Was Late) and music by Colin McMahon (La Maupin). Directed by Lauren Halasz, Medusa’s Children explores themes of family, loss, sexual violence, and toxic masculinity through a trans and queer lens, drawing on the aftermath of the Medusa myth to tell a story at once dark, tender, and whimsical. The production was filmed by Coffeeshop Creative in September 2021 and released digitally in June 2022.

About the Producers

OperaQ is a Toronto-based independent opera collective dedicated to amplifying queer and trans voices to offer unique perspectives on traditional narratives. Although the opera industry involves countless queer artists, opportunities for authentic and complex expressions of queerness are few and far between. OperaQ’s mission is to create a space in which queer and trans artists can tell their stories on their own terms. On each project, OperaQ’s goal is to employ at least 50% (and as close to 100% as possible) queer artists in our performance and production team. 

OperaQ was founded in September 2018 by Co-Artistic Directors Ryan McDonald and Camille Rogers and made its debut with a reimagining of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas in May of 2019. The production, renamed Dido & Belinda, offered a new perspective on Purcell’s beloved one-act opera, emphasizing many of the themes already found in the original text: the shame surrounding feminine sexuality, the ignorance of male privilege, and the societal pressure to conform to gender roles.

Between 2019 and 2022, OperaQ commissioned and developed Medusa’s Children, a queer chamber opera exploring trans themes on the Medusa myth, supported by funding from the Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. Pivoting quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medusa’s Children was workshopped online in February of 2021 under the supervision of composer Colin McMahon and librettist Charlie Petch. The production was filmed by Coffeeshop Creative in September 2021 and released digitally in June 2022. Meanwhile, OperaQ also produced Handel’s Drag Messiah, a filmed workshop that gave queer voice students from the University of Toronto Faculty of Music a chance to develop drag numbers under the guidance of Toronto drag performer Gay Jesus. Handel’s Drag Messiah was filmed in November 2021 and released in December 2021.

Handel: Orlando | the Baroque opera performed in a New York City community garden

Produced by Opera Praktikos, H. Paul Moon, Opera Essentia
Finalist: Artistic Creation

This Baroque opera by G.F. Handel was set in a community garden on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to maintain responsible performing practices during the three-year wave of the global pandemic. It was an idea both historic and innovative while the opera world responded to the great shifts occurring in society. Looking centuries back, referencing historic ways of presenting opera to the public, Orlando became an organic experience that felt simultaneously old and new — captured on film in a deeply immersive way as if the viewer is an embedded member of the audience. Setting this work in a community garden allowed adaptable seating for ease of mobility and now, with a filmed version readily available, the Orlando experience can be accessed around the world for free, just like the free opera in the garden was offered in New York City.

About the Producers

The creative team of Opera Praktikos, Opera Essentia, and H Paul Moon films met in a moment of celestial alignment — right time, right place, and right people. OPrak and Opera Essentia collaborated on the creation of the staged production, and Paul Moon, initially an intrigued audience member on opening night, added next-level accessibility by interweaving the mediums of opera and film at an early point of integration of these two previously unlinked mediums in the opera ecosystem. Opera and film are now inextricably linked.

Opera Praktikos (OPrak) is NYC's first disability-affirmative opera company. We are committed to presenting opera in newly accessible formats and venues, presenting site-specific opera that champions stories of people with disabilities by people with disabilities and their support system. Empowering disability creativity is a core principle of our work.

The mission of Opera Essentia is to curate one of history’s most transfixing art forms for a new and wider audience, performing in gardens, parks, and other accessible centers of community. We distill the largely unknown works of Baroque master George Frideric Handel, arguably the most important composer for the voice, into approachable discoveries.

H Paul Moon is a filmmaker whose work concentrates on the performing arts with a focus on music and the nexus between live performance and film. He has been featured and awarded at over 200 in-person film festival screenings worldwide and continues the work to expand the nexus of music, drama, and the art of filmmaking.


Produced by Against the Grain Theatre, Joel Ivany, Robin Whiffen
Finalist: Noteworthy Projects

“How welcoming are we as a country, as a city, as a community?” These questions are posed in the contemporary hybrid opera-film BOUND presented by Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) in association with Crow’s Theatre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

BOUND’s libretto is written by Joel Ivany, whose lyrics explore ripped-from-the-headlines social issues interwoven with interviews featuring four Canadian citizens of diverse backgrounds who have each had challenging — and remarkably different — journeys finding their place and voice in Canada. BOUND is about the transformational experiences of four storytellers (represented in the film by musical avatars), and these non-fiction narratives undergo their own transformation in the film — shape-shifting from interview segments exploring their lived experiences into song. The power and emotion of these vocals propel BOUND, guided by composer Kevin Lau, allowing opera fans to recognize a number of segments from Handel’s operas and oratorios. 

About the Producers

Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) is a multi-award-winning Canadian experimental opera company dedicated to creating boundary-breaking, genre-defying vocal works and films staged in surprising locations, emphasizing innovative storytelling and memorable artistic experiences. AtG is the creator of the internationally acclaimed film Messiah/Complex and the ongoing Opera Pub series.

Established in 2010 and still evolving, AtG is committed to revitalizing the operatic art form by introducing diverse audiences to outside-the-box opera experiences, creating daring reinterpretations of classical repertoire, and offering thrilling, intimate, and unforgettable experiences shared between artists and audiences.


Produced by Michael Roth
Finalist: Noteworthy Projects

With THE WEB OPERA, composer Michael Roth has assembled a team of progressive artists to create a groundbreaking new episodic opera — a through-sung web series based on true events — that has been honored by 35 film festivals. Filmed as if seen via laptop, iPhone, or iPad, with dazzling motion graphics by the Emmy Award-winning Crazybridge, THE WEB OPERA tells of a group of college freshmen and the invasion of privacy that forever changes their lives, its depiction compelling the viewer to violate the privacy of the characters themselves. By examining ourselves in such a unique way, with “high-voltage music combined with ensemble beauty … we are reminded how much humans have become dependent on and addicted to this technology. The close-up claustrophobic shots exacerbate this hard truth.” THE WEB OPERA, inspired by the tragedy of Tyler Clementi, supports suicide prevention and fights cyber abuse via links on the project’s website; it is presented for free online to help the most vulnerable and all those at risk.

About the Producers

Michael Roth, a composer whose work has been called “music one could imagine Ives composing had he lived long enough to encounter rock-and-roll and beat poetry,” is pleased to have gained recognition and awards for his recent work in new opera and experimental music/theater, including IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE, his music/theater treatment of Samuel Beckett's text, authorized by Beckett, for string quartet, recorded voices, and laptop, seen in Los Angeles and Prague; THE GOLEM OF LA JOLLA, an opera-in-progress examining contemporary anti-semitism; and THE WEB OPERA, his sung-through web series streaming at thewebopera.com, composed and self-produced to support suicide prevention and raise awareness of cyber abuse. An official selection at 35 film festivals, it was recently screened at the 2021 New Music Gathering and 2022 Culver City Festival, winning Best Experimental Short.

His additional work as a composer, sound artist, music director, and arranger includes chamber music; music for film, dance, and PBS; and especially music and sound for over 250 productions at theaters throughout North America, including Broadway, off-Broadway, and Canada's Stratford Festival, and as a resident artist at South Coast Repertory and La Jolla Playhouse. His recent projects include: with Tom Hanks, Henry IV in Los Angeles; with Christopher Plummer, The Tempest, onstage and filmed; two U.S. premieres with Tom Stoppard; with Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, The Last Words of Uncle Dirt (Playwright's Horizons, with Wu Man on pipa); accompanying singers from Marni Nixon to Alicia Keys; work with MacArthur Fellows Peter Sellars and Sarah Ruhl; many collaborations with Randy Newman, including music direction for Disney's The Princess and the Frog; and a solo Shakespeare project with Al Pacino. Roth studied composition with William Bolcom, taught sound design at UCSD, and has two upcoming premieres as part of the 2023 California Festival: SHEETCAKE, for four pianos and toy piano, and KYRIE-MERCY-ANA M, a motet for eight voices.

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2)

Produced by Opera Sustenida
Finalist: Education/Enrichment Materials

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2) is the second in Opera Sustenida’s concert series exploring the history of opera. Experience the very best of the Romantic era with timeless works from Donizetti, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, and more. Joining The Divas on the virtual stage is an all-star cast of rising and established Canadian opera stars, as well as an international chorus for thrilling works like “Casta Diva,” Senta’s Ballad, “Chacun le sait,” and the Ride of the Valkyries.

About the Producers

Opera Sustenida is a new woman-led, independent opera company based in Toronto that brings opera to modern audiences through its innovative use of virtual techniques and contemporary retellings of beloved stories. The ensemble features the combined talents of Canadian musicians Stephanie DeCiantis (dramatic soprano/Film Diva), Nicole Whitney Dubinsky (coloratura soprano/Social Diva), Daniella Theresia (mezzo-soprano/Audio Diva), and Suzanne Yeo (pianist/Diva Wrangler). Since 2020, “The Divas” have prided themselves on creating visually stunning and musically engaging virtual concerts that combine pre-recorded performances with live chat components. Their most recent series of virtual concerts celebrated arias, ensembles, and choruses from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras, receiving over 12,00 ticketed views from around the world.

Playground Opera's Hansel and Gretel

Produced by Dennis Whitehead Darling, Tanya Jones, Victoria Davis, Anne Hiatt, David Gordon, Ramona Ponce, Mila Henry, Daniel Stuart Nelson, Giannina Gutierrez
Finalist: Education/Enrichment Materials

The Playground Opera education program is both an in-classroom experience and virtual portal for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to be immersed in every aspect of the creation, production, and performance of an opera. A main feature of the program is the students’ interaction with a popular opera that Opera on Tap produces as a video specifically for this age group so that children can joyfully sing along, learn another language, and make their own opera video. For the Hansel and Gretel curriculum, children worked with teachers to become part of a chorus and submitted their video to Opera on Tap; video editors then embedded these into the Hansel and Gretel film. The final project was a premiere of Hansel and Gretel at each participating school where students walked the red carpet in front of their teachers and families for a screening at the school. The work sample presented here is from a partner school in Nashville, Tennessee.

About the Producers

Dennis Whitehead Darling is an international award-winning director in theater, musical theater, film, and opera with a hefty resume that includes work in shows with Opera Memphis, Spazio Teatro No'hma Milano, Birmingham Opera, Carnegie Mellon University, Red Mountain Theatre, Opera Columbus, UrbanArias, and Hattiloo Theatre, as well as the world premieres of The Secret River with Opera Orlando and Marian’s Song with Houston Grand Opera. In 2018, Darling became the inaugural recipient of Opera Memphis’ McCleave Fellowship, dedicated to fostering the careers of promising stage directors and music directors of color in opera. Throughout his career, he has expressed one major goal: "to tell emotionally engaging and provocative stories that challenge the viewer to see the world from a different perspective." For more information about Darling, check out this website

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera

Produced by Cleveland Institute of Music, Dean Southern, Alexander E. Tennant, Eric S. Vaughan
Finalist: University/Conservatory Projects

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: A Cinematic Opera was produced to provide new educational experiences to students at the Cleveland Institute of Music at the height of the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic. The team at CIM seized upon the opportunity to generate a fully realized cinematic version of Purcell’s masterpiece by giving students exposure to working with a professional recording engineer and film director, rather than replicating traditional modes of opera performance. 

The process began with the creation of an orchestra track, after which individual cast members recorded their voices, receiving feedback from the recording engineer, conductor, and vocal coaches during multiple takes. During the filming process, cast members were required to take direction on the spot, often varying the action, again, over multiple takes.

About the Producers

Cleveland Institute of Music and Red Point Digital partnered to provide CIM's Voice and Orchestra students with new learning opportunities and dynamic artistic experiences during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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