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Press Released: 06 Feb 2023

OPERA America Awards the 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies to Three New-to-Opera Creators of Color

Generously supported by the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation

OPERA America is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies program (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), an initiative that provides New York City-based composers and librettists of color an opportunity to explore opera as an expressive medium.

The three-year program was established in 2021 with support from the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation. The third cohort of IDEA Opera Resident Artists are:

  • Amir ElSaffar, composer
  • Kendell Pinkney, librettist
  • Paul Pinto, composer/librettist

See below for profiles of the artists.

Each IDEA Opera Resident Artist will receive a one-year residency at OPERA America’s National Opera Center and awards totaling $25,000, including grants for the exploration of opera as an artistic medium, career and promotional support, and facility and recording services. In addition, they will receive mentorship and coaching from industry leaders, introductions to the field through Opera America Magazine and OPERA America’s digital platforms, and participation at national convenings including the Opera Conference and New Works Forum.

Launched in 2021, the IDEA Opera Residencies are part of a series of programs designed by OPERA America to embrace the talent of BIPOC creators who have not been included adequately in the development of the contemporary American opera repertoire. The IDEA Opera Residencies program is designed to allow Resident Artists the greatest flexibility possible to advance their careers through opera.

2023 Resident Artist Amir ElSaffar shared that “for years, [he has] been dreaming of composing an opera in Arabic … presenting the poetry, themes, and musical language of a culture that has received little representation in the opera world.” The IDEA Opera Residency program will give him the “opportunity to begin manifesting this work.”

“The IDEA Opera Residencies encourage creators of color who are new to opera to expand their artistry,” shared Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “The opera field is enriched by these brave explorations as they bring new life to the art form.”

The 2023 grantees were selected by an independent adjudication panel of industry experts consisting of J. Mae Barizo, librettist; Duke Dang, general manager, Works & Process, Guggenheim; Nedra Dixon, librettist; Lizabeth Malanga, soprano, and senior director of administration, Boston Lyric Opera; and Niloufar Nourbakhsh, composer.

OPERA America is committed to advancing racial equity in the opera field. In addition to the IDEA Opera Residencies, the organization offers IDEA Opera Grants and the Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color.

Visit Grants & Awards for more information about OPERA America’s grant programs.

2023 IDEA Opera Resident Artists

Amir ElSaffar, composer

Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi American composer, trumpeter, santur player, and vocalist working at the intersections of jazz, Western classical music, and Maqam music of Iraq and the Middle East. As a composer, ElSaffar has created a unique microtonal harmonic language that merges the Arabic Maqam modal system with contemporary Western harmony. He tours internationally with ensembles including his six-piece Two Rivers Ensemble and 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra. He has received commissions in the U.S., Europe, and the Arab world, including compositions for orchestras, string quartets, and jazz and Middle Eastern music ensembles. ElSaffar was the composer-in-residence of the Transcultural Music program at the Royaumont Foundation in France (2016–2019), and he is a recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2013), a United States Artists Fellowship (2018), and a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University (2020–2021), where he is working on his first opera, Ruins of the Encampment.

Kendell Pinkney, librettist

Kendell Pinkney is a Brooklyn-based theater artist, producer, and rabbi. His work has been presented or developed at venues such as Feinstein's/54 Below, Joe’s Pub, LABA at the 14th St. Y, Musical Theatre Factory, Two River Theater, and Goodspeed Opera House, to name a few. He is currently working on a newly commissioned play for Theater J in Washington, D.C. Pinkney is the founding artistic director of The Workshop, a New York-based arts and culture fellowship that supports and foregrounds the work of professional artists of BIPOC-Jewish heritage. He holds an M.F.A. in musical theater writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Paul Pinto, composer/librettist

Paul Pinto is a composer, performer, opera-sermonizer, and multi-disciplinary dabbler who makes music, new media, micro-theaters, and durational performance by himself and with his friends. Some of those friends include the collectives thingNY, Varispeed, and LoveLoveLove. A few favorite projects include Patriots with Jeffrey Young, Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives with Varispeed, Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King, and the cyclorama video installation Whiteness with Kameron Neal. Pinto sang and danced on Broadway in Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, and he wrote and performed in the electronic opera Thomas Paine in Violence starring Joan La Barbara. Recent commissions and partnerships have included HERE Arts Center, PROTOTYPE Festival, Colgate University, The Fisher Center, the Look + Listen Festival, The American Opera Project, OPERA America, CultureHub, La MaMa, Quince Ensemble, WNET All Arts, Media Art Xchange, The Rhythm Method, Yarn/Wire, Gelsey Bell, and Kristin Marting.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

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